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The Whistlestop Tour: Week 5 of Big Ten Football

Purdue’s road win over Minnesota headlines the week.

Purdue v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

By virtue of being in the Big Ten West Purdue is the frontrunner as we approach the second half of the season. Really, there is no frontrunner, but six teams are 1-1 and Wisconsin, the preseason favorite, is 0-2 and in last place. There exists a world where Purdue at Illinois on November 12th is a game that might decide the division title. In the east the only drama is “Will Ohio State lose?”

At least the West will be fun, and a Purdue win this coming week at Maryland might give us a major edge. Having the tiebreaker with Minnesota is nice, as that leads off the Whistlestop Tour:

Purdue 20, Minnesota 10

It was a shocking win as Purdue won by double digits despite not really playing all that well on offense. The Minnesota ground game was a major disappointment:

In his postgame interview with KFAN’s Justin Gaard, Fleck said, “We got beat up front. Simple as that.” I couldn’t agree more. The Minnesota Movers were a pleasant surprise through the first four weeks of the season, holding their own despite breaking in four new starters. Well, the honeymoon is over. The Gophers lost more battles than they won at the line of scrimmage, bringing the top-ranked rushing attack in the country to a screeching halt with 47 rushing yards and 1.8 yards per carry. It certainly would have helped to have Mohamed Ibrahim in the backfield, but I think it would have been tough sledding for him, as well.

Ohio State 49, Rutgers 10

Insert blanket text here about Ohio State blowing out another opponent:

On our pregame tailgate podcast this morning, I mentioned that I was a little concerned that the Buckeyes might not be as jacked up for this game as they had been against Wisconsin last week, and that it could have a negative impact on their performance.

This has been a consistent issue for the Buckeyes in recent years; they get fired up for the bigger games but play down to the level of the competition when facing the also-rans on their schedule. Normally, this just results in Ohio State looking sluggish and sloppy, but still winning by four touchdowns.

There is not a lot you can take fromt his as Rutgers is on a completely different level lower than Ohio State:

For the first time in the history of the matchup, Rutgers held a led over Ohio State.

An early touchdown put the Scarlet Knights on top but it was all Buckeyes from that moment on. Ohio State cruised to a 49-10 victory over Rutgers in Columbus. The Buckeyes are now 9-0 in this series and have outscored Rutgers 477-98.

Michigan 27, Iowa 14

This game was basically over when Michigan led by 13 at halftime, as the Iowa offense is still awful:

Perhaps one of the best performances was from Michigan’s offensive line. They allowed Michigan’s backfield to rush for a combined 172 yards, the most allowed by Iowa’s defense so far this season. It was very promising to see the offensive line go against one of the best defenses in the country and play at a high level.

There was no Kinnick magic in this one, as Iowa did not score until the 4th quarter:

We heard it all week long: Kinnick Stadium was where top 5 teams went to die. The Big Noon Kickoff crew couldn’t go ten minutes without reminding Urban Meyer of the last time he faced Iowa, and lost 55-24 in case you’d forgotten. Kinnick and the Iowa Hawkeyes have a hard won and well earned reputation for toppling college football’s giants over the years.

But none of that mattered yesterday because none of those previous teams were taking the field against the undefeated #4 Michigan Wolverines. The recipe Iowa so often uses in these type of games — limiting mistakes, playing smart, taking advantage of opportunities and opponents’ miscues — must not have been passed down to this year’s team, as the Hawks did none of those things. The classic David vs. Goliath story we all wanted failed to materialize as the Wolverines cruised to a 27-14 victory.

Penn State 17, Northwestern 7

This game happened, but Penn State was dragged down into an ugly one:

The last time Penn State had five turnovers in a game, the Florida Gators came away with with a 37-24 win against the Matt McGloin-led Nittany Lions. In this contest, Northwestern came away with exactly zero points off turnovers. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions were able to take advantage of Northwestern’s own miscues and score 14 points off their turnovers. That, as it turns out, would be the difference in the game.

Northwestern saw improvement from the defense, but could not cash in on five turnovers:

Five turnovers caused, and only seven points scored.

That’s the story of yesterday’s game, in which Northwestern fell 17-7 to Penn State in a sloppy, wet standoff emblematic of Big Ten play at its finest.

