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The Whistlestop Tour: Week 2 of Big Ten Football

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We’re a step closer to DOUBLE BUCKET GAMES FOR THE B1G TITLE!

NCAA Football: Purdue at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

(I can’t believe I forgot to call this “The Whistlestop Tour” last week)

Purdue is in first place in the Big Ten West.

Since the Big Ten West was created we have never been able to say that this late in the season. Let’s close our eyes, smile, and enjoy it for a moment, especially since complete and utter chaos may descend upon the nation in the next 72 hours because of that silly election thing getting in the way of us enjoying football.

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Remember, I was completely non-partisan by mentioning the election as a fact that it is happening. Purdue is 2-0. Just focus on that.

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Feels good, doesn’t it?

If (and it is a gigantic if at this point) we get to play Wisconsin next week and if (another gigantic if) we win, Purdue would be in firm control of the Big Ten West after just three games. It would have the tiebreaker over Wisconsin. Minnesota, the consensus No.2 team in the division coming into the year, already has two losses. Iowa has two losses but is good enough to play spoiler. The Badgers are still the favorite, but getting the tiebreaker over them would be huge.

That is next week though. Let’s look back on a nutty week 2:

Maryland 45, Minnesota 44 (OT)

This result was stunning. Maryland did nothing on offense last week, but suddenly Taulia Tagovailoa showed why he was such a heralded recruit. He ran circles around the Gophers, who blew a 17-point 4th quarter lead and lost on a missed extra point. Testudo Times was ecstatic:

The Golden Gophers managed to score a touchdown on their overtime chance, but kicker Brock Walker whiffed on the extra point attempt and the Maryland bench rushed onto the field to celebrate its 45-44 come-from-behind victory.

“It was crazy,” junior defensive lineman Lawtez Rogers said. “This is a big W for us. We were speaking, we were talking about winning this game and everybody was doubting us, but we didn’t get down on ourselves. We believe in ourselves and we came out with a dub. You can see the excitement run through the team.”

The Terps were down 17 with 2:03 left in the third quarter but managed to spur a 17-point fourth-quarter resurgence to force overtime, becoming the first team in college football this season to overcome a deficit of that many points in the final period of play.

For the Gophers, it was an epic collapse, as apparently a 17-0 late 3rd quarter lead on the road in college football is as safe as a 2-0 lead in metric football:

Fleck describes “Row the Boat” as “a never-give-up mantra.” Fitting for the fan base of a football program that has not won a share of a Big Ten title since 1967. In the 50+ years since Murray Warmath led the Gophers to their last conference championship, sustained success has eluded Minnesota, and their fans have been conditioned to treat hope as a bad omen. Like a black cat, when it appears you can be certain bad fortune is soon to follow.

In the 21st century alone, Gopher fans have watched Glen Mason revive a program that hadn’t finished above .500 since 1990, only to have his tenure drown in deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball. Tim Brewster brought bluster and buzz words to Minneapolis but not much else. Jerry Kill was one win shy of a Big Ten West title before epilepsy ended his head coaching career. Tracy Claeys led the Gophers to their second nine-win season since 1905, but self-immolated with his mishandling of a sexual assault scandal and an ensuing player boycott.

Michigan State 27, Michigan 24

Wow. This was also stunning because the Spartans looked completely awful in week 1, but Rocky Lombardi was awesome in the upset of Michigan:

Michigan State just won a game maybe six people thought they could win.

But, shockingly, the better team won. Make no mistake about it. There were no missed calls from the refs. There was no clock keeper to blame. There was no weather that seemingly only impacted one team to point fingers at. There was no crowned field. No flukes. No anything.

There was, however, Rocky Lombardi throwing for 323 yards. There was true freshman Ricky White throwing up 196 receiving yards. There was Antjuan Simmons making an incredible play to end the half because, for some reason, Michigan didn’t trust Cam Newton 2.0 in the red zone. There were blue and yellow cornerbacks getting roasted every five minutes by MSU’s receivers. There was MSU rightfully carrying Paul Bunyan back home.

Here is a stat for you: Jim Harbaugh is 29-0 at home against teams not named Michigan State or Ohio State, but now 1-6 against the Wolverines’ two primary rivals at the Big House:

A week after being the darlings of the Big Ten, Michigan finds itself as the butt of a lot of jokes once again. And it is 100 percent justified and something everyone — players, coaches, fans — has to take on the chin and own.

Unfortunately, fan excitement about the team’s trajectory and its chances of winning the Big Ten are about as low as they can be before the calendar hits November for the second year in a row. The problem with that is that in this season, there has only been two games played.

Purdue 31, Illinois 24

It was a frustrating game for our friends at the Champaign Room, as Illinois fought hard all day and had their chances, but had too man mistakes in the red zone:

Prior to the game, the team announced that Brandon Peters and Griffin Moore tested positive for COVID-19. Due to contact tracing, the roommates of Peters and Moore also have to quarantine, so key pieces Isaiah Williams, Doug Kramer and James McCourt were out as well.

