This weekend’s Big Ten schedule was amazingly bipolar with the games either looking like they would be really good games that matter in the conference race or slap fights between teams that would be thrilled to go to the Pizza Pizza Bowl, and nobody should be thrilled to go to Detroit at anytime.
Illinois vs Indiana
The day’s action got started with one of the slap fights, this one between two teams looking for their first conference win of the year. Illinois jumped out to an early lead with a touchdown on their first possession only to see Indiana answer on the next possession. The Illini took the lead back with a touchdown early in the second quarter but once again the Hoosiers answered with a touchdown of their own on the next possession. Indiana took their first lead of the game on their next possession and went into halftime up 21-14. Indiana hit a field goal early in the third quarter to stretch their lead to 10 but an Illinois field goal later in the period made it a one score game again. The Hoosier then found the endzone midway through the fourth to lock up the 31-17 win.
Illinois got off to a good start on offense and ended up having one of their better days this season on that side of the ball as they put up 366 yards; however a pair of turnovers proved costly. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase had a lackluster day, going 17 of 27 for 175 yards and a touchdown through the air while repeatedly banging his head against the wall on the ground as he ran 26 times for 31 yards, but at least he got a touchdown. The Illini defense also did better than normal, limiting the Hoosiers to 286 yards but couldn’t come up with needed stops when Indiana got drives going. This loss was Illinois’s fifth in a row and while they showed some improvement, it is still doubtful whether they can win a conference game this season.
This was a strange game for Indiana, their normally powerful offense was held to under 300 yards, but still was able to score, and their normally porous defense forced some key turnovers and only allowed 17 points. The Hoosiers may have a quarterback controversy brewing after starter Cameron Coffman was yanked in the first quarter and backup Nate Sudfeld looked poised in the relief, going 10 of 15 for 109 yards and 2 touchdowns. Indiana must be relieved to finally get a conference win and they’ll have a reasonable chance at another one in a month when they take on Purdue in the season finale.
Iowa vs Northwestern
The other early Big Ten game of the day had Big Ten title implications as Iowa looked to stay solidly in the race while Northwestern wanted to hang on to their slim title hopes. The Wildcats found the endzone on their opening possession to take a 7-0 lead. The Hawkeyes cut that lead to 7-3 with a field goal late in the quarter but at that point the Wildcat offense got fired up, scoring 21 straight points to take control of the game. Iowa got two late touchdowns but Northwestern held on for the 28-17 win.
Iowa quarterback James Vandenburg has struggled for most of this season but looked better today, going 24 of 38 for 216 yards but couldn’t find the endzone through the air; Vandenburg did get 2 touchdowns on the groud though. Surprise sensation running back Mark Weisman was held in check, only picking up 21 yards on 9 carries. In general the Iowa offense looked good at times but just couldn’t score. This makes two straight weeks where the Iowa offense has struggled and now that their dreams of going to Indy are essentially gone, Kirk Ferentz is going to be feeling some serious heat. With a 4-4 overall record, the Hawkeyes are still in need of two wins to make a bowl game, fortunately they play Indiana and Purdue in the next two weeks which should get them those wins.
The two quarterback system at Northwestern may be coming to an end, while pocket passer Trevor Siemian was perfect on the day, he only threw two passes and running qb Kain Colter got most of the playing time. Colter went 5 of 8 for 69 yards, a touchdown and an interception through the air but did most of his damage on the ground, gaining 166 yards on 26 carries and picking up 3 touchdowns. Running back Venric Mark continued his great year, picking up 162 yards on only 16 carries. After struggling in recent games, the Pretty Kitties really stepped it up in this one and kept their slim division title hopes alive. Northwestern gets a bye week to prepare for trips to Michigan and Michigan State that will decide whether they can go to Indy or not.
Michigan State vs #25 Wisconsin
Despite Michigan State having struggled for most of this season, this game promised to be a good one as these two teams always seem to end up in close games. It became clear early on that this one wouldn’t be a shootout and nobody got on the board until the second quarter when Wisconsin got a touchdown. Michigan State answered with a field goal on their next possession but that was the last of the scoring for pretty much the next 30 minutes of game time. The Badgers hit a field goal with a bit over 6 minutes to go to make the score 10-3 and seemingly put the game out of reach with how the MSU offense had been struggling. The Spartans refused to go away though, putting together a nice drive that tied the game up and forced overtime. Wisconsin was held to a field goal on their possession in overtime and Michigan State found the endzone for the 16-13 upset.
