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The Whistlestop Tour: Week 10 of Big Ten Football

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Purdue was not the only surprise this week in the league.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Does anyone want to win the Big Ten West? At this point it looks like Northwestern could win it by default because they have already beaten Wisconsin and Purdue. Could they lose to Iowa then inexplicably trip up against Minnesota or Illinois? Sure. They can beat anyone or lose to anyone, kind of like Purdue.

In the East it looks like a two team race right now with Michigan and Ohio State, but the Buckeyes are from certain to make it to the Michigan game without another loss. Then you have the bowl spots. Officially, the Big Ten has nine tie-ins, but it can easily get to 10 if both Michigan and Ohio State both get New Year’s Six bids. Rutgers and Nebraska are officially out of consideration. Leaving the other 12 teams with the following:

Already Bowl Eligible

Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Iowa

Need One Win

Maryland (play Indiana, Ohio State, and Penn State)

Purdue (play Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Indiana

Northwestern (play Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois)

Need Two Wins

Indiana (play Maryland, Michigan, and Purdue)

Illinois (play Nebraska, Iowa, and Northwestern)

Minnesota (play Purdue, Northwestern, and Wisconsin)

It’s going to be an interesting final two weeks in conference play. Purdue can still win the West, but must win out AND get at least two Northwestern losses. The Wildcats can get one this coming week at Iowa, but we would need Minnesota or Illinois to spring a pretty big upset too.

Purdue 38, Iowa 36

Purdue won its third straight game over a ranked team, which is astounding when before the season we had lost to 18 consecutive ranked opponents. For the Hawkeyes, a lot of focus was on the decision to go for two early in the third quarter:

The fanbase is blaming the refs for this week’s loss to Purdue (which is ironic because it’s something we say that Iowa State fans do all time time), blaming Brian Ferentz (partially true), blaming Phil Parker (probably less of his fault than it seemed) and blaming Kirk Ferentz going for two points on two separate occasions (there’s a whole argument to be had there).

Our friends at Boiled Sports were elated:

Give Jeff Brohm the slightest opportunity, especially after the last month this football program has gone through, and you’ll understand what “Let’s Play Football” means.

Brohm’s Boilermakers built a 12-point lead through three quarters, weathered a meltdown, and finished the game with just enough to seal its third win over a ranked opponent on the year. Terry Wright had a career night as Iowa focused on Rondale Moore, David Blough was extremely Jekyll/Hyde, and Iowa dominated Special Teams, but everyone came through on the final drive to bring Purdue one game away from bowl eligibility.

Notre Dame 31, Northwestern 21

It is entirely possible Northwestern could win the Big Ten without a single non-conference win:

Northwestern didn’t lose to Notre Dame in a vacuum, though. It lost after Purdue dispatched Iowa in West Lafayette, effectively knocking the Hawkeyes out of the Big Ten West race and handing Northwestern what amounts to a two-game lead in the division.

“We were really excited for this game, so very disappointed,” said senior offensive lineman Tommy Doles said after Northwestern’s 31-21 loss to Notre Dame Saturday. “But all our goals are still ahead of us; we set out to win the West this year and that’s what we’re planning to do.”

Michigan 42, Penn State 7

For as abhorrent of a program that Penn State is, this is a great win for Michigan, as they completely dominated the Nittany Lions:

The maize-colored avalanche — and you never want to eat yellow snow, Penn State — that ensued was staggering. Shea Patterson quickly led a touchdown drive culminating in a 23-yard pitch-and-catch touchdown to Donovan Peoples-Jones.

McSorley and backup Tommy Stevens led an offense that only mustered 76 more yards until a final garbage time drive. Meanwhile, Karan Higdon was sledgehammering his way to his seventh straight 100-yard game — closing toward a school record.

It was overall just a terrible day for the Nittany Lions:

Penn State certainly had its chances in the first half. Garrett Taylor returned a blocked kick for a touchdown, but it was called back due to a block below the waist on Zech McPhearson. Two plays later, Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders had another handoff snafu, resulting in a fumble recovered by Michigan. The Wolverines took advantage of the turnover, going on a 10-play 48-yard drive to go up 14-0.

