Michigan's overtime win over Illinois should ease the pressure on Rich Rodriguez.
A decade from now, Rich Rodriguez may look back on Saturday’s overtime win as the turning point in his tenure at the University of Michigan — a game that helped his program achieve one of its goals and got the haters off his back.
The 67–65 victory over Illinois was only one contest, but in many ways it served as a crossroads for the once-proud program. Had the Wolverines come up on the other end of the contest, it would have resulted in a fourth straight loss. Instead, the victory gave the program its sixth win of the season, meaning Michigan is now eligible for its first bowl since 2007. And with a trip to Purdue and a home date against Wisconsin lurking, Michigan is in good shape to finish the year with a winning record. It’s likely Rodriguez will show a two-win improvement from the year prior, same as he did last year.
Safe to assume Rodriguez’s job is finally safe? Um, not so fast.
For one thing, there was no ‘do-this-or-else’ mission given to the coach; he was offered the athletic department’s full support, but with an open agenda. And with transition taking place in the department, there is no way for one to predict how or if leaders will incorporate change once the season concludes. Independent polls still show Rodriguez as an unpopular coach (although his stock is slowly starting to rise).
But here’s the bigger picture: Progress is fine and good, but is it enough to satisfy Michigan’s fanbase? Has Rodriguez proven his methods will work for the maize and blue, and that he can be a national championship caliber coach in Ann Arbor?
Bowl games are nice, but Michigan views itself as one of the nation’s top 10 football programs. It expects Rose Bowls, not Little Caesars Pizza Bowls. And until Rodriguez’s teams are positioned amongst the nation’s elite, he’ll be forced to suffer through more sleepless nights.
The Week That Was
Michigan 67, Illinois 65
Iowa 18, Indiana 13
Michigan State 31, Minnesota 8
Wisconsin 34, Purdue 13
Penn State 35, Northwestern 21
No Clay, no White, no problem
The Badgers sat freshman running back James White and lost John Clay early against Purdue. Fortunately, the team is three-deep at the position and transitioned to Montee Ball with little trouble. Ball gained 127 yards on 21 carries, two of which he took in for touchdowns. That makes him the third Badger back to reach 100 yards in a contest this season.
McGloin manages a gem
Penn State walk-on quarterback Matt McGloin was nothing short of marvelous on Saturday. After replacing Rob Bolden, things went slowly for McGloin until Penn State’s final drive of the first half when he tossed a touchdown with three seconds remaining. McGloin was nearly flawless in the second half, and finished 18-of-29 with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Shootout in Ann Arbor
With the score knotted 45–45, Illinois and Michigan clashed in a memorable overtime that ultimately helped to snap Michigan’s losing skid. The Wolverines converted on a two-point try following a third overtime touchdown; Illinois’ Mikel Leshoure then scored a three-yard touchdown but the Illini two-point attempt failed. In all, the teams combined for more than 1,200 yards of offense.
Team of the Week: Penn State
Trailing by 21 at one point late in the first half, the Nittany Lions rallied to take back control of the game. By game’s end, Penn State held an advantage in total yards and time of possession, and had Joe Pa on its shoulders to celebrate win No. 400. The running game was strong for a second straight week.
Disappointment of the Week: Iowa
Top 20 teams are not supposed to be saved by a dropped touchdown in the closing seconds. Iowa needed a last minute drive to grab the lead, then a little luck to keep it. After beating Michigan State, fans expected better.
Offensive Player of the Week: Edwin Baker, RB, Michigan State
The sophomore back scored all four of the Spartans touchdowns and gained 179 yards on 27 carries. What’s most impressive, he averaged 6.6 yards without a carry of more than 30 yards, showing how consistent the 208-pound back was all afternoon.
Defensive Player of the Week: Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State
The sophomore was an emotional force for Penn State in the second half, coming up big on a couple of series. Mauti had three tackles for loss in the contest and led all Nittany Lion defenders with 11 tackles.
Freshman of the Week: Silas Redd, RB, Penn State
Evan Royster had another big day, but not as good as Penn State’s nifty freshman. Redd averaged 11.9 yards per carry (11 for 131) and scored the go-ahead touchdown near the end of the third quarter. Not bad for a back who had gained more than 30 yards in just one of his first seven games.
The Week Ahead
Upset Alert: Iowa
Following last week’s road showing, Iowa fans are not looking forward to a trip to Evanston. The Hawkeyes may be tempted to peek ahead to next week’s game against Ohio State. And let’s not forget that the Wildcats are the team that ruined Iowa’s perfect record last season.
Player to Watch: Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
Fresh off a five-touchdown day against Michigan, Leshoure should find plenty of room to roam on a Minnesota defense that ranks last in the conference against the run. The Gophers allow 200.5 rushing yards per game, and 5.5 yards per carry. Leshoure is only 100 yards away from reaching 1,000 for the season.
It’s no coincidence that the conference’s top four teams — Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa — all rank in the top four in both scoring and run defense. Only the Badgers and Buckeyes also rank among the top four in pass defense.
Penn State has lost to Ohio State in three of the last four years, the exception being 2008. In those three losses, the Buckeyes have won by an average of 19.6 points.
Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan is one of only two FBS players to average more than two tackles for loss per game (2.06). The other is Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers (2.22). So far this season, Kerrigan has recorded 18.5 tackles for loss, including 7.5 sacks.
Iowa 21, Northwestern 20
Wisconsin 28, Indiana 17
Illinois 31, Minnesota 13
Michigan 24, Purdue 21
Ohio State 35, Penn State 20