The second week of conference play saw some surprises and thrilling action in the Big Ten. At the top of course is the OSU win over Nebraska that was one of the most exciting games Buckeye fans have seen in a long time. While many people thoughts that Ohio State would win, I expect few would have expected them to win by that much or score that many points. The Buckeyes were far from the only team in the conference to have a surprising game.
Michigan State vs Indiana
A week after their loss to Ohio State, former conference favorite Michigan State looked to rebound and get back on track by tacking on Indiana for the Old Brass Spittoon. The Hoosiers weren’t looking to cooperate though and jumped out to a quick 17-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. Like OSU, the MSU offense finally got going in the second quarter, scoring two quick touchdowns to trim the Indiana lead to 3. The Hoosiers weren’t done though, scoring a touchdown and a field goal in the final five minutes to go into half with a 27-14 lead. Faced with their season in danger of going up in flames, the Spartan offense and defense stepped up in the second half and MSU scored the last seventeen points of the game to escape with a 31-27 victory.
Despite taking a while to get going, the MSU offense put up an impressive performance with 410 total yards. Stud running back Le’Veon Bell rumbled for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns on 37 carries. Far too much of the Spartan offense rests on Bell and he can’t keep up having to carry that workload if he wants to make it through the season in one piece. Fortunately for Bell there are signs he may not have to carry the team so much as after a season where the unit has been pretty awful, one of the MSU wide receivers stepped up; Aaron Burbridge had a career day snagging 8 passes for 134 yards. If the MSU receivers can continue to improve the Spartan offense can finally become two dimensional, combined with their defense that should be enough to get them to Indy. The MSU defense is obviously good enough to get them there and the fact that they held the Hoosiers to 37 yards in the second half is scary.
Indiana saw their dreams of getting second year head coach Kevin Wilson his first conference end with the second half rally by MSU. The rally shows that the Hoosier defense is just not up to Big Ten caliber but the Indiana offense has a little bit of hope after they managed to move the ball successfully in the first half. Some people would say that Indiana is a trap game for OSU next week but their defense just isn’t strong enough, though they will put some points.
#24 Northwestern vs Penn State
Northwestern entered this game as one of the biggest surprises in the country by starting 5-0 and being the first team in the country to beat four BCS conference opponents. Penn State wasn’t intimidated by the Wildcats’ good start to the season as they jumped out a 10-0 lead. After struggling for the first 20 minutes of the game, the Northwestern offense finally showed some signs of life and scored a pair of touchdowns to take a 14-10 lead into halftime. The Nittany Lions scored the first touchdown of the second half but then a pair of scores by the Wildcats, the last being a 75 yard punt return, put them up 28-17 at the end of the third quarter. Despite the deficit the Nittany Lions were not done and put together a dominant four quarter to end the Wildcats perfect season 39-28.
After starting the season with a pair of losses, Penn State has turned their season around and won four in a row. As the season has gone on the Nittany Lion offense has improved and this week was perhaps their best performance yet as they racked up 443 yards. Matt ‘Moxie’ McGloin led the way, going 35 of 51 for 282 yards and 2 touchdowns while also rushing for one more score. The PSU running game also continues to improve and Zach Zwinak’s 121 yards and a td on 28 carries shows that he has become a solid Big Ten running back. Despite the sanctions and scandal surround the program, PSU is looking like the biggest challenge to OSU for the division title.
Northwestern’s potent two quarterback system hit a speed bump as athletic qb Kain Colter was limited to 24 yards and a touchdown on five carries. Pocket passer Trevor Simian had an acceptable day, going 21 of 36 for 135 yards and a touchdown but that wasn’t enough to prevent the Wildcats from struggling. The Pretty Kitties should probably have stuck to the run more as running back Venric Mark ran for 72 yards while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. With disappointing days on both sides of the ball, the offense only gained 247 yards while the defense surrendered 21 fourth quarter points, Northwestern’s dream of a trip to Indy, which looked like a great possibility last week, took a blow. Fortunately every other team in the Wildcats’ division has shown some serious flaws.
Wisconsin vs Illinois
The rent a quarterback trend at Wisconsin appears to be over as freshman Joel Stave was the only qb to see action for the Badgers. Continuing this week’s trend of seeing first quarter offensive struggles in the conference, neither team could do much of anything in the first fifteen minutes. Illinois finally got the scoring going with a touchdown to start the second quarter and Wisconsin added a touchdown to send the game to intermission in a tie. After looking completely unimpressive in the first half, the Badger running game didn’t look much better in the third quarter though Wisconsin did manage to get a field goal. Montee Ball finally made his presence felt in the fourth quarter as the Badgers blew the game open on the way to a 31-14 win.
It took most of the game but the Wisconsin offense ended up looking impressive once they got going, racking up 427 yards of offense. Joel Stave likely solidified his hold on the starting job as he went 16 of 25 for 254 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Montee Ball had struggled for much of the season but he looked good today, averaging 6.1 yards per carry as he rolled for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Badger defense had perhaps their best performance of the year, holding the Illini to 284 yards and forcing a pair of turnovers.
The Illini continue to look pretty hapless, after getting some hope from their defense for the first three quarters, Illinois saw all that collapse in the fourth. The fact that the Wisconsin offense has struggled for most of this season likely indicates that the Illinois defense had little to do with the Badgers only putting up 10 points in the first three quarters. The Illini offense continues to be more of a one man show than even Michigan’s as quarterback Nathan Scheelhaases accounted for 262 of the Illini’s 284 yards. It is unlikely that the Illini will manage to get a Big Ten win this year unless some sort of miracle occurs.
Michigan vs Purdue
Many people had this one pegged to be the upset special of the day after how Purdue started the year. Like every other Big Ten game this week, the first quarter saw a lack of offense with the Wolverines leading 7-0 after fifteen minutes. The Wolverines kicked it into high gear at the start of the second quarter, scoring two touchdowns in less than two minutes to take a 21-0 lead. The Boilermakers finally got a little bit of action going midway through the quarter but the Wolverines held a solid 28-10 lead at halftime. Things only got worse for Purdue in the second half as Michigan rolled to a 44-13 victory.
The week off after the debacle against Notre Dame seemed to have done Denard Robinson some good. No, Shoelaces didn’t learn how to throw, going 8 of 16 for 105 yards and a touchdown; not a horrible performance but nothing to write home about either. Instead Robinson got back to what he does best, as he ran for 235 yards on 24 carries. The rest of the Wolverine running backs combined for 73 yards, showing that offense still depends pretty much entirely on Robinson. The Wolverine defense had their best performance of the year as they held the Boilermakers to 213 yards and forced 4 turnovers. This is the first time that Michigan has looked good against a decent team this season but I’m still not sold on them being a real contender to go to Indy due to the one dimensionality of their offense and growing questions about the Purdue defense.
People who picked Purdue to win this week, myself included, likely didn’t put enough stock in the Boilermakers’ defensive struggles last week against Marshall. Turns out Marshall’s offensive performance exposed some actual issues with the Purdue defense, rather than just catching the Boilermakers looking ahead. A win today would have likely vaulted Purdue to the status of being the favorites to go to Indy over the struggling Badgers but the growing concerns for the Purdue defense and the Boilermakers’ struggles at the quarterback position prevents that.