The Friendly Confines

Football returns to Wrigley Field when Illinois and Northwestern face-off Saturday.

Football returns to Wrigley Field when Illinois and Northwestern face-off Saturday.

Back where football belongs

It’s the perfect home for a baseball afternoon, but Wrigley Field’s football history is also rich with gridiron stories from a forgotten era.

For half a century, the Chicago Bears called Wrigley home, when from 1921 to 1970 the franchise was one of the NFL’s most dominant. In December of 1963, coach George Halas claimed his last NFL title against the New York Giants at Wrigley on a bitterly cold day.

When Northwestern and Illinois meet up there this Saturday it will mark the first college game played inside the ivy-laced walls since 1938.

The game itself is deserving of a little national attention, and certainly of the ESPN GameDay crew. Illinois has been one of the Big Ten’s most unpredictable teams, and at the moment is still pressing for win number six; Northwestern, on the other hand, is still jockeying for a better bowl destination.

But this game won’t be about the bowl season. Instead, the emphasis will be to bring a little spark back to the Big Ten’s dullest in-state rivalry. And what better way to do that than to hold the game in the state’s proudest landmark and have Erin Andrews there to walk the sidelines?

This weekend, fans of all Big Ten colors have reason to watch two mid-level clubs duke it out. If the football fails to hit the mark, chances are the backdrop of historic Wrigley Field will make the moment enjoyable and everlasting.

Northwestern 21, Iowa 17
Wisconsin 83, Indiana 20
Minnesota 38, Illinois 34
Michigan 27, Purdue 16
Ohio State 38, Penn State 14

A tale of two halves
At the end of the first half, Penn State held a 14–3 lead and had dominated Ohio State. Matt McGloin played an inspired second quarter, and it appeared an upset was brewing. But the Buckeyes scored on a pair of interception returns in the second half and didn’t let Penn State gain much ground in the 38–14 victory.

A perfect dozen
Wisconsin scored on all 12 of its offensive possessions in an 83–20 win over Indiana. It was the most points scored by the program since 1915, and Wisconsin’s 11 touchdowns were the most by a conference team in the past half-century. The Hoosiers had no answer for the Badger running game, evident on one two-play second quarter drive that consisted of a 36-yard carry by Montee Ball and a 30-yard scoring run by James White.

Michigan pushes past Purdue
Thanks to kicker Carson Wiggs, Purdue kept pace with Michigan for three quarters on Saturday and limited Denard Robinson to just 3.1 yards per carry. But the Wolverines’ nine-play scoring drive in the fourth quarter gave them just enough cushion to beat the Boilermakers.

Team of the Week: Northwestern
Quarterback Dan Persa guided the Wildcats on two fourth quarter touchdown drives to help his team defeat Iowa for a third straight season. It was part of a 318-yard day for the junior quarterback — a career best. Northwestern converted more than half of its third-down opportunities on Saturday, as compared to just two of 14 for Iowa. Unfortunately, Persa ruptured his Achilles on the last drive and was lost for the season.

Disappointment of the Week: Illinois
There is absolutely no good excuse for Illinois’ loss to Minnesota in Champaign on Saturday; the game was even in total yards, time of possession and turnovers. In the end, Minnesota simply made plays and Illinois could not. With a 10-point lead, the Illini allowed Troy Stoudermire to return a kick 90 yards. Two drives later, the Illini defense could not hold Minnesota during an 80-yard go-ahead drive.

Offensive Player of the Week: Dan Herron, RB, Ohio State
Herron is not supposed to be a 20-carry back, but on Saturday the coaching staff kept feeding him the ball and Herron kept delivering. He averaged just better than nine yards per carry on his 21 attempts. Late in the contest, Herron crushed what remaining hope the Nittany Lions had by gaining 70 yards in five carries in the Buckeyes’ final scoring drive.

Defensive Player of the Week: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Hmmm, let’s see: four sacks, two forced fumbles and 10 tackles. Forget this week, it might be the performance of the season.

Freshman of the Week: James White, RB, Wisconsin
Fellow Badger freshman Jared Abbrederis also deserves consideration, but White had the better day: 144 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. It was White’s third 100-yard contest of the year, and with two games remaining he still has a shot at reaching the 1,000-yard mark.

The Week Ahead

Upset Alert: Wisconsin
Bret Bielema is 0–2 in trips to Ann Arbor, including a 27–25 meltdown two seasons ago. Wisconsin is in the driver’s seat for the Rose Bowl, but this game is no picnic and if the Badgers are unable to contain Denard Robinson things could get very interesting.

Player to Watch: Ricky Stanzi, QB, Iowa
On Saturday the senior must tame an Ohio State pass defense ranked sixth in the country. No Big Ten team has passed for more than 170 yards on the Buckeyes yet, and the secondary leads all conference schools with 17 interceptions. Sounds like the perfect test for the conference’s most efficient passer. Last year, Stanzi was on the sideline with an injury when the Hawkeyes lost a heartbreaker in overtime.

Additional Notes

• No one can mistake the Big Ten for being a passing league. Not a single receiver ranks among the top 20 in the country in yards per game (Northwestern’s Jeremy Ebert leads all Big Ten players with 84.9 yards per game) and only two schools (Indiana and Northwestern) rank among the top 30 in team passing.

• Two Big Ten punters are among the 10 finalists for the Ray Guy Award: Illinois’ Anthony Santella and Iowa’s Ryan Donahue. Santella has maintained the conference’s best average (45.4 yards) despite also having the most attempts (52).

• This week’s Michigan-Wisconsin game pits the conference’s top two teams in first downs gained. The Wolverines and Badgers each have 124 first downs on the ground (Ohio State is the only other Big Ten team with more than 100).

Penn State 34, Indiana 13
Michigan State 28, Purdue 20
Wisconsin 24, Michigan 23
Illinois 28, Northwestern 24
Ohio State 20, Iowa 17

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Athlon recaps the week that was in the Big Ten. Iowa got upset, so did Illinois while Wisconsin and Ohio State held serve.

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