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The Whistlestop Tour: Week 8 of Big Ten Football

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Purdue was the story of the league this week.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Purdue Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue was the talk of not just the Big Ten, but the entire college football world yesterday. The Boilers delivered one of the worst beatings ever for a top 2 team and dropped Ohio State to 3-5 in Ross-Ade Stadium this century. If not for Holy Buckeye it would be even worse. Ross-Ade Stadium has officially become a house of horrors for the Buckeyes, and that game leads off the Whistlestop Tour

Purdue 49, Ohio State 20

The night was for Tyler Trent. We know this, and Boiled Sports called it one of the reasons they watch sports:

I’ve had the pleasure of talking with Tyler over Twitter during the last couple years, when he was simply an exceptional Exponent sportswriter who had beaten cancer once and had a Boiled Sports sticker on his laptop. After his roller coaster 2018, and after finally meeting Tyler at the Mizzou game, I wanted nothing more than to see him enjoy Saturday’s Ohio State game in person.

An entertaining game? A win? All of that was secondary.

Because that’s the point of sports. Sports bind us together unconditionally, especially for a team like Purdue where dozens of conditions are necessary to maintain sanity. Purdue fans stick together, because nobody randomly decides to be a Purdue fan, because all Purdue fans have a connection with Purdue. Which means all Purdue fans have a connection to each other.

For Ohio State, they were flat out exposed by Purdue, and they head into the bye week facing a lot of questions:

Unlike last year when Ohio State was humiliated on national television by Iowa, this year’s squad only has one loss (in 2017, OSU had lost to Oklahoma as well), so, theoretically, they still likely control their own destiny in terms of the College Football Playoff. Now, after watching the Buckeyes flounder last night, I might not necessarily bet on them winning out, but with 13 days before they return to action against Nebraska, if changes are to be made in order to right this seemingly rudderless ship, now is the time.

So, while the multiverse holds an infinite number of possible ways that this season could play out, let’s take a look at the best case and status quo case scenarios for the rest of Ohio State’s 2018 football season.

Michigan 21, Michigan State 7

The Wolverines are now in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten East, and they have been dominant in getting to this point:

We all knew Michigan’s defense was good, it entered the game No. 1 nationally in total defense and passing defense. However, Michigan’s performance on defense wasn’t just good, it was spectacular, completely dominating Michigan State’s offense.

MSU quarterback Brian Lewerke picked up right where Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook left off, completing 5-of-25 passes (20 percent), for 66 yards and no touchdowns or picks. It was a brutal performance, largely due to U-M’s defense. It wasn’t all Michigan’s doing, Lewerke missed a handful of open receivers and failed to make plays when his team needed him, but if the Wolverines hadn’t fumbled inside their own 10-yard line, the Spartans likely would not have scored.

The Spartans continue to struggle offensively, and they will need offense when a red hot Purdue comes to town this coming Saturday:

Fresh off of their upset win over Penn State, the Michigan State Spartans fell flat against the Michigan Wolverines. MSU lost its third game of the year, going down 21-7 to its rival at Spartan Stadium. Possibly even more importantly, the offense may have lost their two most important players under very different circumstances.

For most of the game, the Spartans left open the possibility of another come-from-behind win over a top-10 team. After forcing a punt on the first Michigan drive of the game, LJ Scott returned from injury for MSU with back-to-back successful plays to start game.

Penn State 33, Indiana 28

Indiana jumped out to an early lead, but Penn State continues to be a second half team and escaped with a nice road win:

Last week against Michigan State, we saw that this Penn State team, no matter how good it looked against Ohio State for 52 minutes, has its fair share of flaws. On Saturday, many expected a bounce back against the Hoosiers, but it was anything but that.

There was simply no sign of improvement. Wide receivers catching the ball? No. The defensive line getting consistent pressure? No. The defense tackling properly? No. There was simply no improvement from week-to-week, and that falls on the coaching staff. What makes it worse is that, as a whole, they keep making the same dumb mistakes that could cost them games.

It was more of the same for Indiana, so much so that Crimson Quarry did not do a game wrap.

Iowa 23, Maryland 0

Iowa didn’t let the Terrapins do anything offensively:

For the 17th time in the past 20 seasons, the Iowa football team is bowl eligible.

Just 19 other Power 5 schools around the country can say that. Only 11 have been bowl eligible more than those 17 times. While simply making a bowl game is certainly shooting a lot lower than what this team is capable of, it’s still an impressive streak.

Only two teams in the Big Ten — Ohio State and Wisconsin — have made the postseason more than Iowa over the past 20 years. While those bowl games haven’t always come after pretty seasons, the sustained success the Hawkeyes have enjoyed under Kirk Ferentz is something that’s easy to take for granted.

The Terps had a horrifically bad offense for their third loss of the year:

The Terps gained just 115 yards of offense all afternoon, and were in double-digits until the final minute of the game. Maryland didn’t put together a drive of more than 28 yards all day, finishing with seven first downs, six punts and two turnovers. This was a well-deserved goose egg on the scoreboard.

You might remember the Michigan game from two weeks ago. The Wolverines controlled the ball for 21:23 in the first half that afternoon and outgained Maryland 291-42. That was a 17-7 game at halftime, with Ty Johnson’s 98-yard kickoff return touchdown as the lone Terps highlight. Maryland’s offense improved in garbage time, but the team still lost 42-21.

Wisconsin 49, Illinois 20

The Badgers were fully in control throughout as they never really let the Illini in it:

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard mentioned a week-and-a-half ago how there were five or six missed opportunities for interceptions against Nebraska. Facing Michigan last weekend, the defense did not record a takeaway at the Big House in a 25-point loss on the road.