The Nittany Lions, once again, had another chance for points before the half. DeAndre Thompkins blew past a Michigan cornerback who stumbled at the line of scrimmage, but McSorley overthrew a streaking Thompkins, sending Penn State into halftime scoreless for the first time since its visit to the Big House in 2016.

Ohio State 36, Nebraska 31

Yes, Ohio State won, but this did not exactly give their fan confidence. Must be nice to have a ton of questions and still be a top 10 team:

But, things could’ve been both a little easy and a lot harder for the Bucks. With two weeks to iron out the issues on both sides of the ball, OSU seemed to show some improvements. However, when facing a 2-6 program like Nebraska, the improvements should’ve been more resounding on the field. Things could’ve gotten really worse if the Cornhuskers had an experienced quarterback. With a freshman in Adrian Martinez, the visiting Huskers made errors on offense that cost them the game. If Purdue’s QB David Blough was under center instead of Martinez, Scott Frost and Nebraska would’ve had their third win of the season.

For Nebraska, they have a team that is gaining confidence going into next season:

Nebraska lost to Ohio State by five points on Saturday.

The funny thing is that depending upon who you talk to, many will likely shape that game to fit their own narrative.

The majority of the words written among the newspapers and blogs as well as what I heard on the radio the past week generally came to the same conclusions. First, Ohio State had an extra week to prepare for Nebraska so all the issues that appeared to plague the team would be addressed. Second, after getting trounced by Purdue two weeks ago Ohio State would come firing on all cylinders and run Nebraska off the field.

Well it didn’t happen. So now it is time to shape the game to fit the narrative.

Wisconsin 31, Rutgers 17

The Badgers are floundering right now, and they are prime for Purdue to finally end its lengthy losing streak to them:

For all of the credit and accolades defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard earned last season for the performance of his defense, he deserves every bit of that and possibly more this season.

He’s coordinating a defense with a walk-on redshirt freshman and a player who was an offensive lineman three months ago starting along the defensive line. He’s played three different true freshmen in the secondary, and has kept Wisconsin in every ballgame this season but one.

As mentioned above, Wisconsin’s defense has had its share of growing pains due to the youth forced onto the field, but moving forward, this unit has a ton of potential in the secondary.

In what was an extremely ordinary game on Saturday, the Badgers won.

Rutgers at least showed a bit of a pulse this week:

For the second game in a row, the opening kickoff was not good for the Scarlet Knights. Justin Davidovicz, the team’s second most consistent performer booted the kick way out of bounds to give the Badgers good field position. Wisconsin methodically moved the ball downfield and Rutgers’s only chance to stop them came on a tipped ball that Saquan Hampton could not corral for a pick. This is notable because Hampton was on another level after that play despite Wisconsin punching one in for a 7-0 lead on the back of star running back and New Jersey native Jonathan Taylor.

After that, an actual football game was played. Wisconsin moved the ball after a Rutgers three and out, but an atrocious decision by quarterback Alex Hornibrook resulted in a turnover. Hornibrook rolled to his right which he does a lot despite being left-handed and threw a jump ball that Hampton snared along the sideline despite effort from the receiver to knock it away.

Michigan State 24, Maryland 3

Michigan State’s defense is starting to really round into form:

With LJ Scott sidelined for the game and the Michigan State Spartans passing for fewer than 100 yards, a win would seem unlikely. However, the Spartans handled the Maryland Terrapins, winning 24-3.

Nothing about the game Saturday in College Park was ordinary. But the win was Michigan State’s sixth of the season, making them bowl eligible for the second year in a row.

Maryland was clearly distracted after about as strange of a week as you can have:

For Maryland football, it’s been the most abnormal week imaginable.

The 2018 season was already bizarre enough. Head coach DJ Durkin went on administrative leave during fall camp, and Maryland had already played eight games with Matt Canada as the acting head coach, going 5-3. But this week, after a months-long investigation into the program’s culture, the Board of Regents recommended Durkin’s reinstatement. He returned to the team Tuesday. Then, school president Wallace Loh fired Durkin anyway on Wednesday. During the 28 hours in between, three players walked out of a meeting and two punters traded punches.

