Defense puts up stop signs at right times

by Brian Stensaas

After Minnesota and Northwestern each traded touchdowns to open play last Thursday at the Metrodome, the Gophers’ defense stiffened and allowed the Wildcats only 56 more yards the entire quarter.

But the corps lapsed at times as the game wore on, allowing Northwestern to come back and score 21 points in the fourth quarter. Minnesota precariously hung on to a 45-42 win. But had the defense not held strong in the beginning, the outcome could have been a loss.

“You never want to put your offense behind the eight ball,” defensive line coach Tom Sims said. “They have to have faith in you that you can stop the other team. A good way to do that is to start early and keep it going through the entire game.”

To date, the Gophers are outscoring opponents 66-33 in the opening quarter and 82-36 in the second.

It’s a trend that if continued Saturday could spell victory at Michigan State. Last Saturday, the Spartans scored once in the first quarter before ultimately losing 44-16 to Iowa.

But with offensive weapons such as quarterback Jeff Smoker (1,364 passing yards) and wide receiver Charles Rogers (765 receiving yards), Michigan State is capable of anything.

“At any given time, they can blow up on offense,” strong safety Justin Isom said. “We have to hold strong the entire game, but a strong start is the most important.”

Officiating woes continue

the unfortunate trend of questionable officiating continued in Big Ten action last weekend.

With time running down in the tied Michigan-Penn State match up, television replays showed Lions’ receiver Tony Johnson appeared to get two feet in bounds on a catch near the Michigan 20-yard line.

In college football, only one foot is required to be in bounds for a reception, but officials called Johnson out.

The Wolverines wound up winning the game 27-24 in overtime.

On Monday, Penn State athletic director Tim Curley asked the Big Ten for a comprehensive review of officiating.

In a statement, Curley said, “I am of the opinion that Big Ten officiating has not met the usual high standards associated with the Big Ten in all areas.”

The latest apparent missed call comes in the wake of an Oct. 2 announcement by the conference that four officials had been suspended for a poor outing in the Sept. 21 Purdue-Wake Forest game.

Lions coach Joe Paterno met with athletics officials on Monday and the group ultimately decided that formally contacting the conference office was the best course of action.

“Obviously there’s been some discontent with some of the things that have happened,” Paterno said. “Tim’s in the process of sending (Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany) some tapes and things like that to see whether or not we know what we’re talking about.”

Delany has responded, saying in part he requested a detailed critique from the school and promised a detailed response.

Clarett experiencing it all

ohio State freshman running back Maurice Clarett continued on his dominant track Saturday against San Jose State. The Big Ten’s leading rusher scampered for 132 yards and two touchdowns against the Spartans. He also caught a seven-yard touchdown pass helping the fourth-ranked Buckeyes to a 50-7 win.

To date, the 18-year-old has amassed 917 total yards of offense and 15 touchdowns.

This despite having his knee scoped prior to the Sept. 21 game against Cincinnati, which he missed.

Not bad for a guy running wild on the high school scene 12 months ago.

“I’ve had mixed results with kids who opt into college prior to their total high school career,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said of Clarett, who came to Columbus for last year’s winter quarter. “But in this particular case, Maurice was very passionate about coming in and he felt that it would be hard if he showed up in August. He put his football goals ahead of some of his personal enjoyment.”

Let’s go bowling

in addition to the Gophers, two other teams – Ohio State and Iowa – became bowl-eligible with wins last weekend.

Though the Buckeye’s earned their seventh win, the victory over Texas Tech in the Pigskin Classic cannot count because it was an exempt contest. Wisconsin is in the same boat with an exempt win over Fresno State.

The Big Ten will be represented in a record seven postseason bowl games this winter.

Brian Stensaas covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]