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The Whistlestop Tour: Week 7 of Big Ten Football

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The remaining six games look very promising for Purdue.

Purdue v Wisconsin Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Is Purdue about to go on a winning streak? So far it looks like Nebraska, Rutgers, and Illinois (in that order) are the three worst teams in the conference. Yes, they have a combined three league wins between them, but Nebraska has beaten Rutgers and Illinois while the Scarlett Knights just handled Illinois quite easily in Champaign. Those are Purdue’s next three games and the Boilers are probably going to be favored in all three. We already are against Rutgers by 8 points.

Obviously we are conditioned to not count wins before they are secure, but this is another crucial stretch for coach Brohm’s team. We’ve come close in a few upsets already, stomp a Missouri team that looks pretty bad, and beaten decent Ohio and Minnesota teams at home. The next three opponents are, at best, on par with the three teams Purdue has already beaten. If we take care of business we can go into the final three games looking to improve bowl selection instead of merely trying to get eligible.

Wisconsin 17, Purdue 9

The folks over at Bucky’s 5th quarter were pleased with the win, but still have concerns about their offense:

The stat sheet reveals potential, as Wisconsin accumulated nine “chunk” plays of 10 or more yards, and seven plays of over 15 yards in the passing game. True freshman running back Jonathan Taylor ran for 219 yards on a career-high 30 carries with a 67-yard touchdown and is only 14 yards short of 1,000 for the season. True sophomore wide receiver Quintez Cephus recorded a career-high 100 yards on five receptions, and quarterback Alex Hornibrook completed over 72 percent of his passes.

Yet three turnovers and six of Wisconsin’s eight penalties by the offense negated points on the board and allowed Purdue to stay in the game until the end of UW’s 17–9 win at Camp Randall Stadium.

Like us, the Boiled Sports guys were surprised with how hard Purdue fought:

But it was also apparent that it would take some waiting for that creativity to bear any meaningful fruit. Yes, Purdue is still on track to make a bowl this season, which is incredible to even think about, but that will largely be accomplished by defeating the worst that this schedule has to offer. In the meantime, what we have are little signs that things are different this year, under this coaching staff. It's not just the fun play calls, it's the effort and energy, throughout the whole game.

Unfortunately effort and energy weren't enough to win this game. WRs weren't able to get any separation from Wisconsin's man-to-man defense, and the RBs weren't able to break enough tackles (and they didn't get a ton of help from the line). Purdue had its chances, but they weren't able to turn a blocked punt returned to the 10 into any points, and the last gasp possession ended with an ill-advised Sindelar interception. The chances were there, but Purdue wasn't able to take advantage.

Michigan 27, Indiana 20 (OT)

This was a weird game, as Michigan led by 10 late, but the Hoosiers were able to tie on a field goal as time expired. Maize N’ Brew thinks they may have found a running back:

Karan Higdon has been Michigan’s most impressive back this season, and it earned him the most carries against Indiana, and he sure made the most of the opportunity. Higdon rushed for 200 yards on 25 carries and had three touchdowns.

All of his touchdown runs were huge. His first was a 12 yard scamper in the second quarter which gave Michigan a two-score lead. His second, a 59 yarder in the fourth quarter again gave Michigan some breathing room, and his third came on the first play of overtime. Higdon has shown power, acceleration, vision, shiftiness, and the ability to ad-lib when the run lanes are clogged. He should have every opportunity to be the feature back going forward and receive at least 15 carries. The combination of the offensive lines newfound success and Higdon’s abilities could bode well for the Wolverines offense to get going against Penn State and future opponents.

For Indiana, it was yet another close loss to a big name opponent as they try to push that boulder uphill:

On the one hand, Indiana football could be in the best place it has been in 25 years. Tom Allen’s enthusiasm is infectious - players talk. IU fans are excited about the team in a time when they could be instead directing all their attention to basketball and new coach Archie Miller. The coaching staff is winning key in-state recruitment battles on offense and defense. They not only beat a Virginia team that’s now 5-1, they won that game by 17 points on the road. The Hoosiers still should be on track for their third straight bowl berth this season.

On the other hand, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Rutgers 35, Illinois 24

Rutgers actually won a Big Ten game! That’s a 16-game losing streak over and done with!

