Michigan State controlled the line of scrimmage in a methodical 23-7 win over Notre Dame in East Lansing. This was a game into the fourth quarter, as Notre Dame cut the lead to 13-7 and was again in position to cut it to six before a missed field goal with under six minutes left effectively ended their hopes. But in watching this game, there was never a point where a neutral viewer could really feel like the Irish were going to win the game. MSU did everything they had to do and Javon Ringer was dominant, rushing for 201 yards.
The Spartans did show some problems, particularly their inability to finish drives. Given that we know Ringer is an excellent back, this has to fall on the offensive line. Good defenses can focus on one great back in key situations and stop him if he doesn't have a powerful line ahead of him. We will have to see if this problem plagues Mark Dantonio's team as the caliber of its competiton increases. But for today, they are sitting on 3-1 and did what they do in the non-conference schedule. They won their two gimme games and got a split out of Cal & Notre Dame. A .500 conference record will put them back in a bowl, and whatever problems showed up yesterday, they certainly look good enough to do that.
I think Jimmy Clausen does show signs of progressing, albeit not quite as much as the ABC crew made it out to be. His numbers--24/41 for 242 yards are decent, and while the two key picks are a problem, that's typical for a sophomore. And if you place that in the context of him getting no support anywhere else on offense, it means he does deserve a little credit for giving his team the marginal amount of hope it had. Spartans Weblog provides a good breakdown of ND's efforts to throw the ball on Saturday, examining it from the opposing viewpoint.
It wasn't pretty, but Northwestern got it done. They turned the ball over five times and got four turnovers of their own back. And here's words you don't hear said very often--they did it with defense. They held Ohio to four rushing yards and slugged out a 16-8 win. The Wildcats got to 4-0. Now it's a question of whether the two more wins they need to become bowl-eligible will actually translate into a bowl invitation (unlikely), or whether they are good enough to steal three Big Ten victories and eliminate any doubt (even money).
Iowa outgained Pitt, and they had an edge in turnovers. After rallying for 14-3 down to take a 17-14 lead, it looked like that might be enough. But the Panthers got a late touchdown and hit the Hawkeyes with a crucial loss. The Hawks must now go 4-4 in conference play to ensure a bowl invitation and that's no guarantee.
Ohio State struggled again, needing two fourth quarter touchdowns to put away Troy. The problems with Ohio & Troy are really more alarming then the blowout at USC. But a new era began in Columbus. Terrelle Pryor got the start, and played well. He threw four touchdown passes and none of them were gimme 1 & 2 yard tosses. Two were from downtown, over 30 & 40 yards. But the Bucks were still outgained and had to win the turnover battle to get the edge.
Penn State completed its run through non-conference. The four wins might not be impressive but the style certainly is. The Nittany Lions again rolled up over 500 yards of offense and used a 31-point second quarter explosion to beat Temple.
Elsewhere, Minnesota went to 4-0, although Bowling Green was the only opponent even remotely worthy. Eric Decker caught seven passes for 123 yards in a rout of Florida Atlantic and Adam Weber continued to play well at quarterback. Indiana gets great quarterback play from Kellen Lewis, who went off for 307 all-purpose yards against Ball State. But IU didn't do much else and was beaten handily on their home field, 42-20. No second straight bowl trip out of Bloomington in 2008. And Purdue barely escaped Central Michigan 32-25, on a 46-yard touchdown run by Kory Sheets with a minute that turned a one-point deficit into the win. The Boilermakers were pounded on the ground, giving up 149 yards. The Boilers play the Irish next week in a must-win game for programs trying to find their footing.