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The Whistlestop Tour: Week 11 of Big Ten Football

Northwestern has won the West.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

It was about as bad as it could for Purdue this week. We got no help from Iowa in trying to win the Big Ten West, Indiana won to make the Bucket Game for a bowl bid for them, and we got drilled by a Minnesota team that was awful the week before. That’s all before you get into the news out of Louisville. We desperately need a turnaround this coming week, but before that, let’s look back at the week that was:

Minnesota 41, Purdue 10

A week after getting blasted by Illinois our friends at The Daily Gopher were much more pleased with the result:

The Golden Gophers earned their 5th win of the year by upsetting Purdue 41-10. Yes...I used the word upset. Purdue has won 5 of their last 6 games, beating 3 ranked teams and were 10 point road favorites today. Minnesota on the other hand has been giving up an average of 43 points per game in Big Ten games and fired their defensive coordinator this week. Today the Gopher defense was outstanding today against a very explosive and talented Purdue offense.

Michigan 42, Rutgers 7

The Wolverines are almost to Indianapolis. All they need to do is not trip up against Indiana and finally beat Ohio State:

We all know this team has had a lot of fun this season. Just think of the wide variety of personalities the Wolverines have including Shea Patterson, Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich. It seems like every week one of these guys, or the many others who don the winged helmet, have something to say about how close this football team is.

On Saturday, Patterson addressed just that, saying, “I don’t think I have ever been a part of a team that is this close. We all care about each other so much. But the one thing we do really well is not getting distracted of where we are now and where we want to be.”

At least Rutgers scored this time at home against Michigan, so that is progress?

The final score of this game looked ugly, but Rutgers was very competitive against the #4 team in the country for a while at least. The way the game played out, you could see if Rutgers had a stud quarterback like Patterson and Michigan didn’t (a la 2014), the optic would be a lot different. The unfortunate thing is that Rutgers has put together three consecutive competitive performances that would probably have defeated the teams on the schedule earlier in the season. At this point though, the Scarlet Knights have just two more chances, both against ranked opponents, to get a Big Ten win in 2018.

Ohio State 26, Michigan State 6

This was a dull, stagnant affair until the Buckeyes scored 17 fourth quarter points to break it open:

What is this feeling so sudden and new, I felt the moment they beat MSU? It’s optimism, unadulterated optimism, and it’s the first time that I’ve felt it since, probably, the thrilling win over Penn State. Since then, it’s been a steady slog to Negativetown, as the Buckeyes found new, creative ways to underachieve on a weekly basis, despite an incredible collection of talent that should have embarrassed each and every opponent.

Instead, the Buckeyes struggled (to varying degrees) with the likes of Indiana, Minnesota, and Nebraska, and let’s not even get started about Purdue.

The Spartans could not get their offense moving at all in the second half:

If ever there was a game lost because of coaching decisions, it was Saturday’s loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes.

In cold conditions, the Michigan State Spartans found a way to stay alive all game long against the No. 10 Buckeyes. But a handful of questionable coaching decisions prevented MSU from taking advantage. MSU dropped another home game, this time 26-6 in East Lansing.

The first controversial decision came before the first play of the game when Brian Lewerke ran onto the field as the starting quarterback. The junior quarterback wasn’t able to get the offense going, totaling only 69 yards on six drives. The most promising early drive ended with a missed Matt Coghlin field goal attempt from 51-yards.

Penn State 22, Wisconsin 10

There was not much exciting about this game. Neither team could throw the ball, but Trace McSorley was just better:

The offense wasn’t perfect on Saturday but it was an improvement to say the least. Overall, the game plan by Ricky Rahne was strong and he is obviously a reader of Black Shoe Diaries.

Throughout the last few weeks, we’ve been clamoring for KJ Hamler to be more involved in the offense. On Saturday, Rahne finally did so, getting him involved extensively on the first drive of the game. Hamler ended up finishing with five receptions for 35-yards.

Wisconsin got a great game from Jonathan Taylor, but not much else:

After a second full game of watching Jack Coan play quarterback, at least headed toward next week, Wisconsin fans should be revisiting the anti-Alex Hornibrook narrative that was spread throughout much of the fanbase.

Whether you like it or not, it’s become clear that Hornibrook, at least right now, is a much more effective quarterback operating within the Wisconsin offense. I don’t want to hear anything about Coan’s mobility, or his athleticism, or his stronger arm, or whatever other lazy narrative you want to come up with. Hornibrook gives Wisconsin the best chance to win on a weekly basis.

Northwestern 14, Iowa 10

Northwestern has won a ton of close games and went 0-3 in the non-conference, but is headed to Indianapolis:

Before the commemorative hats and shirts, before the interviews and thank yous, before whatever the hell is about to ensue in Indianapolis, Pat Fitzgerald was raw.

He wasn’t the well-prepared, matter-of-fact head football coach we saw at the press conference. He wasn’t the laser-focused, locked-in game strategist on the sideline. He wasn’t preaching the Wildcat Way, he wasn’t talking graduation rates or APR scores and he wasn’t talking about going 1-0 next week. All of that would and will return, but not in this moment.