It is finally over! Rutgers ended their 16 game conference losing streak on Saturday with a convincing 35-24 victory over Illinois on the road. The last time Rutgers had won in Big Ten play was the thrilling come from behind, 55-52 victory over Indiana on October 17, 2015, which was 728 days ago. Today’s triumph was also the first Big Ten win during head coach Chris Ash’s tenure at Rutgers, now midway through his second season. It was not a mistake free performance by any stretch, but this was a much needed victory for a program in desperate need for good news.

The Illini are playing a ton of freshmen, but it is pretty clear they are waiting for the future:

There’s really not much else to say. Illinois Football is awful. The team played Rutgers — a team with comparable offense and defensive numbers to Illinois — who was also heavily struggling under a second-year head coach. It seemed like an even game was in the cards — possibly an Illinois win. Illinois was favored slightly by betting odds this week.

It didn’t matter. Illinois was soundly beaten at home yet again. The final score of 35-24 looks a bit better than what one who qualify for a blowout — Illinois even outgained Rutgers in total yards. But, in the end, Illinois was never a threat to actually win this game.

Northwestern 37, Maryland 21

Are the Wildcats turning it around? All the signs are there for a late start as Justin Jackson ran for 171 yards and two scores in a nice road win:

Jackson broke the Northwestern all-time rushing yards record and put up 178 yards and 2 touchdowns in the process for his best game of the year. He averaged 6.1 yards a carry and was untouchable for most of the game (the first couple drives, on the other hand, we shall never speak of again). The star running back seemed back to form, showing off incredible cuts and an unwillingness to let the first hit bring him down while ripping off chunk after chunk and allowing the Northwestern offense to control the ball and ultimately the game.

The Terrapins were a bit stunned by this one even with three TD passes by Max Bortenschlager even though he was injured in the 4th quarter:

The Terps were unable to get anything going on the ground in this one. Quarterback Max Bortenschlager ended the game as Maryland’s leading rusher with just 34 yards on 12 attempts and the Terps managed just 85 rushing yards. On the flip side, the Wildcats rushed for 238 yards, led by Jackson.

Bortenschlager got the start after his status was in question throughout the week. There was a scare in the middle of the fourth quarter, when Bortenschlager went down after scrambling out to midfield. After a couple plays where running backs Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison were managing the line from the Wildcat, Bortenschlager was out of the medical tent and back under center.

Ohio State 56, Nebraska 14

Ohio State didn’t even need to bring its punter to this one:

Ohio State’s per-play success rate was a little higher against Army at 70 percent, but this week’s 68 percent total success rate performance was still the second-highest since the 2014 Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin (69% success rate). But what’s more insane than the per-play efficiency was the incredible drive efficiency: eight drives by the first-team offense, eight touchdowns.

For the Cornhuskers, it was a miserable Saturday all around:

Well, this pretty much went as any realistic Husker fan should have expected. There were a few bright spots - namely J.D. Spielman. This program has a long way to go and the answers on how to get there are few and far between.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. The HOT TAEKS are all over the place, but the root cause analysis is lacking. Until Husker football takes a long look at what is keeping this program from winning conference titles and makes informed and forward-looking decisions, we will continue alternating “nine wins” with “crap, we suck again”.

Michigan State 30, Minnesota 27

The Spartans held on through two late touchdowns to take a nice road win and are already 3-0 in the conference:

Say it with me, Spartans — five and one. Say it again. Five. And. One.

The Spartans left the state of Michigan for the first time this season and came back home with a win. There was plenty of good, a little bit of bad and some random off the field that we need to sort through.

The Gophers had some optimism late as they head into the second half of the season:

The positives came in the passing game. Demry Croft took a couple series to get his feet under him, but when it was time to start throwing the ball around he really started to look comfortable and capable. A couple poor decisions in there, one resulting in a pick, but overall he looked confident in the final quarter and gave this offense the first spark we have seen in a couple weeks.

Non-Conference Opponents:

Boston College 45, Louisville 42 – The Cardinals are really struggling outside of that Lamar Jackson guy.

Ohio 48, Bowling Green 30 – The Bobcats are an impressive 5-2 right now and might be the best team Purdue has beaten.

Georgia 53, Missouri 28 – Missouri is still winless this season against the FBS level.