Matt Robinson recorded his third start at QB, but his day didn’t last long. Coran Taylor took over for Robinson, who appeared bothered by an ankle injury, early in the first quarter.

Northwestern 21, Iowa 20

Things could not have started worse for the Wildcats, who were down 17-0 after a quarter but dominated the rest of the way:

The ‘Cats relied on a steady dose of runs wearing out the Hawkeyes’ defensive front while a couple of key conversions on fourth down swung momentum back toward Pat Fitzgerald’s squad after a disastrous start. Although the offense did not create many big plays, they charged to 143 yards on the ground behind a team-high 25 carries for 85 yards from Isaiah Bowser and two touchdowns from Jesse Brown.

Indeed, the ‘Cats ran the ball on nearly three quarters of their offensive snaps while Peyton Ramsey was conservative with the ball through the air, going 11-of-18 for 130 yards and an interception while rushing for an additional 26 yards.

The Hawkeyes looks like they were headed to a blowout, but the final three quarters leave a lot of questions to be answered:

One week after a Purdue loss that featured zero Ihmir Smith-Marsette catches, the Iowa offense had itself a plan to get perhaps its most explosive player the ball early and often. ISM caught a six yard pass on the first play of the game en route to a performance where he hauled in 7 balls for 84 yards, but it wasn’t enough.

Things were going downhill fast after Iowa built up its not-so-insurmountable three score lead. Northwestern and Isaiah Bowser and whoever else the Wildcats brought out had an answer to whatever Iowa threw at them. The Hawkeyes saw its 17-point lead dissipate to 20-14 at the half, and the mood was not good in living rooms across the midwest.

Indiana 37, Rutgers 21

The surest sign we’re headed towards the apocalypse? Indiana football is legitimately good, will be in the top 15 nationally, and will probably beat Michigan this week:

That’s right. The year of our Lord 2020 just may see the Indiana Football Hoosiers ranked as one of the 15 best teams in the nation.

It would be IU’s highest ranking since 1988, when they reached a high of No. 14 under Bill Mallory on the way to a Liberty Bowl victory.

If it were to happen, this would be just the eighth team in the 122 years of IU playing football that the Hoosiers would have cracked the top 15. If the Hoosiers can get a little bit higher and somehow enter the top 10, it’d be just the fourth time in history that’s happened and the first since 1969.

For Rutgers, they came back to earth, but they are already significantly better than the last few years:

The Scarlet Knights contained the Indiana Hoosiers offense early on Saturday and held a narrow 7-6 advantage late in the second quarter. After that, Indiana elected to go to to the secret weapon stashed away up that point. Much like Rutgers could layer their passing game on top of the Leonte Carroo go route from 2013-15, the Hoosiers have a similar big play threat in Whop Philyor, but he makes his living primarily from the slot. Since he is receiving the ball from a lefthanded quarterback, and Indiana’s pass protection is weakest on the left edge, the Hoosiers are most effective when quarterback Michael Penix Jr.’s first read is a slant on the left hand side. They didn’t have to complete the ball many times for Rutgers to respect it.

Ohio State 38, Penn State 25

Just as we all expected, Ohio State vs. Indiana is going to be the biggest game in the Big Ten East this season:

It was the game of the week in the Big Ten and in the larger landscape of college football. It may have lost a bit of its luster nationally after the Nittany Lions lost their season opener, but the huge matchup between No. 3 Ohio State and No. 18 Penn State was still a contest with massive implications in the B1G East.

As is usually the case when these two teams take the field, even with the Buckeyes dominating for much of the night, the game was never truly put away until the final whistle. Penn State hung around, but could not get on top, as Ohio State walked out of Happy Valley with a huge 38-25 victory in perhaps what will be their toughest game of the year.

Penn State is now 0-2 and likely out of the rankings after starting in the top 10:

Like last week, there are a lot of things that can be said. But the bottom line is that Penn State wasn’t good enough tonight. The defense didn’t make enough stops; giving up 41 points. Meanwhile the offense, despite the 25 points, had trouble throughout the night. Penn State only had eight carries with a running back — all eight going to Devyn Ford — for a total of 36 yards.

The lack of atmosphere clearly affected Penn State. There were multiple occasions where if a full 110,000 Whiteout crowd was there, the game would have gone differently.

But here’s the thing: this is the case for every Big Ten team. No crowds. Penn State has no excuses tonight. Once again, for the fourth consecutive season, Ohio State was the better team. Bitter pill to swallow for a Penn State program but that’s the truth.

Non-Conference Opponents:

Cincinnati 49, Memphis 10 – The Tigers got absolutely blasted by a really good Cincinnati team.

Boise State 49, Air Force 30 – Air Force is still getting the hang of the whole “playing football again” thing.

Clemson 34, Boston College 28 – The Eagles went to Death Valley and almost pulled off a monumental upset.