In this moment, Fitzgerald was a messenger. With his team huddled close, he had a message that was long overdue. It was a message born out of unyielding hours of work, and out of adversity, disappointment and embarrassment. And togetherness. And preparation. And success. It was everything.

And, in the moment, Fitzgerald didn’t even get to finish delivering the long-awaited, elusive words.

After seemingly taking control of the Big Ten West the Hawkeyes have now dropped three in a row:

Let’s get the obvious out of the way from the get-go: Iowa’s 14-10 loss to Northwestern yesterday evening has officially killed any chance of the 2018 campaign being a season worth remembering for the Hawkeyes.

I rarely attend games in person, but I had longstanding plans to attend this one with some out of town friends. It was one of the colder games I’ve been to at Kinnick Stadium. So cold, in fact, that an elderly couple sitting in my row left the game before halftime, while the score was still 0-0, and proclaimed “We’ll get ‘em next year,” as they squeezed past me toward the exit.

Yes, it was very cold and I can’t blame them for leaving. But if you’re looking for Big Ten West Division titles and Big Ten Championships as an Iowa football fan, be prepared to get ‘em next year for as long as Kirk Ferentz is commander-in-chief.

Whether we like it or not, this is Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa football program in its purest form.

Nebraska 54, Illinois 35

Adrian Martinez had a solid game as the Nebraska offense is rolling right now:

Illinois did everything it could do to lose that game. We know how that works. It was all we saw the first six games of the season.

It sure feels good to be on this side of the street. At least for a little bit. It was nice watching another team making mental mistakes. Big mistakes.

At this point Nebraska has to take a win anyway they can get it. Even if it required to “force” five turnovers by Illinois to do it. Illinois fumbled the ball seven times. They only lost three.

A week after winning in surprising fashion the Illinois defense once again faltered:

Illinois entered the day with a chance to move within one game of bowl eligibility.

And Illinois ended the day looking like anything but the team that demolished Minnesota one week ago.

The Illini missed their opportunity at pulling to .500 on the season with a 54-35 loss to Nebraska at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. If Illinois still wants to qualify for its first bowl game since the 2014 season this year, it will take wins over a ranked Iowa team and a Northwestern team still looking for a trip to the Big Ten Championship.

Indiana 34, Maryland 32

The Hoosiers almost blew it, but drove for a late field goal then got a big defensive play to seal the win:

Indiana played the hits on Saturday, returning to its #CHAOSTEAM years against Maryland in a shootout. Four takeaways, some big runs and a ton of injury luck going Indiana’s way led to a 34-32 win, keeping Indiana on track for a bowl game.

Maryland saw its own bowl hopes take a major hit:

In what was a “normal” week of preparation, Maryland football found a new way to lose.

Instead of getting manhandled like they had in their previous four losses, the Terps gave their fans just enough hope that they would squeak out a win before Tyrrell Pigrome lost a fumble with 52 seconds left. It was Maryland’s fourth turnover of the game, another crucial mistake on a day where the Terps otherwise had a solid plan to become bowl eligible.

Non-Conference Opponents:

Eastern Michigan 27, Akron 7 – The Eagles are bowl eligible!

Missouri 33, Vanderbilt 28 – The SEC team we hosted this year beat the one we will host next year.

Clemson 27, Boston College 7 – It turns out that Clemson is really good.

Quickie Big Ten Power Rankings

1. Michigan (9-1, 7-0) – Is this finally the year they beat Ohio State?

2. Ohio State (9-1, 6-1) – The Buckeyes aren’t making it pretty, but 9-1 is 9-1.

3. Northwestern (6-4, 6-1) – It is unlikely, but possible the Wildcats could be 6-7 going to a bowl.

4. Penn State (7-3, 4-3) – The Nittany Lions have had their struggles, but they still have enough talent to win most weeks.

5. Michigan State (6-4, 4-3) – The Spartans let one get away at home and lost the THE.

6. Wisconsin (6-4, 4-3) – Taylor scares me, as he can keep them in any game.

7. Purdue (5-5, 4-3) – I really hope it was just a bad week and we can recover vs. the Badgers.

8. Iowa (6-4, 3-4) – It’s been a really bad couple of weeks.

9. Minnesota (5-5, 2-5) – The Gophers need to match that effort one more time to get a bowl game against Northwestern or Wisconsin.

10. Indiana (5-5, 2-5) – The Hoosiers stayed alive for a bowl, but get Michigan next.

11. Nebraska (3-7, 2-5) – I am starting to see the improvement for the Huskers, at least on offense.

12. Maryland (5-5, 3-4) – The Terps need a big upset of Ohio State or Penn State to make a bowl now.

13. Illinois (4-6, 2-5) – There go the faint bowl hopes.

14. Rutgers (1-9, 0-7) – Nope, they aren’t winning again this year.