Two weeks ago, this Saturday’s Ohio State-Wisconsin game looked like it could go far in determining the Big Ten race. But after two consecutive losses to Penn State and Indiana, the Badgers find themselves dead last in the conference and facing a team that Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez believes “has no weaknesses.”
“They are certainly deserving of their high ranking,” Alvarez said.
The source of the Buckeyes’ success has been the play of true freshman Maurice Clarett, who leads the Big Ten in rushing with 847 yards and scoring with 15 touchdowns (13 rushing, two receiving).
His play has even warranted Heisman consideration. But the freshman struggled in his only road game of the season two weeks ago in Ohio State’s 27-16 win over Northwestern.
Of course, he struggled his way to 140 yards and two touchdowns, but he coughed up the ball three times and was seen getting into an argument on the sidelines with running backs coach Tim Spencer.
That experience has played a part in Clarett’s quick maturation and Ohio State coach Jim Tressel thinks Clarett will be mentally ready to play in one of the most intimidating stadiums in the Big Ten.
“I think we all grow more through adversity than in things that are going smoothly,” Tressel said. “I think for the most part he has handled a very extraordinary and very unusual situation as well as he possibly can. I think he knows he is growing from it and he knows he hasn’t been perfect, but I just like he is a young man that is very willing to evaluate himself and very passionate about being a person that is going to contribute a lot to our football team.”
Not only are the Buckeyes anchored by an outstanding running game, but they also have a powerful defense.
“They have all the elements you need for a great defense,” Alavarez said. “They are a physical defense that has a lot of speed.”
The two defeats could be caused by the loss of offensive production due to the loss of star wideout Lee Evans.
“It’s hurt us considerably,” Alvarez said. “Not only is he a great possession receiver but he also has tremendous speed. He is a home run threat at all times.
“It is tremendous loss and a tremendous change in our offensive plan.”
Evans has made incredible progress in recovering from his ACL injury, but Alvarez did not say whether Evans would return this week or if and when he would return this season.
“That’s not my decision, that’s Lee’s and Lee’s family’s decision,” Alvarez said.
Official stance: Penn State called for a review of Big Ten officiating on Monday after of few questionable calls in its game against Michigan last Saturday. On Tuesday a few Big Ten coaches voiced their opinion on officiating in the conference.
The coaches seem to agree that there are calls that have been poor at times, but it tends to even out for both teams in the end.
“We’ve seen some calls that may be debatable, typically, my experience has taught me that calls have gone both ways and I think that was very evident in the Penn State-Iowa game too,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Purdue coach Joe Tiller pointed to the turnover in Big Ten referees to the professional ranks as a possible reason for the decline of quality officiating. Three Big Ten referees entered the NFL last season.
But a sticking point for Penn State coach Joe Paterno has been how games are assigned, which creates a possible bias for the officials in the game.
Paterno was upset that three of the officials in the last week’s game reside in Michigan.
“We would like them to look at it without pointing a finger to make some decisions as to whether it has been appropriate that there have been certain assignments made, or inappropriate,” Paterno said.
Hoosier hero: Indiana senior quarterback Gibran Hamdan was named Big Ten co-offensive Player of the Week after his performance in the Hooseirs’ 32-29 victory over Wisconsin.
In the game, Hamdan set career bests, passing for 310 yards and four touchdowns.
Hamdan rallied the Hoosiers from 19 points down in the second half.
“It was an exciting win for us, the fact that we were able to come from behind – it was something we haven’t done here in awhile,” Hamdan said.
Hamdan will look to maintain the magic when Indiana takes on No. 15 Iowa this week.