This is the Oct. 24 edition of Carrying On About Big Ten Football, a weekly series.
So far this season, I've watched three Big Ten football games from the comfort of the press box.
I like this.
Especially because press boxes happen to be climate-controlled.
This past weekend, I hadn't applied for any media credentials, and I had visions of enjoying my day off by sitting at home with my two televisions and watching college football all afternoon.
You see, my living room is also climate controlled.
However, I ended up receiving free tickets to the Ohio State/Minnesota game in Columbus at the last minute. And while watching college football on television is a great way to spend a fall Saturday, watching college football in person is an even better option.
Only one small problem. The Buckeyes tickets, which were generously given to me by my mother-in-law (thanks Betsy!), were in the C deck of the Horseshoe.
And in case you wondered...
...the C-deck is not climate-controlled.
Without any further ado, it's the hypothermic edition of "Carrying On About Big Ten Football."
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: OHIO STATE 38, MINNESOTA 7
Five things I noticed on a bitterly cold, wind-blown Saturday in Columbus (excuse any typos, as I'm just barely beginning to feel my fingers again)...
1. This is what I always thought Minnesota would look like without Eric Decker.
I tagged the Gophers as a one-trick pony in preseason and grew increasingly perturbed each week that opposing defensive coordinators allowed Decker to single-handedly keep Minnesota in ballgames.
You might remember that I wrote a column a month ago advocating a constant double-team on the Golden Gophers' star, and I simply shook my head as the senior continued to put up monster numbers against unsuspecting defenses: In his first five games, Decker averaged over 125 yards receiving and caught five touchdowns.
The last few weeks have finally brought Decker back to earth somewhat (three catches against Purdue and only one at Penn State), but even his presence on the field as a decoy has been effective: Minnesota amassed over 200 rushing yards against the Boilers because the Purdue scheme was fixated on stopping Decker.
And that brings us to Columbus and the sprained foot Eric Decker suffered in the first quarter against the Buckeyes. When Decker limped off the field, he took with him whatever hope of effectiveness the Minnesota offense had.
The Gophers' attack was downright anemic the rest of the way (outside of an occasional scamper by change-of-pace quarterback MarQueis Gray), and the rest of the receiving corps was exposed in the glaring absence of the conference's best wideout.
The worst part for Minnesota was the other wide receivers' seeming aversion to catching the football: it's hard to fault Adam Weber for a below 50 percent completion day when he kept hitting teammates in the hands.
When all was said and done, the visitors from Minneapolis played the majority of the game like their best player was standing on the sidelines on crutches.
Because for most of the game, he was.
2. It may be a cliche, but it's still true: one play can change everything.
I spent halftime in the concourse, trying to stay out of the wind and listening to Ohio State fans grumble about a tenuous 7-0 lead. With 30 minutes to play, Buckeye fans were starting to get nervous about their Big Ten title hopes, and Minnesota was looking forward to receiving the second-half kickoff in a tight ballgame.
As Ohio State prepared to put the ball in play, the wind was gusting the most it had all day, and the Bucks were forced to use a holder because the football wouldn't stay on the tee. The resulting kick was predictably short, which apparently surprised no one but Gopher return man Troy Stoudermire.
Stoudermire, who was badly fooled and out of position (not the best combination, if you ask me) raced forward, dove to try and field the ball, muffed it, and immediately gave Ohio State all the momentum they needed to turn a seven-point lead into a 31-point laugher.
The Buckeyes scored the first of their three touchdowns in the period just three plays later, and the visitors were left to dream of what might have been.
In case you wondered, momentum is real. If Stoudermire sets up at the 25 instead of the five and runs the short kick back for a touchdown, this definitely isn't a 31-point game. Who knows if it's even an Ohio State victory? One play really can change everything.
3. The Minnesota defensive backfield had a day to forget.
While I'll never be more than an armchair quarterback, I'm pretty sure I would have been able to hit DeVier Posey on the Buckeyes' first touchdown pass.
