Week 11 is in the books and the Big Ten title race has become clear with one team having already clinched a spot in the title game and only two teams still competing for the other spot. The bowl picture is still much more of a mess as 5 teams are currently bowl eligible, one team can’t become bowl eligible, and 4 teams are still trying to get the necessary 6 wins.
Purdue vs Iowa
Both teams came into this game looking for a much needed win to help them get to a bowl game. Purdue got on the board first with a touchdown midway through the first quarter. Iowa tied the game early in the second quarter but the Boilermakers got a touchdown a few minutes later and went into halftime leading 14-7. The two teams traded scores in the third quarter with the Boilermakers getting a field goal and a touchdown while the Hawkeyes got a pair of touchdown to pull within three points. Iowa tied the game up with three and a half minutes remaining but the Hawkeye defense couldn’t stop Purdue who drove into field goal position and hit a 46-yarder in the closing seconds to pull off the 27-24 upset.
Purdue may have again temporarily settled on a quarterback as Robert Marve got most of the playing time, going 25 of 33 for 265 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Running back Ralph Bolden has a very good day on the ground, picking up 102 yards on only 14 carries but fumbling once. Fumble problems plagued the Boilermakers in general, as they lost 3 of them, but that was pretty much the only thing that stopped the Purdue offense as it rolled up 489 yards. The Purdue defense also looked good as they held Iowa to only 263 yards, though the Hawkeyes offense hasn’t been very impressive this year. This was Purdue’s first conference win this year; remember when people thought they had a chance of going to Indy? This win kept the Boilermakers slim bowl hopes alive but at 4-6 they need to win their remaining games. That is very doable with a trip to Illinois next week and then a home game against Indiana in the final week of the season. At the same time, Purdue lost to Minnesota this season so they could easily lose both of those games too; it is all going to come down to quarterback play, something the Boilermakers have struggled with this season.
Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg continues to struggle this season, going 19 of 36 for 189 yards and a touchdown, it is hard to remember how he almost got Iowa to a Rose Bowl over Ohio State his freshman year. The running game didn’t go any better for the Hawkeyes as Damon Bullock was held to 43 yards on 23 carries, though he did find the endzone once. Iowa has now lost four in a row and at 4-6 they need to win out to go to a bowl game, with a trip to Michigan and a home game against Nebraska there seems to be zero chance of that happening. It will be interesting to see how much pressure Kirk Ferentz finds himself under this offseason, while this is the worst season Iowa has had for a while, underperforming is nothing new for Ferentz’s teams.
Wisconsin vs Indiana
This game was for a shot at a trip to Indy for the Big Ten title game, shocking that Indiana was still in that conversation in November. The Hoosiers quickly fell out of that conversation though as Wisconsin scored the first 17 points on the way to a 62-14 beatdown of Indiana.
It is hard to find fault in anything Wisconsin did in this game as they rolled up over 600 yards on offense and held Indiana to under 300 yards while forcing 3 turnovers. The Badgers barely had to pass, only throwing 7 times all game, thanks to their stable of running backs. Montee Ball had 198 yards and 3 touchdowns on 27 carries, James White had 161 yards and 2 touchdowns on 14 carries, and Melvin Gordon had 96 yards and a touchdown on 8 carries. Thanks to NCAA sanctions to Ohio State and Penn State, the Badgers know that they will be in the Big Ten championship game now, though the Leaders Division title still is up for grabs. Wisconsin will get a chance to have a say in who determines that tile as they host Ohio State and then travel to Penn State, though being two games behind the Buckeyes, the Badgers will need some help to win the division title.
This was by far the worst game of the season for Indiana as their defense got pushed around and their offense couldn’t do anything. The Hoosier running game was a non-factor and while quarterback Cameron Coffman went 25 of 26 for 233 yards and two touchdowns, he also threw a pair of interceptions. While Indiana’s dreams of a trip to Indy are now over, at 4-6 they still have slim hopes of going to a bowl game but must win-out in order to do so. The Hoosiers close the season on the road with a trip to Penn State next week and then a trip to Purdue the following week; the Purdue game is very winnable but it probably will not matter as the Hoosiers won’t get past Penn State.
#24 Northwestern vs Michigan
It is surprising, but a nice sight, to see Northwestern as the ranked team in this matchup between two teams trying to keep alive their Big Ten title hopes. The first half was a back and forth affair and the two teams went into the locker room tied at 14. Northwestern came out strong to start the second half, scoring 10 straight points to seemingly take control. The Wolverines responded with a pair of touchdowns to take a 28-24 lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Wildcat retook the lead with a touchdown with just under five minutes remaining on the clock. Northwestern stopped Michigan on their next possession but couldn’t run out the clock and the Wolverines got one last chance. They took advantage of it thanks to a big 53-yard pass, which Roy Roundtree caught off a tip, to set up Brendan Gibbons’ 26-yard field goal to force overtime. The Wildcats couldn’t score in overtime and Wolverine quarterback Devin Gardner ran in a one-yard touchdown to give Michigan the 38-31 victory.
