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The Whistlestop Tour: Week 9 of Big Ten Football

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Around the Big Ten there were a lot of exciting games this week.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

We’re still stinging from Saturday night. To make a bowl game Purdue now must win at least one game away from home, and both Iowa and Northwestern look like they are starting to come around and play some good football. It is entirely possible Purdue finishes 5-7 this year and is a play or two away from 7-5, much like the 2009 season under Danny Hope. Purdue probably has a better shot against Northwestern, but it means very little unless we can beat a moribund Illinois team at home.

Around the league several teams took pretty severe hits. Indiana now has bowl eligibility balanced on a razor’s edge. Michigan State fell off the pace in the east. Penn State lost. Wisconsin is in firm control in the West. Let’s look at each game:

Nebraska 25, Purdue 24

The folks at Corn Nation are frustrated that it took a last second comeback, but relieved that Nebraska was able to get a win and prevent a bad season from getting worse:

Maybe Danny Langsdorf found a way to get the most out of his much-talked about quarterback, as Tanner Lee was masterful down the stretch, leading Nebraska to two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, including the game-winning score with 14-seconds left.

Anyway, you know how the game went. And when Nebraska took the 25-24 lead in the closing seconds, I cheered...silently. But I cheered nonetheless.

Over at Boiled Sports they had a ton of credit to Tanner Lee, who went out and won the game:

Purdue’s pass rush was breaking Nebraska’s line all game, yet Lee looked fairly solid all game. I figured he would end up attempting somewhere around 50 attempts (like Blough last year), rack up yards, and look a little more impressive on-paper than he actually was.

And then that go-ahead drive happened.

Surgical. Absolutely surgical, under “win or your coach gets fired on the tarmac” pressure, under the same pressure Purdue’s pass rush was getting all night.

Ohio State 39, Penn State 38

The Buckeyes did the Lord’s work in an amazing comeback to down Penn State:

Destiny is whatever you want it to be. If you truly decide (notice how I didn’t say ‘want’) to end up somewhere, you’ll find a way to get there—whether you know it or not. Ohio State didn’t want to beat Penn State. They decided that they were going to beat Penn State. Then they went out and did it.

In the final 11:39 of the game, the Buckeyes scored three touchdowns. The scary note: each TD drive was at least 40 yards, and was completed in under two minutes.

At Black Shoe Diaries there was lament over missed opportunities:

Losing to a top team doesn’t reduce your profile, as a loss was likely, maybe even expected. On the other hand, losing to said top team creates a narrative that the team you root for isn’t yet good enough to compete with the top team they lost to. You likely won’t hear the end of it from opposing fans, and everything else the team would do for the rest of the season would be dismissed as worthless due to that singular loss.

Maryland 42, Indiana 39

The Terrapins may have found a quarterback in Max Bortenschlager, who had a solid game for the Terps:

Since joining the Big Ten, some of Maryland’s most high-scoring, back-and-forth games have been played against Indiana, and Saturday was no different.

The Terps and Hoosiers battled for all 60 minutes in a Homecoming shootout for the ages, with Maryland eventually coming out on top, 42-39.

Maryland showed a resiliency that it hasn’t showed since the Texas game, battling back from an early 14-0 deficit. The Terps were previously 2-9 in the DJ Durkin era when the other team scored first, but found a way to eke this one out.

For Indiana, Crimson Quarry thinks the Tom Allen honeymoon may be over as they are now 0-5 in B1G play:

Playing in the Big Ten East, Indiana’s margin for mistake is razor thin when it comes to staying out of the cellar. Getting Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, and Michigan on the schedule every season seems good to supply four losses more often than not. With 9 game conference schedules, that means Indiana’s other regular opponents -- Maryland, Purdue, and Rutgers -- are almost must-wins every season to reach bowl eligibility. Lucky enough for Indiana the last two seasons, those programs have been trash.

Problem? That’s changing.

Jeff Brohm’s turned the Boilers into an early-version of Kevin Wilson’s Hoosiers, playing enthralling, fun football whilst still losing to Rutgers. But it seems clear improvement’s coming, and a bowl bid might even come this season. Maryland’s good enough to beat the Hoosiers with a third-string quarterback, and DJ Durkin will match a Top-20 recruiting class with an already nice well of young talent. Chris Ash has quietly already built a Top-35 defense at Rutgers, and there’s been clear improvement year-to-date. Like it or not, each of those programs seem to be ready to take a step forward in 2018.

Wisconsin 24, Illinois 10

The badgers did not have to do a lot against the Illini, as they kind of just sat on them for four quarters in a dull game:

Perhaps the most accurate way to describe the offensive performances by both the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers and Illinois Fighting Illini could be by the weather conditions experienced during Saturday’s game.

