Linebacker Sherels earns Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week award

Mark Remme

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Minnesota junior linebacker Mike Sherels took home an individual honor from the Big Ten after the Gophers’ 28-27 overtime loss to Penn State on Saturday.

Sherels’ career-high 15-tackle performance earned the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week award.

“It’s a great honor,” he said. “It was a complete defensive effort – it wouldn’t be possible for me to go out there and make plays if the (defensive) line wasn’t doing their job or the (defensive backs) weren’t doing their job.”

The career day is his second in two weeks. His 12 tackles against Michigan one week ago was his previous single-game high.

In addition, Sherels compiled three tackles for losses and one pass breakup against the Nittany Lions.

Coach Glen Mason said his defensive captain’s performance was what he expected out of him.

“What I see out of Sherels doesn’t surprise me one bit,” he said.

Other Big Ten awards

Ohio State senior quarterback Troy Smith and Wisconsin freshman running back P.J. Hill both garnered Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Smith’s 85 percent completion percentage against Bowling Green was the third highest single-game performance in school history.

He completed 17 of 20 passes for 191 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for 54 yards.

Hill averaged 7.1 yards per carry against Northwestern and finished with 249 yards on the ground. His 60-yard touchdown run on the Badgers’ second offensive play set the tone for his offensive explosion.

Indiana sophomore running back Marcus Thigpen received the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week award by recording 197 kickoff return yards against Illinois.

Thigpen also tied a Big Ten record with his third touchdown return of the season – a 98-yarder – to open the second half in a 34-32 win over the Illini.

Smith’s tough stretch

Michigan State’s recent losing streak has raised questions about the job security of coach John L. Smith.

The Spartans started 3-0, but a devastating loss to Notre Dame after leading 31-14 at halftime sent the team into a three-game downward spiral.

Smith said talk of being on the hot seat doesn’t bother him.

“I don’t worry about that part of it,” he said. “I worry about the players – a win would be great for the team.”

Michigan State hosts No. 1 Ohio State on Saturday. Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said Smith has a tough schedule every year and he’s always shown success wherever he goes.

“Sometimes the injury bug hits you and sometimes the ball bounces the wrong way,” Tressel said. “But no one can convince me otherwise that John L. Smith’s a winner.”

Manningham undergoes surgery

Michigan sophomore Mario Manningham underwent arthroscopic surgery Tuesday morning.

Details on the injury were not disclosed, but coach Lloyd Carr said he’s optimistic about the outcome.

“We got great news as far as the injury goes,” he said. “He’ll miss this week, but we’re very excited about the outcome.”

Manningham has dominated secondaries around the country this season. He has 527 receiving yards and nine touchdowns for the fourth-ranked Wolverines.

Battle for the Axe

Minnesota will travel to Wisconsin this weekend for the Big Ten’s only trophy game.

The Badgers will try to hold on to Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the third straight year.

It will be the 116th meeting between the two schools. The teams have played each season since 1907.

Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said rivalries give players extra incentive to stay motivated from week to week.

“It helps you even just focus in that much more than anything else,” Bielema said. “I know one of the things I brought up on Saturday was the Axe and it’s an important thing to our guys.”

Mason said the mystique of Minnesota’s rivalry with Wisconsin is its clean and respectful play.

“It’s been classy,” he said. “You don’t see the fights or the planting of the flags that you see between other schools.”