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Gentleman Jim Enters Rare Company
Few college football coaches work under as big a microscope as Ohio State’s Jim Tressel, whose job was once thought to be in jeopardy after he blew a second BCS Title game in three years.
Imagine that — the coach of your favorite school in trouble for finishing the year in the runner-up chair.
Ohio State demands BCS berths, and accepts nothing short of a Big Ten title. And, during much of his tenure in Columbus, Tressel has delivered. On Saturday, assuming things go as they normally do for the Buckeyes, Tressel will become the 13th Big Ten coach to win 100 games. And he’ll be the third-fastest to get there: Michigan’s Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr accomplished the feat in 119 games; if successful Saturday, it will have taken Tressel 121 games. And among conference coaches with 10 or more years under their belts, only Michigan’s Fielding Yost has a better winning percentage than Tressel’s .825.
One of Tressel’s most likeable qualities isn’t that he wins, but rather how he wins. His teams can go blow-for-blow with the power clubs of the Big Ten, and as evidenced in a win over Miami, Tressel’s teams can go step-for-step with the country’s finest finesse clubs. And Tressel-coached teams are always as classy as his sideline sweater vest.
At some schools, the legends of past coaches are so overbearing that no one can exist outside of their shadow. But Tressel has done nothing but embrace Woody Hayes and the rest of Ohio State’s rich history. That has helped him to build his own legacy, outside of Hayes’ reach. And on Saturday, Ohio State fans may have reason once again to embrace Tressel, and reflect for a day on the history he has helped to build for Ohio State’s program.
The Week That Was
Northwestern 29, Minnesota 28
Ohio State 24, Illinois 13
Michigan 42, Indiana 35
Michigan State 34, Wisconsin 24
Iowa 24, Penn State 3
Buckeye backfield continues to sputter
Ohio State has not found consistency out of any of its backs so far this season, and on Saturday got just 109 yards from Dan Herron and Brandon Saine combined (most of it coming from Herron). Through five games, neither back is on pace to gain more than 700 yards this season, and only Saine has a 100-yard game to his credit.
Chappell and Doss go to work on Wolverines
One of the silver linings in Indiana’s loss to Michigan was the success quarterback Ben Chappell and wide receiver Tandon Doss shared. Chappell completed 45-of-64 passes for 480 yards — all Hoosier records; Doss caught 15 of those passes for 221 yards. Somewhat overshadowed, Damarlo Belcher caught 10 balls for 91 yards. The receiving duo rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the conference.
Gophers find a weapon in Lair
One of the Big Ten’s fastest-rising prospects is Minnesota tight end Eric Lair, who last week caught seven passes for 94 yards against Northern Illinois. On Saturday, the junior caught three for 75 yards, two of them for scores.
Team of the Week:Michigan State
Even without coach Mark Dantonio, who returned to the hospital to take care of a blood clot, the Spartans stepped up in their Big Ten opener against fellow Top 25 foe Wisconsin. Despite committing early turnovers, Michigan State beat Wisconsin at its own game, with hard-nosed defense and a ball control offense (the Spartans actually out-gained the Badgers, 175 to 165 yards).
Disappointment of the Week:Penn State
Just three crummy points. The Nittany Lions converted only three of 13 third down attempts (although, it’s only fair to point out Iowa converted two of 10) and gained just 54 yards on the ground. It was one of the worst offensive performances by a Penn State squad in some time.
Offensive Player of the Week:Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
Nothing out of the ordinary — just another 200-yard passing and 200-yard rushing day to help Michigan get to 5–0. The Heisman talk is starting to grow louder.
Defensive Player of the Week:J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
It’s rare to give defensive player honors to someone from a losing team, but Watt’s performance was difficult to ignore. He applied pressure to Kirk Cousins all afternoon, played thick against the run and even batted a couple of passes. He might be the conference’s most underrated player.
Freshman of the Week: James White, RB, Wisconsin
White was the best freshman for a second straight week. With John Clay noticeably hobbled by a bum ankle, White gave the Wisconsin offense its bounce back, averaging 9.8 yards on 10 carries and scoring two touchdowns.
The Week Ahead
Reeling from its BCS-busting loss to Michigan State, the Badgers are vulnerable against a hungry Minnesota club that gave Northwestern all it could take. The Battle for the Axe is a week before Wisconsin’s highly anticipated matchup against Ohio State. Possible the Badgers will peek past the Gophers? Sure. It’s also possible the Badgers are just plain overrated.
Player to Watch:Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
Leshoure took a step back in last week’s contest (19 carries for 80 yards) and now must regroup in order to help Illinois in its trip to Penn State. The Nittany Lions currently rank fifth in the Big Ten in defending against the run, allowing 3.7 yards per carry. But the Illini’s 230-pound junior is as good as every back Penn State has faced thus far (with the exception of Trent Richardson) and could take Nittany Lions fans by surprise.
Only three schools in the conference are averaging better than 10 yards per punt return; thanks in part to its explosive player, Keshawn Martin, Michigan State is averaging a deadly 17.2 yards. Martin is averaging 18.5 yards on his returns, including last week’s 74-yard game-changing score against Wisconsin.
At present, three Big Ten quarterbacks are leading their respective schools in rushing. Both Denard Robinson (Michigan) and Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State) rank among the conference’s top 10 in the category, while Northwestern’s Dan Persa is not far off.
Penn State 20, Illinois 14
Wisconsin 28, Minnesota 24
Ohio State 36, Indiana 10
Michigan 34, Michigan State 31
Northwestern 21, Purdue 13