After struggling for a couple weeks, the Northwestern two-quarterback attack began working again. Trevor Siemian went 6 of 7 for 87 yards and two touchdowns through the air while Kain Colter went 8 of 14 for 96 yards and a touchdown; Colter also added 82 yards on the ground, though fumbled once. Running back Venric Mark had a solid day, picking up 104 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. The blame for this loss falls on the Pretty Kitty defense which, despite forcing two turnovers, gave up over 400 yards of offense and allowed the huge pass play at the end of regulation. Northwestern is now 7-3 (3-3 in the Big Ten) and is out of the race for the Big Ten title. The Wildcats will instead be focusing on improving their bowl selection and have a chance at two more wins as they travel to Michigan State next week and then host Illinois.
Denard Robinson missed his second straight game since sustaining nerve damage in his elbow against Nebraska and for the second straight week Devin Gardner filled in very well for him. Gardner went 16 0f 29 for 286 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception through the air, pretty good numbers for a Michigan quarterback in recent years, and added 47 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint had a pretty good day, picking up 92 yards on 18 carries but fumbling once. Once again, to the frustration of most other Big Ten fans, Michigan managed to pull out a late game victory thanks to a huge offensive play. The Wolverines are tied for the lead in the Legends Division with Nebraska but need some help to get to Indy as the Cornhuskers earned the tiebreaker. Michigan hosts Iowa next week, in what should be an easy win, and should head into Columbus in two weeks with their hopes of playing for the Rose Bowl on the line.
Penn State vs #16 Nebraska
A late season matchup between the two most recent conference additions, both of which are near the top of their divisions, this would normally have the Big Ten office drooling but sanctions to Penn State took some of the luster and importance from this game. Penn State got things off to a fast start as Zach Zwinak broke a 50-yard touchdown run less than a minute into the game. Things slowed down a bit after that as Nebraska used a pair of field goals to chip away at the PSU lead, pulling within one point early in the second quarter. The rest of the half belonged to the Nittany Lions though as they closed out the half with 13 straight points to take a 20-6 halftime lead. The Cornhuskers weren’t impressed though and came out on fire in the second half, using their ground game and an interception to score two touchdowns in the first four and half minutes to tie the game at 20. After a Penn State field goal, Nebraska took its first lead of the game with a touchdown early in the fourth quarter that put them up 27-23. The Nittany Lions put together a nice drive on their next possession and seemed to have scored a touchdown but the officials ruled that PSU had fumbled before crossing the goal line and awarded Nebraska a touchback. A safety on the next Nittany Lion possession essentially ended the game and Nebraska escaped with a 32-23 victory.
The Penn State offense looked really good for stretches of this game but would then get bogged down and disappear for stretches. This showed up in the stats as the Nittany Lions gained 391 yards but also committed 3 turnovers. Matt McGloin had his worst game of the year, completing 18 of 37 passes for 240 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. Running back Zach Zwinak had a good day, rushing for 141 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. The PSU defense looked good for most of the first half but fell apart in the second half, giving up over 400 yards for the game. This loss dropped PSU to 6-4, 4-2 in the Big Ten, and made it very difficult for them to even claim a share of the division crown, which is all they really have left to play for. The Nittany Lions close out the season at home with games against Indiana and Wisconsin, the first one of which should be an easy win and the other should be a great game to watch.
Despite a slow first half, Nebraska picked up 438 yards on the game but did turn the ball over twice. In what has to be a familiar, and not welcome, sight for Ohio State fans, the Cornhuskers overcame a first half deficit to put on a dominating second half performance on the way to a victory. Taylor Martinez had a solid day, going 12 of 20 for 171 yards and touchdown through the air while adding 104 yards on the ground. Running back Ameer Abdullah did the bulk of the work, picking up 116 yards on 31 carries but backup running back Imani Cross got the glory as he scored two touchdowns on 8 carries, he gained a total of 22 yards. The win keeps the Cornhuskers at the top of the Legends division and with games against Minnesota and Iowa remaining; things look pretty good for the conference newcomers to make the title game in Indy.
Minnesota vs Illinois
The three Big Ten games with conference title implications had to be balanced out by the weekly conference slap fight, provided this week by Minnesota and Illinois. The Illini got on the board first with a field goal midway through the first quarter but the rest of the game essentially belonged to the Golden Gophers as they, well, stumbled their way to a 17-3 win.
Minnesota did most of their damage on the ground, rushing for 240 yards, most of it by Donnell Kirkwood who had 171 yards and 2 touchdowns on 29 carries. The Golden Gopher passing game was far from impressive as Philip Nelson went 9 of 15 for 78 yards through the air. The Minnesota defense did a good job though, holding Illinois to under 300 yards and forcing a pair of turnovers. Somehow, despite a very up-and-down season, this win moved Minnesota to 6-4 and made them bowl eligible. This is a good thing as the Gophers close the season with a trip to Nebraska and then a home game against Michigan State, both of which will be tough to win.
Illinois fans just have to hoping that this season comes to an end soon as there are pretty much no positive signs that they can cling to at this point. I guess they can tell themselves that it can’t really get worse but that seems like it is something awfully horrible to cling to. At 2-8 on the season, the Illini have little left to fight for other than self-respect; they host Purdue next week in a slap fight that could go either way and then travel to Northwestern to end the season with what will most likely be a loss.