Big Ten Links: Holiday headlines for football fans

Started off this holiday Monday surfing the Big Ten headlines and came across a handful of great pieces, including a look at the blueprint for stopping Michigan’s Denard Robinson after Alabama muted the star in a 41-14 dominance of the Wolverines on Saturday night. The secret? The key? Make Robinson a pocket passer. In his game against the Crimson Tide, he hit just 11-of-26 passes for 200 yards with two picks. Even worse, Robinson ran 10 times for 27 yards. As Kyle Meinke of MLive.com points out, this strategy seems to have been perfected by Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.

He has dialed up some daring blitzes that put an extra man in the box. That mucks up the running but it does creates some open lanes down field to pass. Alas, Robinson typically isn’t able to find those, and he and the Michigan offense get bogged down. Compounding problems for the Wolverine passing game, Robinson didn’t receive great help from teammates, including Devin Gardner, whose debut at receiver was so-so.

How to get better: It wasn’t easy to watch Penn State melt down in the second half of its season-opening loss to Ohio. But, have no fear, Nittany Lions fans. Mike Poorman of StateCollege.com offers five ways for the Penn State defense, which was at the root of the team’s collapse, to improve.

  1.  Create turnovers
  2. Make big plays
  3. Make stops on third downs
  4. Win the game in the second half
  5. Be in shape

But, honestly, the loss to Ohio wasn’t all on the defense. The offense also fell apart in the second half, putting the defense on the field too long and too often in that fateful second half. No, this was a team loss.

No passing grade: What did we learn from Iowa’s narrow win over Northern Illinois? Passing is a problem for the Hawkeyes.

Hawkeye QB James Vandenberg was sacked six times, and the aerial game just looked out of sync with him hitting just 21-of-33 passes for 129 yards. He missed passes, and receivers made mistakes, too. But, I expect this passing game to get in rhythm under new coordinator Greg Davis. He and Vandenberg are too good to fail.

Gopher down: Minnesota will have to move on from its season-opening win at UNLV without receiver Jamel Harbison, who was expected to be a big contributor this fall as a true freshman but has suffered a season-ending injury.

The Gophers have some other good options, so the wideout corps should be OK. But, quarterback MarQueis Gray overthrew his targets “at least” nine times on deep routes, according to Minnesota coach Jerry Kill. That must improve if the Gophers want any shot to play in a bowl.

Small ball: A win is a win, right? That has to be how many Wisconsin fans feel following the Badgers’ lackluster victory over FCS Northern Iowa. As for quarterback Danny O’Brien, his debut showed that he played “small ball” well.

The majority of O’Brien’s passes were of the short variety. In fact, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, O’Brien only took three shots down field longer than 10 yards. And, he completed all of them. Know this: Wisconsin surely played it conservative on Saturday—and likely will throughout what doesn’t appear to be a non-challenging non-conference schedule. Expect a more dynamic passing game as the season progresses into the Big Ten portion. For now, new offensive coordinator Matt Canada likes what he sees.

Illini holes: Mark Tupper of the Decatur Herald-Review has some concerns following the debut of the Tim Beckman era at Illinois.

But a big worry may be the health of quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who left the win over Western Michigan with an ankle injury. The Illinois offense no doubt will look different if Scheelhaase can’t play vs. Arizona State, as Reilly O’Toole isn’t the athlete that Scheelhaase is.

Hands on: Yes, Michigan State found a way to beat Boise State. But its collection of unproven receivers struggled.

But, there is time. I still think guys like Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett will be good. In the meantime, tight end Dion Sims is looking like an All-Big Ten talent.


TWEETS THAT MATTER

My take: I would hope not. The Wisconsin offensive coordinator likely is saving stuff for the Big Ten portion of the schedule. At least I hope he is.


My take: Hey, let’s not focus on the potentially negative. The Hawkeyes beat a tough Northern Illinois team. And Iowa will surely benefit from that experience—beginning Saturday vs. Iowa State


My take: In case anyone has forgotten, this is the only man on the globe who voted Michigan No. 1 in the preseason AP poll.


My take:The real question: Where will these numbers be at the start of Big Ten play?


My take: There was no more impressive Big Ten player in the opening weekend than Husker QB Taylor Martinez, whose offseason work with this guru apparently paid off.


My take: And I suspect we will see him and Robert Marve at Notre Dame this weekend. No doubt, Purdue likely will need both if it wants to pull the upset. The Boilers have won once (2004) in South Bend since 1974.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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