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The Whistletop Tour: Week 9 of Big Ten Football

Iowa nearly won without scoring an offensive point.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

It was a strange week in college football. A total of 11 ranked teams lost, meaning Purdue had an excellent shot at its first top 25 ranking in 11 years had it won. Instead, we came up short and we’ll be waiting a few more weeks at least. We even moved up the infamous list of longest droughts between rankings as Syracuse, who had not been in the top 25 since 2001, moved into the top 25. Now the only Power 5 team that has a longer top 25 drought than us is Indiana, who has waited since 1994.

A total of 7 teams joined the top 25 this week including Virginia, Houston, Utah State, and Fresno State. Iowa stayed in despite a loss, so Purdue can officially get its third win over a ranked team on Saturday. Their loss was pretty odd as well, and we’ll get to it in the Whistlestop Tour.

Michigan State 23, Purdue 13

Rocky Lombardi had a solid debut and Michigan State’s defense turned in a great performance according to The Only Colors:

Justin Layne just may have been the MVP of that game. He had four pass breakups, seven tackles and one catch on offense for 11 yards. And really, he could have had two touchdowns on deep balls that Rocky Lombardi just overthrew as Layne got separation on streak routes.

And aside from missing on those two deep balls to Layne, Rocky was outstanding. He made great throws. He made great reads. He never really got himself in danger and played as composed as a guy who’s started 20+ games. We’ll forgive him for not connecting on 40+ yard passes to a starting cornerback-turned-receiver in his first start.

In a season where a lot has gone wrong, it was relieving to see that the quarterback position will pretty alright with Lewerke rehabbing his injury.

For Purdue it was a bit of a letdown after a great week:

Purdue never looked to be in rhythm. David Blough had his first truly rocky game of the season, winding up with 277 yards passing on 29/49 passing, with no TDs and three picks (he had only two all season heading into today). The defense definitely held Purdue in the game for a while, but they didn’t look like the unit that controlled every aspect of the game last weekend against OSU. Whether it was the weather, the hangover or a letdown, Purdue just did not appear to be the same team they have been since, essentially, the loss to EMU.

Minnesota 38, Indiana 31

The Gophers blew a 22 point fourth quarter lead, then got a 67-yard touchdown to Rashod Bateman in the final minutes for the win. It was a relief for the Daily Gopher:

Consistency was discussed on this blog earlier in the week, tonight that was on full display. When the offence was efficient and when the defense was playing soundly, this was a game they were sailing to a comfortable win. Once things started to become unhinged, it resulted in 22-unanswered points in the 4th quarter. There are plenty of things to be figured out yet.

Despite the cardiac arrest inducing 4th quarter, the Gophers did win this game. They are 4-4 with a trip to Illinois next week.

I managed to catch part of this game on the radio driving home Friday night and even Don Fischer called it “Indiana Football”. It was such Indiana football we don’t have a Crimson Quarry recap. Instead, we get a tweet:

Penn State 30, Iowa 24

For a battle between likely 3rd place teams in their respective divisions this was a strange game, but it was won by the Penn State defense:

Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen Penn State’s defense tire out by the fourth quarter and crashing and burning. This week, it was faced with the same situation it’s faced in three out of the last four weeks. While they didn’t make it easy for themselves, the Nittany Lions were able to get the job done.

For Iowa, the Hawkeyes had 24 points, and none of them came from the offense. They had two field goals, two safeties, a pick six, and a touchdown off of a fake field goal:

Iowa lost to Penn State in a stadium where it hasn’t won a game since 2009. They lost by six points and had a chance to score a touchdown and go up by a point and would have left around three minutes left on the clock. Instead they threw an interception.

The Hawkeyes then got a stop and forced Penn State to punt and drove to the Nittany Lion 44 with no timeouts and 1:23 left on the clock. And this is a team who is the antithesis of a ‘quick strike’ offense.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz certainly had their gaffes. I think it’s rather obvious the Hawkeyes tried to get way too complicated on a wet *grass* field when smashmouth football would have won the day.

Northwestern 31, Wisconsin 17

The Wildcats are in firm control in the Big Ten West now:

Northwestern needed to slow down Jonathan Taylor and Wisconsin’s No. 1 rushing attack if it wanted to take down the No. 20 Badgers at Ryan Field on Saturday.