On Saturday, that changed.

Wisconsin’s defense exploded with five turnovers created in the first half, leading to 21 points in the Badgers’ 49–20 win over the Illinois Fighting Illini. The sheer number of takeaways within those two quarters was impressive, but what also stood out was that players experienced and inexperienced contributed in nullifying the Illini offense while giving ample opportunities to its own.

The Illini were a little better offensively than they were against Purdue, but still have a lot to work on:

Any other team would have put Wisconsin on upset alert in the first half. Illinois held the Badgers to just 14 points through most of the first and second quarters, and Alex Hornibrook looked very average as a passer.

However, when a team turns the ball over 5(!) times in the first half, and really can’t throw the ball at all, there’s not much hope for anything offensively.

Northwestern 18, Rutgers 15

It was a bizarre scoreline, but the Wildcats were able to comeback against Rutgers to avoid an embarrassing loss:

A punt-fest in Northern New Jersey had upset written all over it until late in the fourth quarter. Coming off of an overtime win against a winless Nebraska team, the Wildcats came out slow again as Rutgers (1-7, 0-5 Big Ten) almost collected their first conference win of the season. The Scarlet Knights used an explosive running play and a safety to jump out to a 15-7 lead before Northwestern finally wore them down in a game where neither team averaged more than four yards per play.

There wasn’t a lot to like as a Northwestern fan offensively. Clayton Thorson had a tough game, going 17-of-34 for 150 yards as he struggled to find any of his targets other than Flynn Nagel, who was able to collect eight catches for 71 yards. Isaiah Bowser scored two touchdowns and ran hard en route to a 108-yard day.

For the Scarlet Knights, it was a missed chance to move forward:

Rutgers returned home for the 85th annual homecoming contest to face an inconsistent Northwestern team. Neither squad was having the season they hoped, but a logjam in the Big Ten West meant that the Wildcats were still in the hunt at 3-1 in conference play. Northwestern was without much experience at the running back spot though. Their healthy running backs coming into the game (freshmen Isaiah Bowser and Drake Anderson) had just 7 career rushes for 14 yards combined. On the home side, Raheem Blackshear was not on the sideline to begin the game as he was out of town attending services for his grandmother’s recent passing. Rutgers was also without star Tight End Jerome Washington, starting Left Tackle Tariq Cole, short yardage runner Jonathan Hilliman and occasional starter Sam Vretman.

Nebraska 53, Minnesota 28

The Cornhuskers finally got out of their own way and dominated the Gophers to win the $5 Broken Bits of Chair Trophy:

Scott Frost, the head coach of a team that was 0-6 going into the game, took what he said afterward to be “an inappropriate Gatorade bath.”

He had to say it. Gatorade baths are appropriate for coaches that win a championship. He followed up that comment by saying, “but there’s going to be a day around here when we’re celebrating more than one win.”

Those on the outside might laugh or mock a program for giving their coach a Gatorade bath after a win which brought their season record to 1-6.

The Gophers are reeling right now, as they stay winless in the Big Ten:

It is legitimately hard to figure out what Robb Smith’s game plan was for this game if the purpose of a game plan is to stop the other team. If the goal was to let Nebraska whatever it wanted on the ground or the air, then mission accomplished. If you recall, Smith was supposedly going to leave for the NFL in the off-season. Now at this point in the season, Smith’s defense has allowed over 300 yards on the ground twice in 5 Big Ten games. Minnesota’s defense has given up at least 400 yards in their last four games. Today, the defense allowed 661 and 52 points.

Non-Conference Opponents

Eastern Michigan 42, Ball State 20 – The Eagles are 2-0 in the state of Indiana this year and have a transitive win over Ohio State now.

Missouri 65, Memphis 33 – The Tigers rolled during their homecoming behind Drew Lock.

Boston College – On BYE

Quickie Big Ten Power Rankings

1. Michigan (7-1, 5-0) – The Wolverines need only survive Penn State in two weeks to all but setup a bloodfeud against Ohio State for the East.

2. Iowa (6-1, 3-1) – If not for a late stumble against Wisconsin the Hawkeyes would be undefeated and probably in the top 10 nationally.

3. Ohio State (7-1, 4-1) – The Buckeyes have more raw talent than just about everybody, but Purdue showed that means exactly dick.

4. Penn State (5-2, 2-2) – The Nittany Lions need a lot of help to win the East, but they can play spoiler vs. Michigan.

5. Purdue (4-3, 3-1) – Why not? The Purdue offense is red hot right now with just one turnover during this four-game winning streak.

6. Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1) – I still like the Badgers to win the West, but Purdue can throw a major wrench into things with them and Iowa coming to Ross-Ade.

7. Northwestern (4-3, 4-1) – The Wildcats are experts in winning ugly this year.

8. Michigan State (4-3, 2-2) – The Spartans are pretty much just flat-out ugly, especially at home.

9. Maryland (4-3, 2-2) – When the Terps are on they can beat anyone. When they are bad they have games like Saturday.

10. Indiana (4-4, 1-4) – The Hoosiers had better hope to beat Minnesota and Maryland to get a bowl game.

11. Nebraska (1-6, 1-4) – It was finally Scott Frost Day!

12. Minnesota (3-4, 0-4) – The Gophers may not win a league game if they don’t get one of the next two.

13. Illinois (3-4, 1-3) – At least they aren’t Rutgers.

14. Rutgers (1-7, 0-5) – The Scarlet Knights finish with Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State. Yikes.