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The Whistlestop Tour: Week 5 of Big Ten Football

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No, Rutgers did not score again.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue and Michigan were off this week, but there were still 6 games around the league. If you’re a Purdue fan you have to be encouraged, too. Wisconsin had some problems with Northwestern. Illinois and Rutgers look really, really bad. Nebraska didn’t set the world on fire in beating Illinois. Minnesota lost at home to a third string QB. Iowa lost at Michigan State and Indiana lost at Penn State. The hope of getting to six wins and a bowl game is still strong, especially if Purdue can beat Minnesota this week.

Nebraska 28, Illinois 6

The Cornhuskers are 2-0 in the Big Ten, but they have had two unconvincing wins over probably the two worst teams in the conference. Still, Corn Nation is not going to complain too much:

Well, what a difference a week makes. In the first half, Tanner Lee was really good; he was the quarterback people had hoped to see all season long. In the second half, not quite so much. Lee wasn’t perfect, mind you. He threw off his back foot more than once; the last time would have been intercepted if not for great pass defense by Tyler Hoppes. But without a question, it was his best game. Grade: A-

For the Illini, it is starting to look like a really bad season is in the offing:

It makes calling plays extremely difficult when there isn’t trust in your quarterback to complete even simple passes. Based on Garrick McGee’s conservative playcalling much of the game, it’s clear that Crouch isn’t able to execute basic pass plays to move the chains and keep drives alive. There are only so many draws, screens, read options, etc., that you can run in order to cover up for a quarterback that can’t throw.

Penn State 45, Indiana 14

Saquon Barkley returned the opening kickoff for a TD, Indiana trailed 28-0 after a quarter, and the Nittany Lions never looked back:

For all Penn State’s miscues —missed field goals, blocked field goals, loss of yardage at the line of scrimmage, you name it, the defense looked as dominant as they have been all season. They went on to force four turnovers in the game, all but one of which led to points for the Lions. It’s encouraging to know that when the offense takes a quarter off, the defense will be there to bail them out.

Crimson Quarry was frustrated because there was a surrender punt by the Hoosiers. Unfortunately, they did not have a game wrap posted at their site.

Wisconsin 33, Northwestern 24

The Badgers clinched the game with a late safety, but Jonathan Taylor had a pair of rushing touchdowns:

The first three touchdowns of the day for Wisconsin were scored by true freshmen. Jonathan Taylor ran in the first two, and Danny Davis caught the third. This is huge production from players who weren’t necessarily expected to contribute this season. It puts Wisconsin ahead of schedule development-wise, and gives opponents more contributors to prepare for each week.

Northwestern fell to 2-2, but they did lead 10-7 at halftime and at least had the ball with a chance to tie late:

McCall’s job gets a lot harder when the offensive line is getting dominated, though. Northwestern gave up TEN sacks on the day and couldn’t create any holes in the running game. Wisconsin linebacker Garrett Dooley had four of those sacks on his own.

And it wasn’t just the line’s fault, either. Quarterback Clayton Thorson looked overmatched on the road for the second time this year. After going 11 for 29 for 120 yards (4.1 YPA) and 2 picks against Duke, the junior posted similar numbers against the Badgers prior to garbage time, completing 23 of his first 37 passes for 157 yards (4.2 YPA) and two more interceptions, including a pick-six that made a comeback nearly impossible.

Ohio State 56, Rutgers 0

After an early interception in the red zone that stopped a Rutgers threat the Buckeyes just pounded the Scarlet Knights:

Watching the Ohio State defense operate on the first few drives made it feel like the mid-2000's again, with a lousy opponent making headway down the field until the "bend, don't break" doctrine came into effect. It was vintage stuff, really; despite a few frustrating marches, the Scarlet Knights barely even sniffed scoring distance against this suffocating defense.

Rutgers is still looking for a lot of answers on the season:

If you compare it to last year’s game, this was almost a carbon copy. In 2016, OSU led 6-0 after the first quarter. In 2017, it was 7-0 after one quarter. In 2016, Rutgers defense was holding up in the second quarter until defensive leader Greg Jones was lost to injury. In 2017, Kiy Hester and Saquon Hampton were lost in the second quarter before things got out of hand. Even the final score was almost identical. A home game showed two points of improvement on the scoreboard compared to a season ago, but anyone who watched Ohio State closely knows the 2017 team is significantly better than the 2016 version.

Maryland 31, Minnesota 24

The Terrapins were down to a third string quarterback, but they still have a running game that amassed 262 yards, including 130 and a score from Ty Johnson in the win:

After finishing with just 197 yards against UCF, the Terps tallied 247 in the first half and 416 in Saturday’s game. The running game was their primary weapons, but Bortenschlager kept the offense multi-dimensional. The one-week difference was almost night and day, as was the result.

It was the first loss of the season for Minnesota, and tackling was an issue:

Regardless of who was going to be under center for Maryland, the Terps have athletes at the skill positions that could make life miserable for opposing defenses, and that’s exactly what happened against Minnesota. Running backs Ty Johnson (18 carries, 130 rushing yards, 1 touchdown) and Lorenzo Harrison III (17 carries, 75 rushing yards) ran wild. Missed tackles were a significant factor in their production. There is nothing more frustrating than watching defenders make contact but fail to wrap up and finish. The Gophers’ top-ranked rushing defense (59 yards allowed per game) was exposed to the tune of 262 rushing yards.

Michigan State 17, Iowa 10

Basically nothing happened in the last 30 minutes of this game, and Michigan State was fine with that:

The second half was all about the MSU defense, holding Iowa to just three points and recovering two fumbles, including one inside the MSU red zone. The offense had opportunities to put the game on ice, but Lewerke and company continued to stall after crossing the 50.

MSU punted with 45 seconds left and Iowa had a chance to drive 84-yards for the tying score. But a vintage Spartans defense stand, forced Iowa to run out of time, still over 80-yards from the end zone.

The Hawkeyes are struggling with a lot of things right now and look really vulnerable in falling to 0-2 in the league:

Regardless of who you’re blaming for Iowa’s 17-10 loss to Michigan State — a game the Hawkeyes could have, and should have won — one simple fact remains.

This is who the 2017 iteration of the Iowa Hawkeye football team is.

Iowa struggles to run the ball. Fact. Iowa struggles to consistently pass the ball. Fact. Iowa plays inspired and good defense. Fact. Iowa struggles with field position. Fact. Iowa has talent in skill positions but struggles to get it all going at the same time.

Non-Conference Opponents:

Louisville 55, Murray State 10 – The Cardinals had very little trouble in dispatching an in-state FCS team.

Ohio 58, Massachusetts 50 – No defense was allowed in this one at all.

Missouri – On Bye (and probably a good thing).