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The Whistlestop Tour: Week 11 of Big Ten Football

Wisconsin is now in the Big Ten title game, but the East is a jumble.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Congratulations to Wisconsin for winning the Big Ten West yet again. This is the 7th year of the Big Ten Championship game. It is the 5th time the Badgers will head to Indianapolis for the event. In fact, with their success against Indiana and Purdue of late, it is the only place where they have lost in the state of Indiana. Now they have a pretty simple equation to reach the college football playoff: Beat Michigan, Minnesota, and the East winner and they are in. They lead off the Whistlestop Tour this week:

Wisconsin 38, Iowa 14

The Badgers wont he west with a smothering defense and with the fact that much of the rest of the division is really bad. Iowa’s defense had to do everything after Wisconsin defense dominated the day:

How many adjectives can accurately describe the performance of the Wisconsin Badgers’ defense on Saturday?

Controlling? As in holding the Iowa Hawkeyes to 66 total yards of offense, the fewest ever allowed to a conference opponent in school history and No. 2 overall only to a 2005 effort against Temple (45 yards)?

Authoritative? With not allowing Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley and his offense to move the chains on third down in 13 attempts while recording four sacks and forcing three turnovers?

Perhaps just flat-out dominant?

For Iowa, it is hard to figure how they had 55 points and 487 yards on Ohio State of all teams they were held to a paltry 66 yards and no offensive scores. That part is at least good news for Purdue:

I’m not sure where “fun” Brian Ferentz went, or how Iowa prepared for Wisconsin’s defensive packages on and around the line of scrimmage, but after two opening three-and-outs, Iowa just looks lost. Not much changed on the ensuing drive: a run to nowhere, a knocked down pass, false start and a sack.


Northwestern 23, Purdue 13

For once the Wildcats didn’t have to sweat one out. A lot like Rutgers, Purdue racked up a lot of yards, but not many points:

NU looked fairly sharp on both ends, but its offense was atypical for this often rush-heavy team. The Wildcats were unable to put together more than one successful drive until the last minute of the half.

A scoreless first quarter and tight second quickly faded to a take-over by a confident Northwestern team, despite the Wildcats’ inability to move the ball on the ground.

Fitz said Purdue did exactly what they expected, which was to “Load the box and do everything they could to stop Justin.”

Purdue did a good job of stopping the run, but a missed field goal and a failed fourth down inside the 5 were the difference:

It's been discussed constantly all season, but Purdue's weakest units are its offensive line and its wide receivers. Those deficiencies were on full display Saturday afternoon. Paradoxically, Purdue relies more on its wide receivers because of its OL issues. Some might take issue with Purdue only attempting to rush the ball 22 times, vice 60 pass attempts, and that's a fair concern. But the OL could not get any sort of push up front (evidenced by two failed 4th-and-short rushing attempts). Knox, Worship, and others were often hit before they even approached the line of scrimmage. DJ Knox was Purdue's leading rusher with 22 total yards on six attempts. 16 of those 22 yards came on one rush.

Penn State 35, Rutgers 6

The Nittany Lions spotted the Scarlet Knights an early 6-0 lead, then turned it on to win going away:

Both the offense and defense woke up at the same time, however, and the Nittany Lions started to stop the Scarlet Knights on defense, while also finding the end zone themselves on the offensive side of the ball. By the end of the third quarter, a 6-0 deficit would turn into a 28-6 lead, and that would be all she wrote.

Rutgers, like every other team before them, found it especially easy to find shelter in the Penn State backfield, making life hard for Saquon Barkley for the majority of the game. Rutgers, like every other team before them, was not able to shut down Barkley all game, as he still managed to find the end zone twice anyway, even if he only went for 35 yards on the ground.

For Rutgers, this is still a team that is growing, and they could take another step next week against Indiana:

There were moments of beauty with this defense, with a tackle for loss by true freshman CJ Onyechi against Saquon Barkley bringing a tear to my eye. The defense continues to fight, and to keep Rutgers in the game, but when the offense is 3-15 on third down efficiency, the defense started to wear down. Pair that with trick plays, a great use of the read option by McSorley, and the fire of Barkley leaping over receivers, and the defense was ultimately overcome by Penn State’s offense.

