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The Whistlestop Tour: Week 13 of Big Ten Football

And so ends another regular season.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Purdue Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

There were some definite surprises this week as the conference season winds down. Michigan finally, and emphatically ending its struggles against Ohio State was a shock. Minnesota ending Wisconsin’s West title dreams was a surprise. We now get Michigan vs. Iowa for the title, and it should be a good one.

Iowa 28, Nebraska 21

The Hawkeyes had a come from behind win on the road, then got a gift from Minnesota in order to win the West:

In a move that caught just about everyone off guard, Kirk Ferentz and staff went to the bullpen at the half and inserted former starter Spencer Petras into the lineup as Iowa looked to mount what seemed like an impossible comeback. The Hawkeye defense struggled mightily to contain redshirt freshman quarterback Logan Smothers in his first career start as he ended the first half five for five passing to go with a game-high 64 yards rushing and a rushing TD.

For Nebraska, it was more of the same:

If you wanted to explain to someone how the 2021 Nebraska football season went, all you would have to do is have them watch the Iowa game.

It’s a fair statement to say that Nebraska is the best three win team of all-time. Though that is one of those statements that you don’t really want attributed to your football program.

In yesterday’s loss, it took a punt block returned for a touchdown and a safety for Nebraska to figure out a way to lose.

Michigan 42, Ohio State 27

The Wolverines surprised everyone behind five touchdowns from Hassan Hankins, finally ending a long losing streak to Ohio State:

This was the turning point of the game for me. For years, halftime adjustments by Ohio State has been part of Michigan’s downfall. This time, the Buckeyes came out for their first drive of the second half and got stopped dead in their tracks. Michigan took the momentum swing in their favor and scored a touchdown on each of their four drives in the second half. Josh Ross’ 3rd and 2 stuff set the tone for the rest of the game for the Wolverines. It led immediately into Haskins’ second touchdown of the game as the Wolverines went for 81 yards on three plays for their first drive of the second half. This put Michigan up 21-13 early in the third quarter.

The Buckeyes will now miss the Big Ten Championship game for the first time since 2016:

The way that the Ohio State offense and defense had been playing of late, I sure didn’t see this one coming. The Buckeye offense was unable to make the big play or to take a lead, and the defense couldn’t do anything.

There were plenty of OSU mistakes – botched kickoffs, a bad snap, a fumbled quarterback-running back exchange, penalties, and more penalties. But, finally, the Buckeyes were simply beaten. They were outplayed and probably outcoached.

Michigan State 30, Penn State 27

The Spartans got a snowy home game win and likely secured a pretty good bowl game to go with it:

Michigan State gets to 10 wins for the first time since 2017 (and the first time during the regular season since 2015). Tucker becomes the fastest head coach to get to 10 wins in a single season, doing so in just his second season (Mark Dantonio first accomplished this feat in his fourth season). Additionally, the Spartans finished the season undefeated at home, won all three rivalry trophies, will likely be playing in a New Year’s Six bowl (although, that isn’t guaranteed just yet) and has a Doak Walker Award finalist and potential Heisman Trophy Award finalist in Walker — not bad for a team picked to finish dead last in the Big Ten east during the preseason.

Penn State’s season had a season that started strong, but ended with a wimper by going 0-3 against the other three top East teams:

And that’s just it. Penn State showed such promise at the beginning of the season, then seemingly squandered it all as the season progressed. The losses themselves may not be as frustrating in a vacuum, especially if you put it in the context of last season. It’s the expectations, the order, and the way in which the losses happened.

It was easy to tune out last season, because the Nittany Lions had removed all doubt by the time Maryland was scoring at will. But this season, the Lions found ways to win the games early in the season that they ended up losing later in the year. And with each frustrating loss, the demand for answers grows.