What once appeared to be the Wildcats’ strength at the start of the season, the offense has slowly spiraled into the team’s biggest problem. In Dublin, NU racked up 528 yards of total offense and one fumble. Yesterday was a completely different story, with the ‘Cats notching a measly 241 yards, three fumbles — two of them lost — and an interception. Northwestern’s defense, on the other hand, has shown improvement from its early tidings.

Illinois 34, Wisconsin 10

Illinois walked into Madison and flat out kicked Wisconsin’s ass in a stunning result:

The Illini made a statement on Saturday: Bret Bielema has arrived and he’s not afraid to beat you at your own game. All the things that we’re accustomed to seeing Wisconsin do to Illinois is what Illinois did to Wisconsin.

Wisconsin came into the game averaging 211 rushing yards per game as a team, headlined by the nation’s fifth-leading rusher Braelon Allen. Illinois held them to 2 yards rushing. TWO.

In another shocking move, Wisconsin played so poorly they became the second Big Ten West team to fire its coach this year:

In Bret Bielema’s return to Madison, Paul Chryst had a chance to tie Bielema as the second all-time winningest coach in school history. Chryst entered the game with 67 career wins, compared to Bielema’s 68.

However, Chryst’s chances of getting to 68 career wins were quickly dashed as the Illinois Fighting Ilini (4-1, 1-1 conference) defeated the Wisconsin Badgers (2-3, 0-2 conference), 34-10 — the Illini’s first win in Madison, since 2002.

Maryland 27, Michigan State 13

Purdue next opponent was dominant and showed they are probably the 4th best team in the East:

Pitching a second-half shutout, Maryland’s defense was faced with a fourth-and-10 at its 19-yard line. Quickly collapsing the pocket, Michigan State redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne scrambled in search of the first down. The Terps’ cornerback tandem of junior Tarheeb Still and redshirt junior Deonte Banks rushed Thorne out-of-bounds before the line to gain, and a Michigan State holding call that would have washed away the run was declined anyways.

The Terps locked down defensively in the second half, helping Maryland completely dictate the game and improve to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in Big Ten play. It was Maryland’s first win over Michigan State since 2016, and just its second since it joined the Big Ten in 2014.

The Spartans are complete mess right now:

It was the same old story as Michigan State gave up 489 total yards to Maryland. That included 314 passing yards by Taulia Tagovailoa, the quarterback Terrapins, who picked apart the Spartan defense in a 27-13 win over Michigan State. While the defense played better in the second half, the offense sputtered after a fairly strong start.

Nebraska 35, Indiana 21

The Cornhuskers, despite everything, are now tied for the lead in the Big Ten West:

One of my concerns about Bill Busch sliding into the interim defensive coordinator role was that Busch would try to change too much defensively. That did not happen; Busch’s plan to simplify the defense paid off in this game and led to a very good defensive performance. Granted, Indiana has struggled a bit this season, but their high tempo offense was a bad matchup with a confused Nebraska defense. Instead, we got a solid defensive performance - except during the final five minutes of the second quarter. Nebraska responded negatively to the head coaching change against Oklahoma, but against Indiana, we saw Nebraska’s best performance of the year. Not great, mind you. Too many penalties and turnovers in this one. But considering it’s Nebraska’s first conference win in a year, it’s something to celebrate.

Indiana was able to get it tied, but they ran out of late game magic:

Woof. Indiana was without its top two receivers today, which clearly impacted Indiana’s ability to move the ball considering its reliance on the passing game. At the same time, this is a Nebraska team that has losses to Georgia Southern (in Lincoln!!!) and a Northwestern team that has since lost three straight games, including one to Southern Illinois in Evanston.

It was, predictably, a weird and mostly ugly game. The exception being one of the better interceptions I’ve seen at the college level from Bryant Fitzgerald, who played well all night.

Non-Conference Opponents

Northern Iowa 20, Indiana State 14 – The Trees fall despite a late rally.

Syracuse 59, Wagner 0 – The Orange had absolutely no trouble with their FCS opponent.

North Texas 45, Florida Atlantic 28 – Gee, I wouldn’t know what it is like to be shocked by North Texas.