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The Whistlestop Tour: Week 7 of Big Ten Football

Things are breaking well for Purdue heading into the final five games.

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

When Purdue lost to Central Michigan a few weeks ago it looked like another 1-11 season was possible. After challenging Michigan State into the final minutes this past week I can now talk myself into somehow winning four of the final five games. It is amazing what a little positive momentum can do.

While a bowl game is still a pipe dream for Purdue fans, it is not as impossible as it seems. Minnesota is offensively challenged, Wisconsin is looking a little shaky in that they didn't crush Illinois as they should, Northwestern can be beaten at home, and Indiana is still Indiana. Could the Boilers get three of those four? Absolutely! There is still a lot to play for, even if it is a late December date in Detroit.

Wisconsin 38, Illinois 28

I was very surprised by this result. The Wisconsin ground game is far better than Purdue's, so I thought that the Badgers would hand off to Melvin Gordon and the only thing that would stop him was sheer exhaustion. He had 4 TDs and Wisconsin ran for 400 yards, but Illinois made it a little uncomfortable late:

The Illini defense doesn't have the talent to keep up with the Badgers offense. Gordon and Clement combined for 339 yards, averaging 8.5 yards per rush, and 5 touchdowns (Gordon: 27 for 175 (6.5) and 4 TD's, Clement: 13 for 164 (12.6) and 1 TD). In all honesty though, Illinois defense put in a valiant effort. The D-line is still non-existent and arms are still the primary method of tackling, but there were times when the play calling was adequate and the attitude was vastly improved -- at one point they were tied 14-14 and it almost felt like there was a chance to keep the game competitive. If the Illini defense would've played like this last week, they likely would've won that game.

Even with the rushing output, the Wisconsin passing game remains a mess:

It seems Andy Ludwig still remains insistent on taking chances downfield. The Badgers first 11 plays of the game were runs -- which I have no problem with. The downside to that is Stave did not attempt a pass until a big third and eleven attempt. During that play, Stave looked nervous in the pocket and began to scramble despite the fact that he was given adequate time to throw downfield. The result was an errant screen pass into the ground. Ludwig must do a better job getting Stave involved early on in the game without putting too much pressure on him during crucial situations. It's also clear that Stave is not even close to being in midseason form as he missed on several wide open throws over the course of the game. But lets look on the bright side, the passing game went from four interceptions last week to zero this week, no matter how ineffective the passing game was at least the Badgers held onto the ball.

Iowa 45, Indiana 29

The Iowa offense exploded for 38 first quarter points, causing Kirk Ferentz to nearly go into palpitations:

So... that was something, wasn't it?  Iowa set a season-high in points (45) and racked up 426 yards of offense (second-most all season), but the story of the game was probably that fever dream of a first quarter, when Iowa scored 28 points and featured the sort of explosive, big-play potential we've been dying to see from Iowa all year.

For Indiana, the news was worse. The Hoosiers not only lost the game, but quarterback Nate Sudfeld separated his shoulder, meaning the IU offense is Tevin Coleman and... well, Tevin Coleman:

As you've likely heard by now, Nate Sudfeld separated his shoulder during yesterday's 45-29 loss to Iowa. Yes, it was his non-throwing shoulder, but the injury was severe enough that he was unable to return to the game, and with his left arm in a sling, he could only watch from the sideline, as backup QB Chris Covington and star running back Tevin Coleman could not bring IU back from a huge early deficit. The Hoosiers now stand at 3-3 overall, and fall to 0-2 in Big Ten play. After yesterday's game, coach Kevin Wilson explained that Sudfeld could miss anywhere from a week or two to the rest of the season, but a cursory WebMD search says that a separated shoulder means that his arm could be in a sling for "about six weeks."

Minnesota 24, Northwestern 17

The Gophers held serve at home and now they, along with Iowa, control their own destiny when it comes to winning the West:

Minnesota followed their script to perfection.  Get an early lead, win the field position battle, establish a physical ground game and do enough of the little things to win the game.  The little things that made the difference today belonged to the special teams.  Consistently putting Northwestern inside or near their own 20 was a big deal today.  Northwestern started 6 drives with 80 or more yards in front of them.  The Gophers on the other hand didn't start a drive inside their own 25 until the third quarter and only twice throughout the game.

Things are still looking at least decent for a Northwestern bowl game, as the Wildcats are a feisty team that has a favorable schedule:

No consistently successful team can rely on making the one or two plays in a game that may determine the outcome. It seems like Northwestern has settled on just keeping games close enough to get to the point where, for some reason or another, the play comes out in the team's favor.

Even in games Northwestern wins, it seems like the coaches are content with just sustaining a lead and not growing it. And in most of those wins, the game will still come down to a play or two that just happens to go Northwestern's way.

A team can't expect to be continually good and rely on luck to determine the outcomes of games and that, yet again, was proved Saturday.

Michigan State 45, Purdue 31

We at least put a scare in the Spartans, which is a positive step forward:

While the defense definitely looked better in the second half after allowing Purdue score 14 second-quarter points to help turn a 21-3 Michigan State lead into a 24-17 Michigan State lead at halftime, the gaps and holes that pop up periodically in the run game have to stop.

As much credit as Pat Narduzzi's unit deserves for holding Nebraska star running back Ameer Abdullah to 45 yards on 24 carries last Saturday night, the Boilermakers gashed the Spartans' run defense at times, highlighted by Hunt's 52-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

The Boiled Sports guys were also greatly encouraged:

On offense, it was clear that John Shoop's gameplan shifted Appleby into a very west coast-y system, with his primary reads running quick horizontal routes. Danny Anthrop, in particular, made Michigan State pay with some stunning runs after the catch, and it seems like the Appleby-Anthrop chemistry was present right off the bat. Akeem Hunt and the offensive line did a tremendous job complimenting Austin's great first half performance, and even though Purdue didn't manage a touchdown in the first quarter, the improvements made over the past month were clear.

Michigan 18, Penn State 13

This game sucked and both teams are not that great. At least Michigan fans are happy for a week:

Although the team was down 13-10 heading into the half, Michigan scored the first touchdown of the game early in the first quarter after Gardner threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Devin Funchess. The throw was underthrown and Funchess appeared to take the interception away from the Penn State safety for an easy touchdown.

Penn State fans are not happy, as their onside kick is causing a lot of consternation:

I wish I were overreacting, but I'm really not, because the simple truth of the matter is that Penn State lost to a historically awful Michigan team on Saturday. Perhaps more impressively, Penn State lost to a historically awful Michigan team despite the fact that this historically awful Michigan football team was forced to play much of the game without a fully functioning quarterback. That last tidbit only added to the lunacy of it all.

Non-conference opponents:

Western Michigan 42, Ball State 38 - The Broncos brought a win back from Muncie to move to 3-3.

Central Michigan 34, Northern Illinois 17 - Maybe the Chips aren't too bad, as they got an impressive win over Northern Illinois.

Notre Dame 50, North Carolina 43 - This is turning into one of those "Luck of the Irish" seasons and I don't like it.

North Dakota State 38, Southern Illinois 10 - The Salukis dropped their first game of the year to an FCS opponent, but it is an FCS opponent that could probably be a top 25 FBS team.