Yes, he was that wide open: I don't think there was a single defender on that side of the Olentangy River. To make matters worse, Posey's other touchdown, a 57-yard bomb in the third quarter, also came on what looked like a busted coverage.
From my rudimentary understanding of this game we call football, a defensive back's job is to guard receivers. Therefore, I feel more than justified criticizing the entire Minnesota defensive backfield, because there wasn't much receiver-guarding going on in Columbus.
4. The drops were contagious.
Terrelle Pryor was extremely fortunate to tally 239 passing yards, because his receivers weren't really catching much either. I understand this sounds like nitpicking after a 38-7 Buckeyes win, but OSU missed on multiple chances in the first half to take control because of crucial drops at the worst possible times.
Most notable was a fade route from Pryor to Posey in the midst of a 19-play drive that bounced off the receiver's hands in the end zone. Not the easiest catch of the day, but a Big Ten wideout has to make that play when a touchdown's on the line.
OSU ended up missing a field goal after the 19-play march, one of two empty drives (the other ended with an interception shortly before halftime) that could have cost the Bucks if the third quarter hadn't been so one-sided.
A lot of the criticism around Columbus the last week has focused on Pryor, but maybe we should be talking a little more about the guys he's throwing to...after all, it still takes two people, the thrower and catcher, to complete a pass, right?
5. Speaking of which, are we done with the Terrelle Pryor criticism yet? Pryor is neither Peyton Manning nor Tim Tebow, but that doesn't mean the OSU signal-caller can't develop into one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten, if not the nation. I literally laughed out loud at all the Ohio State fans on Twitter during the Bucks/Boilers game last week that were ready to trade Pryor for Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott straight up.
While Pryor's not perfect and has shown the propensity to make ill-advised throws under pressure, he was the No. 1 recruit in the country for a reason. In addition to throwing for two touchdowns against the Gophers, he also ran for 104 yards on 15 carries. His ability to get outside the pocket keeps plays alive, buys receivers time, and makes the Buckeyes offense dangerous on every play.
OSU fans are going to demand consistency, and they should, but let's stop with the talk about moving Pryor to wide receiver or bringing in Joe Bauserman.
Really, Buckeye fan? Bauserman? Really?
Let me try and put it in perspective for you this way...how many quarterbacks in the country could lead their team to four second-half touchdowns with their arm and legs, while the first- AND second-string tailbacks sit on the bench with injuries?
Enough with the Pryor-bashing already.
MAYBE BROADCASTING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT
I try and pull together the announcer quotes that make me chuckle each weekend, and with that said, I'm not going to even include the Bob Griese line you've all obviously heard about already. Let's stick to the funny ones.
"The first team to blink is gonna win this game." -- Glen Mason (via @snydermatt ). Don't you mean "lose", Glen? If that's true, let's blink right now and get this over with...
"The athletic director at Illinois yesterday made a statement that Ron Turner will indeed be the head coach of Illinois next year." -- Pam Ward I'm guessing that's probably news to Ron ZOOK...
"Bolden stepped on a pop top and blew out a flip flop on this one, a little Margaritaville right here." -- Ray Bentley Um, okay...
"Williams takes a shot into the corner of the end zone, but throws it to the cannon. Or is that a bell over there? It's a bell...that did not make the catch either." -- Pam Ward Of course, because a bell and cannon look so incredibly similar...
" When you try to catch a ball, and there's a little bit of wetness on it, it's a whole lot more slippier than if it was absolutely downpouring." -- Mark Campbell Did you just invent the word "slippier", Mr. Campbell?
Last but not least is Wayne Larrivee's call of an Iowa field goal attempt. To fully appreciate this, you have to check out Chip Caray's mistaken call of a pop-out to left field as a playoff-clinching base hit a few weeks ago. Caray screamed "Base hit," only to try and cover his tracks when the ball was caught easily and he realized his mistake.