The Wildcats did that, and more, holding the Badgers to a season-low 165 yards on the ground, while forcing three fumbles, including two from Big Ten rushing leader Taylor.

“You know they’re going to try and pound it and pound it,” cornerback Montre Hartage said. “We came out and imposed our will today.”

Wisconsin was limited without Alex Hornibrook and now are playing catch up in the West:

We discussed them already in the story linked above, but Wisconsin’s defense forced three takeaways that led to 14 points. That should be plenty to help UW on the road to pick up a victory in a normal setting, but its offense coughed up the ball three times that led to 17 Northwestern points. This is a captain obvious point, but had to be stated.

Nebraska 45, Bethune Cookman 9

As expected, the Cornhuskers had no problems:

“Talent gap” is probably the best way to summarize this game. Nebraska raced out to a 28-3 first quarter lead, and then coasted from there. Arguably, this was a game that shouldn’t have even been played.

It wasn’t about the money; Nebraska could have simply pocketed the Akron ticket sales. It wasn’t really about bowl eligibility, unless something miraculous happens in November. And by proxy, it wasn’t about saving the first Saturday of December for a trip to Indianapolis.

Maryland 63, Illinois 33

The Terrapins are now a win away from bowl eligibility in a season that has been far from normal:

Leake came into this game with just four touches on the season. He finished the game with four touchdowns. The sophomore has been buried on the depth chart since he came to College Park, though it’s hard to imagine why after his performance against Illinois. He started his day with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, then added a 64-yard run to the end zone in the second quarter. He had two more touchdowns in the second half, scoring on runs of 27 and 43-yards against a porous Illinois defense.

The Illini are complete mess right now and it is not looking good to finish the season:

It’s tough to watch this program flounder like this week in, week out.

Maryland is a talented football team, no question. However, again, they should not be a team that takes whatever it wants against a Lovie Smith defense in year three.

Maybe that’s the biggest myth, that Smith is some kind of defensive savior who can immediately turn that side of the ball around. If anything, we have regressed horribly from season to season. In three years at Illinois, he’s shown little propensity for altering the losing mentality of this football program.

Non-Conference Opponents:

Army 37, Eastern Michigan 22 – The Eagles fell to a red hot Army team.

Kentucky 15, Missouri 14 – Kentucky absolutely stole this one.

Boston College 27, Miami 14 – Boston College returned to the rankings and I got bragging rights over Mrs. T-Mill.

Quickie Big Ten Power Rankings

1. Michigan (7-1, 5-0) – They had a week off and they are likely going to be in the playoff come Tuesday.

2. Ohio State (7-1, 4-1) – The Buckeyes have also had a week off, but they are facing a lot more questions than anything.

3. Northwestern (5-3, 5-1) – Northwestern might win the Big Ten without winning a non-conference game.

4. Penn State (6-2, 3-2) – They don’t do pretty for sure, but they are effective most of the time.

5. Wisconsin (5-3, 3-2) – I still think the Badgers are solid, but Purdue is going to have a chance to end their lengthy losing streak to them.

6. Michigan State (5-3, 3-2) – I was really impressed with their defense. Imagine if the offense had everyone healthy.

7. Iowa (6-2, 3-2) – I am not really sold on Iowa. Beating up Minnesota, Maryland, and Indiana is not confidence inspiring.

8. Purdue (4-4, 3-2) – If you had told me before the season we would split Ohio State and Michigan State I would have absolutely taken it. Now how do we respond against Iowa?

9. Maryland (5-3, 3-2) – My goodness, their offense went off on the Illini.

10. Nebraska (2-6, 1-4) – Nebraska is rounding into form and can definitely get a couple more wins.

11. Minnesota (4-4, 1-4) – The Golden Gophers aren’t good, but can they get two more wins to go to a bowl? Like last year, their game with Purdue could be a bowl elimination game.

12. Indiana (4-5, 1-5) – The Hoosiers were once 4-1. Now they will miss a bowl if they lose to Maryland or Purdue.

13. Illinois (3-5, 1-4) – What on earth has happened to the Illinois defense? They have been absolutely torched the last few weeks.

14. Rutgers (1-7, 0-5) – At least Rutgers didn’t lose this week.