Quick thoughts on the early Big Ten games

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

After an exciting Week 5, things have gotten off to a bit of a boring start in the Big Ten today. All four early games were decided by double digits.

Michigan State 24, Illinois 14 -- A game that was supposed to feature two sleeper teams in the Big Ten instead paired two squads with losing records. But after today, it's clear that these two teams are headed in opposite directions. Michigan State turned in its second consecutive strong defensive performance, holding Illinois scoreless for more than 40 minutes. The Spartans won without starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, who missed the game with an ankle injury, and got good production from young running backs Larry Caper and Glenn Winston. Illinois continued its downward spiral with another horrendous offensive performance. Benching quarterback Juice Williams clearly wasn't the answer, as starter Eddie McGee struggled. Williams did some nice things in mop-up time for the second straight week, but it wasn't nearly enough. Think about this: Illinois has failed to score a first-half touchdown against a BCS opponent. Ron Zook's seat has to be sweltering after this one.

Minnesota 35, Purdue 20 -- When a team talks about the motto "Pound the Rock," like Minnesota does, you need to back it up. The Gophers walked the walk today. Actually, they ran. After falling behind 10-0, Minnesota discovered its rushing attack in the second quarter and never let up. Running backs Kevin Whaley and Duane Bennett led the way, and DeLeon Eskridge chipped in with two rushing scores. Quarterback Adam Weber also got more involved in the run game, which piled up 207 yards against the Boilers. Weber only had to attempt nine passes in the win. Minnesota also turned the momentum on defense and special teams with Lee Campbell's interception and Traye Simmons' return for a touchdown on a blocked field-goal attempt. Purdue blew another early lead and fell victim to too many mistakes. Joey Elliott did some good things but committed two costly interception. Danny Hope is having a rough time with a team that continues to hurt itself.

Penn State 52, Eastern Illinois 3 -- The Lions did what they needed to do against an overmatched opponent, grabbing a huge lead and giving backup quarterback Kevin Newsome some valuable playing time. Daryll Clark turned in his second strong performance, tossing three touchdown passes to three different receivers, and running backs Evan Royster and Stephfon Green both had big days. But Penn State fans wanted to see Newsome today, and they had to like how the freshman looked. Newsome completed 4 of 5 passes to go along with 48 rushing yards, including a 9-yard scoring run. Penn State's joke of a nonconference slate is now complete, and we'll finally start to get a good read on the Lions in Big Ten play.

Northwestern 16, Miami (Ohio) 6 -- There are two ways to look at this. Northwestern needs to win games with defense, and the Wildcats certainly have picked things up on that side of the ball. After forcing six turnovers last week against Purdue, Northwestern recorded four takeaways and seven sacks against Miami (Ohio). Defensive backs Brian Peters and Sherrick McManis were fabulous, and the Wildcats nearly posted a shutout despite playing without safety Brendan Smith and defensive end Corey Wootton. On the down side, the offense was extremely sloppy and once again couldn't generate a run game. A veteran offensive line should perform much better against a Miami defense that ranked 95th against the run. Northwestern can feel good about its defense, but it won't win many more games without better production from the run game.