Week 10 of the season is in the books and with only three more weeks of Big Ten play yet, the conference race is becoming clearer, as is the race for bowl spots. Currently 4 teams are bowl eligible while one has been eliminated from bowl contention; that leaves 5 Big Ten teams still trying to qualify for bowl games.
Michigan vs Minnesota
The question all week was whether Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson would play after sustaining nerve damage in his right elbow last week. Robinson was expected to play but in a surprise move, Devin Gardner, who has spent most of the season at wide receiver, got the starting quarterback nod. Minnesota got on the board first with a touchdown to start the second quarter but then it was all Michigan as the Wolverines scored 21 straight on the way to a 35-13 win to retain the Little Brown Jug.
Devin Gardner had a pretty good day at quarterback, going 12 of 18 for 234 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception through the air while picking up another 23 yards and a touchdown on the ground. While Gardner doesn’t have Robinson’s running ability, he performed as well, or better, as Robinson in the passing game. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint helped pick up some slack on the ground as he got 70 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Defensively the Wolverines did a great job, holding the Golden Gophers to only 274 yards of offense. Winning without Denard was big for Michigan as it kept them in the race for the division title. Next week’s game against Northwestern now looms large and the Wolverines really could use Robinson back next week.
Minnesota continued to have Philip Nelson play quarterback while banged up starting quarterback MarQueis Gray spent time at wide receiver, the Gophers have just a few injury issues. Nelson struggled at qb, going 13 of 29 for 141 yards and a touchdown while also picking up 44 yards on the ground. The running backs didn’t do much better as Donnell Kirkwood led the way with 51 yards on 15 carries. Overall the Gophers just looked pretty bad but they still are good enough to beat Illinois next week to get to six wins and a bowl game.
Penn State vs Purdue
After last week’s loss to Ohio State, Penn State came into this game looking to get back on the winning track and keep alive their hopes of a division title. Purdue got on the board early with a field goal on their first possession but then the Nittany Lions took over, scoring the next thirty-four points on the way to a 34-9 beatdown of the Boilermakers.
Penn State’s offense looked great as they rolled up 507 yards without committing a turnover. Quarterback Matt McGloin bounced back from last week, going 22 of 36 for 316 yards and a pair of touchdowns while running back Zach Zwinak had a solid night gain 140 yards on just 21 carries. The Nittany Lion defense did a solid job, giving up 376 yards but only allowing one garbage time touchdown. PSU needs help to win the division title and still has a tough road ahead but I predicted at the start of the season that they would determine who goes to the title game by upsetting someone, next week’s trip to Nebraska gives them the chance to do that.
At this point in the year Purdue fans have to be struggling to remember when they were considered a dark horse to make it to Indy. The Boilermakers are now 3-6 and will be lucky to get to a bowl game. There isn’t so much a quarterback controversy in West Lafayette as there is a quarterback tire fire. Nobody has looked impressive lately, Caleb Terbush went 10 of 20 for 155 yards and a touchdown today while Robert Marve went 22 of 39 for 138 yards. The Boilermaker defense isn’t scaring anyone, having given up more than 30 points in five of their last six games now. Purdue has to win out to go to a bowl and with a trip to Iowa next week and a season closer against Indiana, that looks unlikely.
Iowa vs Indiana
This game featured a matchup between two teams desperate to keep their bowl hopes alive. Iowa, looking to snap a two game skid, got off to a strong start with a touchdown midway through the first quarter followed by a pick-6 just 30 seconds later to put the Hawkeyes up 14-0. Indiana finally got on the board with a field goal late in the first quarter and used a late second quarter touchdown to make it 14-10 at half. The Hoosiers found the endzone again midway through the third to take their first lead of the game. The Hawkeyes retook the lead with a touchdown to start the fourth but the Hoosiers took it right back with a touchdown of their own two minutes later. Neither team could score again and Indiana escaped with a 24-21 win.
The good news for Iowa in this one is that quarterback James Vandenburg threw a touchdown pass, something he has struggled to do this season, the bad news is that he only threw one and also threw and interception. The Hawkeye running game wasn’t particularly good either as Damon Bullock picked up 83 yards and a touchdown but only averaged about 3 yards per carry; Iowa really missed breakout running back Mark Weisman who was out with an injury. The Hawkeye defense did force two turnovers but also gave up over 400 yards through the air. Kirk Ferentz must be feeling some major heat now as Iowa is 4-5, 2-3 in the Big Ten, and needs two wins to make a bowl. A home game next week against Purdue is winnable but a trip to Michigan and a home contest against Nebraska are a much tougher order.
Indiana’s Cameron Coffman was the star of the game, going 21 of 33 for 315 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Hoosier offense. We know that Indiana can score but today their defense also stepped up, giving up 345 yards but also forcing two turnovers and shutting down the Iowa run game. The Hoosier defense has allowed 21 or less points in the last two games, a marked improvement over most of the season and something that has to make coach Kevin Wilson hopeful about the future. It seems amazing but it is November and Indiana controls their own fate in the race for the Big Ten title. The Hoosiers are 4-5, 2-3 in the Big Ten and if they win out they go to Indy. Doing so will be tough though as IU hosts Wisconsin next week before traveling to Penn State and Purdue; a more reasonable goal may be winning two of those and going to a bowl, which would be a hell of an accomplishment for a team that went 1-11 last year.
#20 Nebraska vs Michigan State
At the start of the season many suspected that this game would be for a shot at the Big Ten title game but Michigan State’s struggles have already erased that hope for them. Still, there was a lot on the line as Nebraska came into this game as the front runner to win the Legends Division. The first half was back and forth affair with MSU twice jumping out to leads only to see the Cornhuskers answer right back and the two teams went into halftime tied at 14. The Spartans scored the first ten points of the second half and after an interception return for an apparent touchdown, looked like they had the game in control. However a penalty against an MSU player for unnecessary roughness due to blocking well behind the play on the interception return erased the touchdown and the Cornhuskers forced a three and out. Nebraska scored a touchdown on their next possession to make it a three point game and after stopping the Spartans on their next drive, had the ball with a chance to win. Nebraska drove down to the redzone and took advantage of a controversial pass interference call against MSU to score a touchdown that gave them a 28-24 win.
The Nebraska offense was hot and cold in this one, racking up 493 yards but committing three turnovers which led to MSU points. Quarterback Taylor Martinez struggled through the air, going 16 of 36 for 160 yards, two touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. Martinez made up for it on the ground though, picking up 224 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Running back Ameer Abdullah also had a nice day, gaining 111 yards on 22 carries. Defensively the Corhnhuskers had a pretty good outing despite getting gashed on the ground. In the end, Nebraska did what they had to in order to win and keep themselves in the driver’s seat for the Legends division title. Next week the Cornhuskers will face their last major test of the season as they host Penn State, win and they are going to Indy.
Michigan State continues to be a mixed bag this season. Running back Le’Veon Bell had a very good game, picking up 185 yards, two touchdowns, and a fumble on 36 carries but the Spartan passing game was awful as quarterback Andrew Maxwell went 9 of 27 for 123 yards and a touchdown. The MSU defense played very good for most of the game, forcing turnovers and setting up the offense to turn those into points. However, late in the game the Spartan defense fell apart, just as they did against Michigan, and allowed the Cornhuskers to rally for the win. Most of this season MSU lost due to their offense, this loss really falls on the defense for folding in the end. The Spartans are 5-5 and still need one more win to make a bowl game, they have a bye next week before hosting Northwestern and then travelling to Minnesota; their bowl hopes will likely rest on that final game