Ohio State 48, Michigan State 3

I think it is safe to say the Buckeyes vented after getting their ass kicked at Iowa:

Holy smokes, Ohio State’s done it now. The madmen went out and destroyed Michigan State, a team that has traditionally played the Buckeyes close. Especially in the Urban Meyer era, Mark Dantonio’s squad from East Lansing, Mich., has wrecked havoc on Ohio State’s dreams of conference crowns and national titles. The last time Sparty came to Columbus was in 2015, and they walked out with a win after, technically, never leading in the game.

All Michigan State can do after this one really is burn the tape:

This team came in completely unprepared. “WHOA, BUT OSU IS A BUZZSAW!!!” you might say. “THEY RECRUIT SO MUCH BETTER” others bellow. Really? This team has never been blown out by OSU. They’ve been running this offense all 13 years JT Barrett has played quarterback.

Guys, this MSU team is good. Already exceeded out expectations. We came in playing with house money, but to see them so lost in such a big game is upsetting.

Indiana 24, Illinois 14

Finally, Indiana won a Big Ten game. It wasn’t pretty at times, but he Hoosiers played well defensively and finally got enough offense:

Illinois finished with only 294 yards of offense with 77 of those coming on the first play of the second half. Wipe out that one explosive play and you can see how dominant the Hoosiers were.

They also finally forced some turnovers. Rashard Fant should have about three interceptions on the day but still grabbed one while Tegray Scales sealed the game with one of his own. Indiana actually finished with a positive turnover ratio, which seems like a rarity this year.

For Illinois, they are just waiting for the season to be over:

Late last night I was watching Oregon State get pummeled by Arizona, dropping the Beavers to 1-9 on the year. “At least we have two wins,” I thought to myself. What a depressing thought.

As I was brainstorming and considering what to say to you, the greatest fan base in the country, about what appears to be a hapless football program, I thought about the future. I know I’ve used the “p” word (I promised I wouldn’t say it) in previous columns, but I wanted to forget about the outcome of the game yesterday and give you some of my thoughts about what direction the program is headed - not necessarily things I saw in the game, but what I foresee for the future of the program. It’s not fun to talk about losing all the time, so why bother?

Minnesota 54, Nebraska 21

The Golden Gophers returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and never looked back:

The Gophers first 5 possessions of the game

1. 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown (Rodney Smith)

2. 75-yard touchdown drive (Demry Croft)

3. 93-yard touchdown drive (Demry Croft)

4. 72-yard touchdown drive (Koby McCrary)

5. 71-yard drive ending in a FG at the end of the half (Emmit Carpenter)

And it was a 30-14 lead at halftime.

Over at Corn Nation they are already looking for a new coach, as things are just about done for Mike Riley:

Consider that boat rowed. We all know what is next for this Husker program. We’re all angry and we all want a change. It will come. Whether it is announced in the coming days or the announcement comes after the Iowa game, it is coming. The only real suspense is whether the next coach is Scott Frost and how much Nebraska pays him. Hopefully you all know to be nice - I don’t think there is much to argue about at this point anyway. Let’s hope our wandering in the wilderness is over soon. Husker Nation is hungry for competitive football again.

Michigan 35, Maryland 10

As expected, the Wolverines had little trouble defensively against a 4th string QB for the Terps:

Michigan roared out to a 28-0 start and went into the locker room at halftime having played easily the best half of football they have all season long, but things were a bit different on the other side of the break.

The Wolverines came out sluggish and Maryland dominated the third quarter. At one point in the game, the Terrapins could not be stopped from moving the ball (and actually out-gained Michigan on the entire day) and offensively and defensively Michigan just did not have it.

Maryland got flattened early and they are still looking for answers at quarterback:

Frankly, there wasn’t much reason to think the game would go much differently, with a fourth-string walk-on starting at quarterback. In his first career start, Ryan Brand looked a little off early on, perhaps dealing with some nerves, playing against one of college football’s perennial powerhouses. It didn’t get much better.

Non-Conference Opponents:

Louisville 38, Virginia 21 – Lamar Jackson did a lot of Lamar Jackson things and got Louisville to bowl eligbility.

Ohio 38, Toledo 10 – It happened on Wednesday, but Ohio rolled over the last team unbeaten in MAC play and made a case that it is the league’s best team.

Missouri 50, Tennessee 17 – The Tigers have now won four in a row and are averaging more than 50 points per game in doing so.