Minnesota 23, Wisconsin 13

The Gophers lost their shot at the division when Iowa won on Friday, but they were more than happy to ruin Wisconsin’s shot at Indy:

Wisconsin entered the game with the 10th-ranked rushing offense in the country, averaging 229.4 yards on the ground, and running back Braelon Allen was averaging 7.6 yards per carry. Joe Rossi’s defense brought the Badgers’ ground game to a halt, holding Wisconsin to 62 rushing yards and limiting Allen to 2.8 yards per carry. The Minnesota defense also kept the Badgers out of the end zone and forced them to settle for a pair of field goals, with Wisconsin’s only touchdown of the game coming courtesy of a pick six.

The Badgers picked an awful time to resort to their early season form:

Wisconsin was beaten in the trenches by Minnesota. The Gophers front seven stymied the Badgers rushing attack and on the other side of the ball, Minnesota’s offensive line did a good job of doing just enough to stay ahead of the chains and gave quarterback Tanner Morgan time in the passing game.

Wisconsin’s defense relied on generating pressure all season long, and in the past two games, the rushers have not been able to make the quarterback uncomfortable. Against the Gophers, the result was four passing plays of 25+ yards that helped to swing the game in Minnesota’s favor. The Badgers did manage three sacks but beyond those pressures, Morgan had time to beat Jim Leonhard’s secondary, and he made the throws necessary.

Maryland 40, Rutgers 16

The Terrapins are headed to a bowl game after a dominant win:

The last time Maryland made a bowl was in 2016 when it advanced to the Quick Lane Bowl. That season felt similar to this 2021 campaign in which the Terps finished the regular season 6-6, 3-6 in conference play. In 2016, Maryland started 4-0 picked up a win against Michigan State and ended the season with a 31-13 victory over Rutgers in College Park ending its bowl hopes. This time, the bowl-qualifying rematch game was in Piscataway but the Terps got the job done as they will return to a bowl for the first time since they faced Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl on Dec. 26, 2016.

Rutgers showed improvement as the season went on, but there were still a lot of missed opportunities:

On senior day and the opportunity to clinch the program’s first bowl bid in seven years, Rutgers football showed who they really are. They played hard as always and mostly mistake free with just one turnover and one penalty, but their lack of an offense sunk any chance of a storybook moment in the regular season finale that ended in a 40-16 defeat.

The Terps scored two first quarter touchdowns but had their second extra point attempt blocked by Ifyeani Maijeh and returned for a two-point conversion by Kessawn Abraham. Rutgers fed off the momentum and put together a drive that got them near the goalline. However, the Maryland defense put together a stand and a Noah Vedral pass on 4th and goal from the 3 yard line fell incomplete.

Illinois 47, Northwestern 14

The Illini played one of their most complete game of the season:

The Illini got a historic win on Senior Day, dominating the Wildcats in all areas to secure a 47-14 win.

Illinois’ offense got hot early with two touchdowns in the first quarter. The ball slipped out of the hands of Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski to cause a fumble, which was recovered by Isaiah Gay. Daniel Barker found his way into the end zone on the next play.

It was a quiet end to a very disappointing season for Northwestern:

In what was nothing short of a horrific showing, Northwestern (3-9, 1-8 B1G) fell to Illinois (5-7, 4-5 B1G) 47-14 to lose the HAT and set up one hell of a long offseason.

There were few bright spots throughout for the ‘Cats, but Malik Washington was certainly one of them. He finished with seven catches for 83 yards, providing a spark for NU’s otherwise anemic offense. Ryan Hilinski led the way in the passing game, competing 12-of-23 passes for 123 yards and one interception. Evan Hull tacked on 101 yards and one touchdown on the ground via 32 carries, finishing with just over 1,000 yards rushing on the season.

Non-Conference Opponents

Oregon 38, Oregon State 29 - The Beavers drop their rivalry game, but still had a solid year.

Houston 45, UConn 17 - The Huskies finally end a very long season.

Notre Dame 45, Stanford 14 - The Fighting Irish are in the clubhouse waiting for a playoff berth.