“Looking at Big Ten stats, it is apparent defense is becoming more of a challenge.” — Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz
That being the case, Saturday’s Irish-Spartan showdown in South Bend is the perfect matchup.
Everybody seems to be passing more — has it replaced blocking and tackling? — and Notre Dame’s Tommy Rees stands No. 7 in the nation with 969 yards and seven TDs. Two fourth-quarter TD passes to DaVaris Daniels (north suburban Vernon Hills product) erased a 17-10 Purdue lead and sparked ND’s 31-24 triumph Saturday.
The Irish aerial attack will be pitted against a coach, Mark Dantonio, who said Tuesday: “I do believe that you win with defense.”
Dantonio’s 3-0 Michigan State team leads the nation in that department, giving up 177 yards per game.
Big chips will be on the table in South Bend. The winner will be rewarded with Top 25 status, while the loser will find itself on the outside looking in.
Dantonio said the Spartan attack was, apparently for the first time, in rhythm as new QB starter Connor Cook attacked Youngstown State with alternating receivers and running backs by committee.
These Spartans could be a team to watch in the Big Ten as they take next week off before entering conference play against Iowa, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois (homecoming here). By contrast, Notre Dame faces unbeatens Oklahoma and Arizona State just around the corner.
Bombshells of controversy resounded as coaches Gary Andersen and Bo Pelini spoke on the weekly Big Ten teleconference. First, Andersen:
With the Pac-12 apologizing for the ridiculous runoff of time that prevented Wisconsin from kicking a possible game-winning field goal at Arizona State, Andersen said:
“I thought when the clock went to zero it would be re-evaluated. The officials simply trotted off. This is tough. This isn’t a missed call or a bad decision; this was more than that. It wasn’t decided with the players on the field. I don’t know if we would have made the field goal, but I liked our chances.”
It began with 18 seconds left when QB Joel Stave took a snap, moved left and put his knee down to center the ball at :14. When he dropped the ball and began to line up the Badgers for a clock-stopping spike, an Arizona State linebacker fell on the dead ball and precious seconds ticked off. By the time the ref got the ball and cleared it for play, it was already at :03. And the spike came too late. Game over. Sun Devils 32, Badgers 30.
The Badgers merely lost. The officials disgraced themselves.
Like many coaches, Pelini has a temper and is under heavy stress (remember Cubs manager Lee Elia?). And two years ago, before a postgame show, he unleashed a profane rant in which he chastised the media and called Cornhusker fans “fair-weather.” In the wake of Saturday’s 41-21 home loss to UCLA, it became public via Deadspin.com.
“It was a shock to me when this came out,” Pelini said. “It was an emotional time and in a private setting. It does not represent how I feel. I’ve already made a statement (to school officials) that I’m sorry. I’m upset that it came to this.
“I enjoy Nebraska. I don’t know where the perception came from that I don’t like it here. I’ve had others pursue me (for another job), but I have not initiated anything of that nature.”
Pelini faced the music directly and without frustration, answering similar questions over and over Tuesday. By contrast, Minnesota coach Jerry Kill refused to discuss the ramifications of his latest collapse (epileptic seizure) at halftime with the Gophers leading Western Illinois 7-6. Minnesota went on to win 29-12.
— Several Illini football recruits are putting up spectacular numbers, in particular Lincoln-Way North’s Julian Hylton (52 carries for 323 yards vs. Andrew) and receivers Mike Dudek of Naperville Neuqua Valley and Malik Turner of Sacred Heart-Griffin. But the real UI need is at tackle both ways. With Abe Cajuste slowed and Vontrell Williams out indefinitely, Tim Beckman said Saturday they were only two-deep at defensive tackle, and one of those was converted offensive lineman Robbie Bain.
— Are you wondering what happened to Illini great Brandon Lloyd? After 10 seasons in the NFL — he caught 74 balls for New England last season — he’ll next be seen with Daniel Baldwin in a straight-to-DVD zombie movie, “After Effect,” which comes out Oct. 8. No more football for Lloyd. He sees himself as an actor, musician and rapper ... and he also has broadcasting talent.
— If defense wins games, the Illini have a problem. They’re last in the Big Ten in overall yards (492.7) and passing yards (330.3) allowed. Among 123 FBS teams, Illinois ranks 115th in total defense. Can you guess who is No. 123? It’s Miami (Ohio), the next UI opponent. The RedHawks host Cincinnati on Saturday after giving up 1,266 yards to Marshall and Kentucky.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.