The Michigan State offense struggled for most of the game, mostly due to a porous offensive line which couldn’t open up holes for the running game or bye quarterback Andrew Maxwell much time to throw. The Spartan struggles on offense were epitomized by their taking over in the redzone after a botched punt and being forced to punt themselves due to a combination of penalties and being tackled for a loss. Star running back Le’Veon Bell had an okay day picking up 77 yards on 21 carries, most of it late in the game while Maxwell looked shaky at times but still went 24 of 39 for 215 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In the end, the MSU offense shook off its struggles and produced when they needed to, a welcome sign for Spartan fans. The Spartan defense played well, only giving up 190 yards and coming up huge in overtime. After losing two in a row and four of their previous six, this win was huge for MSU’s hopes of a decent bowl. Coming up with a big road win should help boost the team’s confidence as they prepare to host Nebraska next weekend in what should be a big test for the Spartans on both sides of the ball.
Recent weeks had seen the Wisconsin get rolling but the Badgers struggled in this game. Running back Montee Ball only picked up 46 yards on 22 carries and no one else had any success on the ground either. Quarterback Joel Stave had a solid day going 9 of 11 for 127 yards and a touchdown but left the game after injuring his non-throwing shoulder in the third quarter. Backup rent-a-qb Danny O’Brien came into the game and went 5 of 11 for 44 yards as the play calling instantly got more conservative. The Badger defense looked like they were going to bail out the offense though as they played well for most of the day but fell apart on the last drive and in overtime to give up the win. In the big picture this loss doesn’t really matter to Wisconsin as they should still easily win the division and go to Indy but the lack of production on offense has to be a major concern. The Badgers have next week off before heading to Indiana which should give them plenty of opportunity to work on getting the offense going.
Purdue vs Minnesota
After last week’s near win against Ohio State, feelings on how Purdue would respond were mixed, was last week a sign that things were improving or would the Boilermakers crumble after that disappointment. Purdue looked good at the start, scoring on their opening possession but then everything fell apart as Minnesota scored forty-four straight points on their way to a 44-28 win.
The Purdue offense managed to put up 372 yards of offense but it pretty much all came once the game was out of reach. The Boilermaker once again have a quarterback controversy as starter Caleb TerBush was pulled in the 3rd quarter after going 5 of 18 for 49 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. Robert Marve and Rob Henry each got time in relief and both did better than TerBush. Marve went 11 of 19 for 98 yards and two touchdowns while Henry went 5 of 6 for 44 yards and a touchdown. An even bigger concern for Purdue has to be that their defense gave up almost 500 yards to a Minnesota offense which hasn’t been amazingly explosive this season. Purdue now stands at 3-5 and is in danger of going from division contender to not making a bowl game, the Boilermakers face Penn State and Iowa in the next two weeks and need to win at least one of those games if they want to make it to a bowl.
Minnesota looked amazing on offense in this one, easily putting up their best performance of the season even without quarterback MarQuise Gray. Backup quarterback Philip Nelson went 15 of 22 for 246 yards and 3 touchdowns while running back Donnell Kirkwood carried 22 times for 134 yards. This season has been up and down for the Golden Gophers as they won their first four games before dropping three in a row. Now the Gophers are 5-3 and one win away from a bowl game. Next week they host a Michigan team, which could be vulnerable, before traveling to Illinois which should be a win.
#22 Michigan vs Nebraska
This game had major implications for the Legends Division title as the winner would be in the driver seat to get to Indy. Neither team could score in the first quarter; Nebraska finally got the scoring going with a touchdown early in the second quarter. Michigan responded with a pair of field goals which made it a 7-6 game at half. The third quarter continued the streak of field goals with the Cornhuskers hitting three and then Michigan hitting one. A Nebraska touchdown early in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach as the Cornhuskers came away with a 23-9 win.
The big story of this game was Denard Robinson having to leave the game with an injury. Backup quarterback Russell Bellomy came in and showed that Shoelace isn’t the worst passing quarterback on the Maize and Blue as he went 3 of 16 for 37 yards and 3 interceptions. Without Robinson the Wolverine offense really had nothing and only managed to gain 188 yards. The Michigan defense played pretty well considering the lack of help from the offense but it wasn’t enough to win. This is the second straight week that Michigan hasn’t scored a touchdown, last week they were still able to win but that luck didn’t hold up this week. The Wolverines are tied with Nebraska for first in the division but obviously would lose the tiebreaker. Michigan’s fate ultimately depends on Robinson’s injury, without him they may lose to Minnesota next week.
Nebraska looked solid but not flashy in this one, gaining over 300 yards of offense but struggling to find the endzone. Quarterback Taylor Martinez went 14 of 24 for 164 yards, a touchdown, and an interception through the air while picking up 45 on the ground, while fumbling once. Running back Ameer Abdullah looked good today as well, picking up 113 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Last week’s comeback win against Northwestern now looks huge for the Huskers who are in the drivers seat for Indy. They don’t have an easy road though as they travel to Michigan State next week and host Penn State the following week.