On Saturday, though, Maryland took the field and normalcy returned. The Terps were stifled by an elite defense, and hardly anyone was there to witness it.

Illinois 55, Minnesota 31

This was probably the surprise of the week, as Illinois had been pretty bad on both sides of the ball, but rallied to run all over the Gophers:

While A.J. Bush has failed to separate himself as the lead man under center for the Illini, one thing is clear, Rod Smith’s 2018 offense is built for the senior transfer. The decisions to start Bush and to receive the opening kickoff seemed synced to the greater overall strategy to take an early lead and grind the Gophers down.

M.J. Rivers is the better pure passer — and potentially the quarterback of the future for the Orange and Blue — but Bush is the better fit this year considering this team’s preference to run block over pass protect, with a stacked backfield that’s miles ahead of the banged-up receiving corps. Certainly Reggie Corbin was the star of the show on Saturday, but Bush added 127 yards on the ground, with two rushing touchdowns, providing a potent secondary threat to Corbin. The 216 passing yards, adding two scores through the air, were a bonus for Bush against a porous Minnesota defense, but served as a reminder that Bush isn’t completely one-dimensional.

For Minnesota, it got so bad defensively that defensive coordinator Robb Smith was fired today:

Look, this game was hot garbage. Let’s summarize:

The Minnesota defense under defensive coordinator Robb Smith is a a complete and utter failure (understatement). He needs to be fired. After the season at a minimum, but honestly right now is fine too. When you’re able to make Lovie Smith coached Illinois look explosive on offense ALL GAME LONG, it’s time to face facts.

The linebackers, which had been a strength of this team, have regressed badly. It’s insane. Guess who coaches them?

I mean, Illinois wasn’t doing anything fancy. And yet they got HUGE holes because the Gophers linebackers took themselves out of every play. Like, Thomas Barber consistently ran to the edge leaving the middle wide open despite that being exactly how the Gophers were being gashed up the middle. That is scheme. Scheme is Robb. Robb is bad.

Non-Conference Opponents:

Eastern Michigan 17, Central Michigan 7 – At least EMU is now a win away from bowl eligibility for only the second time in decades.

Missouri 38, Florida 17 – The Tigers played their best game of the season in getting a top 15 road win.

Boston College 31, Virginia Tech 21 – This is looking like a really, really good win for Purdue now.

Quickie Big Ten Power Rankings

1. Michigan (8-1, 6-0) – No one is in Michigan’s class right now. The Wolverines shouldn’t be challenged until playing Ohio State, and even that may not matter as the Buckeyes could lose again before then and hand them the division.

2. Ohio State (8-1, 5-1) – This is mostly by default, but there is a pretty big gap between the top spot and No. 2 right now.

3. Michigan State (6-3, 4-2) – The Spartans have played really well defensively and need to hold on to the THE this week.

4. Penn State (6-3, 3-3) – Too bad they have lost all three games that were important.

5. Northwestern (5-4, 5-1) – They lead the West and have a handful of tiebreakers, but they could still miss a bowl.

6. Purdue (5-4, 4-2) – The Boilers are the only team in the conference with three wins over ranked teams.

7. Wisconsin (6-3, 4-2) – I have become obsessed with ending the Wisconsin losing streak, which started with The Fumble.

8. Iowa (6-3, 3-3) – The Hawkeyes are so close to an undefeated season. They have been right there in all three losses.

9. Maryland (5-4, 3-3) – They had better hope they beat Indiana this week or they will miss a bowl.

10. Nebraska (2-7, 1-5) – Yeah, they’re 2-7, but they’re playing better than a lot of teams right now.

11. Indiana (4-5, 1-5) – It is entirely possible Indiana could go from 4-1 to 4-8. If they lose to Maryland this week it could be another bowl-less season in Bloomington.

12. Illinois (4-5, 2-4) – It’s a longshot for a bowl, but Illinois at least has a chance if that offense keeps showing up.

13. Minnesota (4-5, 1-5) – I can’t be the only one kind of glad we didn’t get Fleck now.

14. Rutgers (1-8, 0-6) – Yep, still Rutgers.