Gray, chilly, and most of the time, dismal.

However, Wisconsin (8–0, 5–0 Big Ten) held on for the 24–10 win over Illinois (2–6, 0–5) as its defense held the Illini offense to just 286 yards while recording five sacks and forcing three turnovers.

For Illinois, the defense continued to show improvement, but he offense needs a lot of work:

The Illini held the #5 Badgers to 303 total yards and 4.7 yards per play. Jonathan Taylor getting injured sure helped, but Illinois stood up to the challenge provided to them today and performed admirably. The defense kept Illinois in the game against a top 10 opponent. Hats off to them, especially Del’Shawn Phillips, who may have been the best player on the field for either team today.

I wish I could say similar things about the offense, but yet again this week there are few positives to bring for their performance.

Northwestern 39, Michigan State 31 3OT

This game was nuts, but the Wildcats got a stop in the third OT to seal a huge win:

Northwestern moves to 5-3, with three consecutive Big Ten victories and a strong sense of momentum. A slow start tempered expectations, but the Wildcats are through the toughest part of their schedule and should be favorites in each of their final four games.

“I don't think we needed validation,” Nagel said when asked if the win felt particularly rewarding. “We've always known we were a good team. We're just now starting to prove that.”

Saturday’s win might not have been validating, but it was exciting, different, and perhaps a turning point for these Wildcats. An quarterback back in rhythm for the first time in weeks. A host of receivers making plays all over the field. An offensive line that only surrendered one sack.

The Spartans saw their Big Ten East dreams hit a major setback before playing Penn State:

I don’t know whose job it is to tell the whole team that overtime has started, but they forgot to tell the defense. The offense did their job, and the defense didn’t. With the soft pass coverage and arm tackling efforts, Northwestern scored easily all three overtimes.

Michigan 35, Rutgers 14

The Wolverines were dominated at Penn State, but got their ground game going against Rutgers and they found a new quarterback:

With 7:01 left in the second quarter, Michigan started with the ball at its own 23 yard-line. To that point in the game, John O’Korn had completed three passes for 13 yards and an interception. The Michigan offense had scored seven points on four drives, averaging just 4.8 yards per play. Then Brandon Peters trotted onto the field.

The crowd rose to its feet and cheered. The Wolverines seemed to play with a new energy. Karan Higdon took consecutive handoffs for gains of eight yards and 12 yards to begin the drive, and then Peters rolled out and hit Tyrone Wheatley for an easy 15-yard first down completion. Suddenly, Michigan looked like a completely different team.

The Scarlet Knights saw a modest 2-game winning streak end, but still saw positives:

Last year’s 78-0 shellacking of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights by the Michigan Wolverines was a mid-season embarrassment to first year Head Coach Chris Ash, the team, the fans, and the athletic program. It raised again the cries that Rutgers didn’t belong in the Big Ten, that the money spent on athletics was a waste, and that perhaps Rutgers should just go back to playing the Colgate’s and Lehigh’s of the world as they did in the 70’s.

The 35-14 loss to Michigan on Saturday was a positive step by the Scarlet Knights merely by the margin of the defeat. Rutgers held Michigan scoreless in the first quarter, was tied at 7-7 in the second, and was down by only two scores at the end of the third quarter. The 14 points put on the board by the Scarlet Knights were the first points scored by them against the “Big Four” (Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State) since November 2015. That means they were the first points scored against those traditional powers since Pat Hobbs tapped Chris Ash to be the Head Coach of the Scarlet Knights in December 2015.

Iowa 17, Minnesota 10

The pig stays in Iowa City this year as Iowa’s defense was solid all game:

A strike to Noah Fant on third down for 17 yards just about sealed the deal for Iowa. Fant has had his fair share of drops this year, but he was instrumental today. Iowa punted the ball away with 1:30 left to give its defense a chance to win the game.

Minnesota got the ball back with no timeouts left with 1:21 on the clock on its own 15.

On fourth-and-4, Anthony Nelson came up BIG. He sacked Croft with under a minute to go. Floyd stays home.

Minnesota continues to struggle offensively:

The Gopher offense was 4-for-16 on third down. Three of those four conversions came on their second possession of the game. They converted one third down the rest of the game. That’s not exactly a recipe for success.

Non-Conference Opponents

Wake Forest 42, Louisville 32 – The Louisville defense is in a full-on collapse at the moment.

Ohio ON BYE – The Bobcats are 6-2 with only losses to Purdue and Central Michigan.

Missouri 52, Connecticut 12 – The Tigers have won two in a row and the offense has been lights out against non-conference teams not named Purdue.