1. There's usually a reason why a guy spends 20+ years in coaching and never gets the head gig. Staggering levels of ineptitude is quite often that reason. Exhibit A is Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-4; 1-3) interim head coach Tracy Claeys. After Jerry Kill abruptly retired for health reasons last Wednesday, Gopher defensive coordinator Claeys was thrust into the interim position, admittedly a tough task on such short notice. But what isn't such a tough task is clock management, something that even a Pop Warner coach should have a handle on. Trailing the #15 Michigan Wolverines (6-2; 3-1) by the score of 29 to 26 with 19 seconds left on the game clock, Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner completed what appeared to be a 23-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Drew Wolitarsky. Replays clearly showed that Wolitarsky made a clean catch but that his knee was down before the ball crossed the goal line, and the Big Ten replay official correctly (imagine that!) placed the ball at the 1/2-yard line. The game clock stopped for the first down and during the review, but it would begin again as soon as the ball was set for play. You knew that. I knew that. Everybody in the stands knew that. Even the freaking television announcers knew that. But apparently Tracy Claeys had no clue, because he called a play with multiple shifts that took 13 seconds before the ball could even be snapped and another 4 seconds to execute (and I use that term loosely). The play itself, an ill-conceived pass to a tight end who couldn't even manage to run his route into the end zone from 18 inches away, fell incomplete stopping the clock with just 2 seconds left. Then instead of kicking the game-tying field goal and playing to win in overtime, thus giving fans and pundits a chance to forget his massive blunder for the time being, Claeys called his final timeout to come up with that one unstoppable play that would guarantee victory for the mighty Gophers. And what was that one magical play? A quarterback sneak into an 11-man front, that's what. Michigan was easily able to stuff that feeble attempt and eked out the three-point win. Memo to Tracy Claeys: 19 seconds + 1 timeout = 3 plays: a pass into the end zone on first down, a pass or run on second down (if necessary), timeout (if necessary), then kick the field goal on third down (if necessary) and play for overtime (at home against Michigan's back-up quarterback), or put your big swinging dick on the line with a final shot at the game-clinching touchdown.
Now onto some stats from this game. Michigan entered the game as the #1 defense in FBS, surrendering just 9.3 points and 210.6 yards per game, while Minnesota's offense was basically pathetic (#110 scoring offense, #102 total offense). Except for that final half-yard, Minnesota had no problems moving the football, racking up 461 total yards (110 over their season average) and scoring 26 points (6 over their season average). Minnesota's problems occurred in the red zone, where four trips netted only nine points (three field goals and the aforementioned end-of-game fiasco). Michigan's offense continued to sputter with only 296 total yards, far below their season average of 367.6 which was 91st in the country entering the game.
Throughout the game Michigan looked like they were uptight and on the verge of cracking, probably the Harbaugh Effect starting to take hold. Will the Wolves' lucky win over the Gophers ease some of that self-inflicted pressure, or will it turn the pressure up another notch?
2. It took nine weeks, but the real Illinois Fighting Illini (4-4; 1-3) finally showed up. After beating Nebraska (all praise Il Joe Pa!) and hanging close with Iowa and Wisconsin, Illinois finally laid that gigantic egg we all knew they had in them. This week Illinois invaded (in a very Frenchie sort of way) Happy Valley to face the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-2; 4-1) and the Illini met their Waterloo (and it had nothing to do with the showers in the locker room). Managing only 167 total yards (2.35 yards per play), a 38.6% completion percentage, 12 first downs, and 26:18 time of possession, Illinois found themselves on the wrong end of a 39-0 blowout. Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg looked more or less like an NFL prospect, going 21/29 for 266 yards, 2 TDs, and no INTs, and that was enough to overcome an anemic running attack (3.2 yards per carry) and a pair of fumbles.
3. The #10 Iowa Hawkeyes (8-0; 4-0) maintained their perfect record and outside shot at the playoffs by beating a hapless Maryland Terrapins (2-6; 0-4) squad by the score of 31-15. It was a close call, but this game was the Big Ten Suckfest of the Week. Although Maryland (as usual) did most of the sucking, Iowa wasn't a whole lot better. The teams combined for just 534 yards of total offense (less than nine FBS teams average per game), with Iowa managing only 296 total yards (and just 53 in the second half) against Maryland's 104th ranked defense (444.1 yards per game surrendered). Maryland had a meager 241 yards of total offense and committed four more turnovers, including three more interceptions (one of which Iowa's Desmond King returned 88 yards for a pick six). The Terrapins now have an FBS-worst 28 turnovers, 23 interceptions, and -16 turnover margin. To make matters worse, Maryland was 1 for 10 on third down conversions and committed 8 penalties for 72 yards. The only bright spot for Maryland was defensive back William Likely, who returned a kick-off 100 yards for a touchdown.
4. Wait, you've got to be kidding me - the Purdue Boilermakers (2-6; 1-3) defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-6; 1-4) by the score of 55 to 45? In what alternate universe did that happen? It must have been the universe of Mike Riley's craptacular suckitude. In a defense-is-optional contest that would've made Big XII teams blush, the Boilers and Corn combined for 100 points, 941 total yards, 48 first downs, and 17/32 (53.1%) on third and fourth down conversions. The big difference in the game was that Nebraska committed five turnovers, including four interceptions from back-up quarterback Ryker Fyfe, to Purdue's zero. And the fact that Nebraska was once again unable to run the ball (29 rushes, 77 yards, 2.7 average) or stop the pass (274 yards and 4 TDs to Purdue's 75th ranked passing offense). And of course, Mike Riley.
5. As we mentioned last week in the Ohio State-Rutgers preview, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights' (3-5; 1-4) stellar offensive stats (33rd in total offense with 448.3 total yards per game, 41st in scoring offense with 34.3 points per game) were skewed by weak competition and that their "production should normalize (i.e., become much worse) after consecutive games against Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan." Well that statement has proven prophetic so far, although as prophecies go it was pretty much akin to "the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning." Against Ohio State, Rutgers gained just 293 yards and 7 points, with most of that coming on a 90-yard TD drive in garbage time. Against the Wisconsin Badgers (7-2; 4-1) it was more of the same, with the Scarlet Knights eking out a paltry 165 yards and 10 points. To go deeper into the numbers, Rutgers had 8 first downs, was 2/16 (12.5%) on third and fourth downs, was 6/20 (30.0%) passing, rushed for 83 yards on 38 carries (2.2 average), and punted 9 times, and their only touchdown came on a 50-yard pick six by Blessuan Austin. The defense wasn't much better, allowing Wisconsin 426 yards (6.45 yards per play) in the 48-10 rout.
By the way, Rutgers has now dropped to 71st in total offense (393.9 ypg) and 78th in scoring offense (27.9 ppg). This represents a decline of 54.4 yards per game and 6.4 points per game ... and Michigan still awaits.
6. The #1 Ohio State Buckeyes were idle, but still lost their bye week when starting quarterback J.T. Barrett was issued a one-game suspension for committing an OVI (drunk driving). The #6 Michigan State Spartans, the Indiana Hoosiers, and the Northwestern Wildcats also had by weeks.
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