It was pretty much a weekend of chalk in the Big Ten. The favorites won four of five games, with the fifth being a not-so-mild upset of Minnesota of Northwestern in Evanston. Nothing seemed to derail the seemingly inevitable Big Ten championship game between Ohio State and either Michigan State or Nebraska. Here is the week that was:
Michigan State 14, Purdue 0
I tried to focus on the positives from this game, especially after being accused of being too negative before. The Boilers Sports guys too a similar tack they weren't quite sure what to make of this one either:
It's hard for me to be upset about this result. A bad team went into a tough place to play, in bad conditions, and kept the game close pretty much the whole way. The biggest mistake Purdue made wasn't a jaw-droppingly bad play, like some we've seen, just a missed assignment and a lucky bounce. The Boilers gave up some easy yards but rarely allowed them to count. It's accurate to say that MSU was vulnerable today, but this Purdue team isn't good enough to take advantage of that. Etling got sacked a number of times, but MSU has a really strong defense this year, and when the OL kept him upright, he did OK in terrible weather.
No, you don't change the quarterback in the seventh game of the season. Don't understand how this was brought up. Cook is the guy unless he gets hurt. You live and die with him the rest of the year.
As for his play (13-for-25, 107 yards), it was obviously discouraging. But he was making the right reads and finding the open guys. He was just missing them. Sometimes badly. In the past two weeks, he was hitting those plays. Most of it comes back to his footwork. He's making throws with his upper body, and that causes the bad accuracy.
Minnesota 20, Northwestern 17
I think we can officially say that Northwestern is having its own version of The Fumble. It stems from the fumbled snap on fourth and short that the Wildcats were unable to converted against Ohio State two weeks ago. They were flying high with dreams of a Big Ten title, and now they have a very tough stretch that could see them tumble all the way out of a bowl game:
The Disillusionment Council of America is deeply sorry that the things you want to be true are not. They're sorry there's no god, and that your parents were Santa Claus, and that your significant other has been sleeping around behind your back since last July. (Wait, did you not know about that? Whoops. The Disillusionment Council of America apologizes for this premature disillusionment.) But they can't fix the world. They're merely here to remove the veil and show you the truth -- the hideous, cold, awful truth -- and help you live with it.
For Minnesota, the Golden Gophers are now one victory away from a bowl game, and they could secure that bowl game in two weeks at Indiana or in three weeks at home against Penn State. For a team playing without a coach, it was a good step:
Still, the Gophers hung on and got their first Big Ten victory. I was going to complain about the play-calling or a second straight week of basically taking a knee to close the half despite having all kinds of time, field position and/or timeouts, but why bother? We'll worry about that and Nebraska next week. A win today was unexpected, and that's one reason why I don't care about the areas for concern, just that Minnesota is finally on the board in the Big Ten and just one win away from going bowling again.
Michigan 63, Indiana 47
What is the cure for any struggling offense? It is the Indiana defense. We all knew the Hoosiers couldn't stop anyone, but 751 yards and 63 points against a Michigan team that looked completely inept the week before is bad even by their standards. It is acting as a tease for Indiana fans:
Indiana is a good football team. Just not good enough. We're at a strange place in the program's build at the moment where we're good enough to be in big games, but not good enough to win them with any consistency. It almost makes it harder to watch than when you have no chance. Almost. You can see that Indiana is on the move, but they still have a lot of work to do if they want to be in the upper echelon of the conference. Saturday's game against Michigan proved to be exhibit B in why Indiana is good, but not good enough.
For the Wolverines, it was a strangely encouraging weekend, but the defense still needs some work:
The no-huddle wasn't the only issue. Michigan continues to give away its blitzes at an alarming rate. Indiana, like many teams before it, would quickly step to the line of scrimmage and use a long cadence, drawing every blitzing Wolverine into the box before calling an audible to exploit said blitzers. I know that part of the struggles on plays like this are due to a lack of athleticism at certain spots for Michigan, but I still feel like this is something that needs to be addressed.
Ohio State 34, Iowa 24
It is the same old story for the Buckeyes. Teams can challenge them early, as has happened in every Big Ten game so far, but they were able to close it out late. Fans of the Buckeyes had more angst at being fourth in the initial BCS rankings:
Winning a number of games in a row is never easy, and always comes with a fair share of hiccups. After an Iowa holding penalty pinned Iowa at their own 15-yard line, Rudock found TE Jake Duzey on a streak with the Buckeye secondary behind him. Duzey made the Buckeyes pay, going 85 yards, untouched, to level the game at 24-24, and setting up a final quarter that would decide if the nation's longest winning streak would continue or end.
Fans of the Hawkeyes were initially surprised to see Iowa competing, but called it the best Iowa has played against a really good team in years:
Well, we saw Iowa's best game against a clearly superior opponent in years, probably since the last trip to Columbus, where the Buckeyes prevailed in overtime. The Hawkeyes didn't take this one to extra frames, but they did take a lead into the locker room at half and stay tied going into the fourth quarter. That's a pretty remarkable achievement considering the stellar work Ohio State did on offense. The Buckeyes ground out 495 yards in nine drives, turning the ball over never* and punting never, which is a pretty great formula for victory.
Wisconsin 56, Illinois 32
Stop me if you have heard this one, but Wisconsin used a ridiculously strong running game as the Badgers rolled to another easy win:
Illinois came in with the 97th-ranked rush defense in the nation. Ludwig and his offense exploited it, and especially wore the Illini down in the second half. Utilizing sets using two or more tight ends especially in the second half with two-back, two-tight end personnel, the Badgers made a two-score lead at halftime expand to a four-score lead at the end of the third quarter while dominating the time of possession in the fourth. Gordon and White found holes and daylight as their linemen frequently got to the second level of the defense to block Illinois' linebackers.
For the Fighting Illini, all the joy of some early season wins is still covered by a now 16-game Big Ten losing streak:
I just don't see any scenario in which Tim Beckman can afford to bring Tim Banks back as his defensive coordinator.
If you just look at the statistics from Saturday night's game, the Illini actually did a relatively decent job against Wisconsin in comparison to other teams. The Badgers finished with 478 yards of total offense and averaged 7.1 yards per play, but while those numbers aren't exactly something to brag about if you're the Illinois defense, they're actually below what the Badgers had been averaging coming into Saturday night's game.
Cincinnati 41, Connecticut 16 - The Bearcats have new life for a BCS berth out of the American with Louisville losing, but they almost certainly have to beat Central Florida and Louisville.
Illinois State 55, Indiana State 14 - The Trees were supposed to be a good team, but they have completely fallen off of a cliff to 1-6. Yes, Brock Spack's team played them better than we did.
Notre Dame 14, USC 10 - Proud to say that I did not watch a second of this game, and it is probably for the best.
Northern Illinois 38, Central Michigan 17 - NIU is still way back in the initial BCS standings, but they have an excellent shot at an undefeated season with only Ball State looking like a potential trap.