And that brings us to Larrivee, who had no idea the Iowa kicker, Daniel Murray, actually got his kick inside the uprights (until the referees raised their arms over their heads). His excited call (my favorite of the week, and you can even watch it here ):
"And he hooked it! (long pause) ...Through the uprights!" -- Wayne Larrivee Nice save, Wayne...
MAYBE COACHING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT
While honorable mention for this week's coaching section goes to Bill Lynch, whose Hoosiers failed on two fourth-down conversions in a meltdown against Northwestern and headed back to Bloomington wishing they'd kicked some field goals, I'm actually going to venture outside the Big Ten for my weekly criticism.
That's because I love cheering for underdogs, and I couldn't believe how Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin blew a chance to beat the nation's No. 1 team.
In case you missed the game, the Volunteers were down 12-3 to Alabama late in the fourth quarter, scored a touchdown, and recovered the onside kick with less than 90 seconds to play (trailing by two). Tennessee quickly drove the ball into field-goal range and had a 1st-and-10 at the Bama 28-yard line with 48 seconds left and the clock running.
One small detail that factors in here: so far on the afternoon, the Volunteers were a disappointing one of three kicking field goals. The Vols had missed one kick and gotten another blocked, so simply reaching their kicker's range was a long way from ensuring a successful three points.
So WHY ON EARTH did Kiffin call for a handoff on first down and let the clock run all the way down before spiking it to set up one final kick? You have a first down, a chance to beat the country's No. 1 team, and your kicker's had a horrible day...sure, that sounds like a perfect time to turn conservative, quit gaining yards, and start running clock.
I understand the Vols were out of timeouts, but fake an out route and throw a slant for seven yards, then spike the ball...or try a fade into the end zone...or something.
Assuming a 44-yard field goal is a high-percentage play when your kicker's missed on two of his three opportunities and passing up the chance to get closer or attack the goal line is stupid...
...and I wasn't surprised at all when the potential game-winner was blocked.
Maybe coaching is easier than I thought.
MAYBE HANGING ONTO THE BALL IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT
As a Purdue fan, I figured I'd seen it all in the turnover department, but this blew even me away.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers lost 9-7 Saturday because they committed eight turnovers.
Fumble, interception, fumble, fumble, fumble, fumble, interception, interception.
Holy cow, it hurts just to type that.
If you're scoring at home, that's seven points and eight turnovers for the Huskers. Again, it really doesn't have anything to do with the Big Ten, but I feel better about the Boilermakers right now (who had a grand total of ZERO turnovers in this weekend's win over Illinois), so I felt like bragging!
Maybe hanging onto the ball is easier than I thought.
THANK GOODNESS FOR MY DVR
No competition for this week's top play: That would be the game-winning pass from Ricky Stanzi to Marvin McNutt as time expired in East Lansing. What a ballgame (and I absolutely loved the goal-line stands by each team in the fourth quarter...that was Big Ten defense at its finest).
Nice diving effort by Northwestern's Mike Bolden to keep a punt from bouncing into the end zone. Bolden wasn't the guy that ultimately down the ball, but he saved a certain touchback with a highlight play.
Speaking of the Cats, I had to rewind the Zeke Markshausen over-the-shoulder catch in the corner of the end zone against two defenders. Big-time play from a guy who seems to be getting better each time out.
Ray Fisher had himself a day for the Hoosiers, although I'm sure he'd rather have the win. Fisher broke free for a 35-yard punt return that nearly went to the house, and he topped that with a 93-yard kickoff return that did go for a touchdown. Time to stop kicking to the Hoosiers' special teams star.
Perfect call and better execution on the Spartans' fourth-quarter hook-and-ladder that nearly led to an upset of undefeated Iowa. Brian Linthicum and Blair White combined to help Michigan State convert a 3rd-and-18 play, only to have their hearts broken on the game's final snap.
Remember, if you see an amazing highlight, hear a crazy announcer quote, or just want to talk football, send a message to @TimCary on Twitter. You could find yourself in the next edition of "Carrying On", a weekly feature on FirstandBigTen.com (FBT is a Bleacher Report blog dedicated to Big Ten football).
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