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The Whistlestop Tour: Week 4 of Big Ten Football

The West is very bad outside of Minnesota.

Chattanooga v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Purdue is 2-2. It easily could be 1-3. It easily could be 4-0 and in the top 20. Are we a good team? Are Penn State and Syracuse ranked because they pulled out narrow victories over us? A third of the way through the season we’re at least on pace to make a bowl game, but we’re behind the expectation we had when the year started. The question of Aidan O’Connell’s health is also a significant factor.

We are a team that can win any of the remaining games on the schedule if AOC is ready to go. As much as we have struggled at times, half the Big Ten West looks significantly worse. If Purdue can spring an upset in Minneapolis it will be very much alive for the West. Even in a loss, the remainder of the schedule is not overly daunting based on the week that was in the Big Ten.

Illinois 31, Chattanooga 0 (Thursday)

It was mostly unnoticed, but the Illini were completely dominant defensively in a win over an FCS foe:

Behind career performances by Tommy DeVito and Pat Bryant, the Fighting Illini put together the most complete game of the season thus far, winning in dominant fashion over Chattanooga, 31-0.

Purdue 28, Florida Atlantic 26

FAU’s only win over a power conference team was against Minnesota in 2007, but they were very close to getting a second:

“We’re not going to be excited about moral victories, but our football team showed that they can compete”, Taggart said. “When we compete for four quarters, we can play with anybody. We are excited to get back in league play and excited to hopefully get some guys back and be ready to play. Again, as long as we play for four quarters like we know how and compete, we’re going to have a chance in every ballgame.”

Ohio State 52, Wisconsin 21

Ohio State certainly looks like it is head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the conference after a dominant win over the Badgers:

When it comes to the question of who the best team in the country is, we all understand that there are really only three options: Defending champs Georgia, Alabama (the most impressive dynasty in the history of the sport), and your Ohio State Buckeyes.

If you want to throw in the rest of the current top five to let a few other teams feel like they have a show, I am willing to entertain that as well, but they are multiple rungs down the CFP hierarchical ladder.

For the Badgers, they are now 2-2 and not looking great, but they did the same last year before a strong finishing kick:

From the opening whistle, Ohio State dominated every facet of the game, outgaining Wisconsin, 539-296 and converting on third down, 7-11 times and its only attempt on fourth down.

Wisconsin converted 6-13 on third down and failed to convert on its only fourth down conversion attempt.

The Buckeyes scored fast and often, scoring on their first five offensive possessions of the game, with only one of their eight scoring drives taking longer than three minutes, 38 seconds to materialize.

Michigan 34, Maryland 27

The Wolverines were tested for the first time this year, but survived a late onside kick attempt for the win:

Through the first three games of the year, Michigan steamrolled their competition, winning by a combined score of 166-17. Victory didn’t come as easy for the Wolverines in Week 4, the game went down to the wire, with Michigan prevailing 34-27.

“Maryland’s defense is good, Maryland’s offense was good. It wasn’t like we were playing some scrub team,” Corum said after the win.

It was a battle against the Maryland Terrapins, a team that played inspired football a year after losing to Michigan 59-18. Maryland came into the game with a top 20 passing offense and quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa did enough to keep the chains moving, keep the time of possession in Maryland’s favor, and generate scoring drives. Michigan’s defense was tested.

It was the first loss of the year for Maryland, but it was an encouraging game, no less:

The “next step” is a phrase Locksley uses frequently when discussing the direction he envisions Maryland football heading. The “next step” for a program that won its first bowl game in over a decade last season is competing with the best teams in the conference.

On Saturday, Maryland showed it has the talent to compete with the Big Ten’s best.

Penn State 33, Central Michigan 14

This game was close for a half, but Penn State pulled away in the second half:

Penn State, in its own letdown, came out firing on all cylinders early in the contest, but allowed Central Michigan to crawl right back in it to tie at 14 in the first half. The Nittany Lions would go up a touchdown, 21-14, into halftime. From there, Penn State continued to keep the Chippewas at arm’s length, stymying any promising Central Michigan drive with untimely turnovers. Or, if you’re a Penn State fan, the most timely of turnovers.

Yes, Central Michigan deserves credit for making this close early. But one would be remiss to not mention the apparent disinterest in playing a complete game after going up 14-0. The Nittany Lions saw the same drops, missed field goals, and the inability to make plays to put the game out of reach early.

Minnesota 34, Michigan State 7

Purdue’s next opponent went to East Lansing and kicked the crap out of Michigan State, earning a top 25 ranking in the process:

What a difference an offensive coordinator makes. Tanner Morgan is playing the best football of his career through the first four games of the season and saved his best for Saturday, completing 88.5% of his passes against Michigan State’s vulnerable secondary and throwing for 268 passing yards and three touchdowns. On the season, he is 61-of-79 (77.2%) for 886 passing yards with seven passing touchdowns and one interception.

Sparty is a shell of its self after being dominated the last two weeks:

These past two weeks, however, the Spartans have not been able to find that same success, and that’s contributed greatly to teams picking apart MSU’s secondary. The lack of pressure on the quarterback is something that needs to be addressed and figured out if the Spartans want to have success on defense this year.

Cincinnati 45, Indiana 24

The Hoosiers couldn’t make the comeback this time, as they fell on the road:

It certainly could have been worse, as it appeared it was going to be when Indiana trailed 38-10 at half. Indiana playing better in the second half isn’t necessarily surprising in and of itself, but the second half turnaround really drives home What Could Have Been, had the first half been a little less bad.

At the end of the day, Indiana was a 16.5 point underdog entering the game, so the end result was as predictable as the second half turnaround. The Hoosiers lost for all of the reasons you would have expected them to, and Cincinnati was as good as advertised in the preseason (Arkansas also looking good makes their week one loss even more excusable).

Iowa 27, Rutgers 10

Iowa scored 27 points in one game? In this economy? The Hawkeyes have the best scoring defense in the country at 5.5 points per game and the worst scoring offense in the country at 9.5 points per game:

The offense once again was good, but not great, as Spencer Petras tallied 148 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions on 11/17 completions. While the senior didn’t put up gaudy stats, he did look the most comfortable he had all season, but was hindered by an offensive line that continues to change out personnel nearly every drive, and struggled mightily in pass protection. Petras’ top target was Sam LaPorta, who hauled in 4 catches for 77 yards.

Rutgers had a chance for an upset, but couldn’t get enough going on either side of the ball:

Do not turn the ball over and give a struggling offense a spark. Rutgers’ offense vs. an elite Iowa defense. Something has to give. Many things were said going into this matchup.

“The ball is the program” — words that we hear from Greg Schiano and the Rutgers football program.

On Saturday night, the program let them down. The Scarlet Knights turned the ball over three times in front of a sold-out crowd at SHI Stadium during a 27-10 loss to Iowa to open Big Ten play.

Miami (OH) 17, Northwestern 14

And there it is. For the 15th straight season with non-conference games (so throw out 2020) the MAC has a win over a Big Ten team:

Well, that sure wasn’t pretty to watch.

In an ugly Saturday night affair in Evanston, Northwestern lost its third straight to Miami (OH) 17-14.

The RedHawks won the game on a fourth-quarter drive that lasted almost six minutes. Kicker Graham Nicholson punctuated it with a 36-yard field goal with 21 seconds left.

Non-Conference Opponents:

Indiana State – On Bye

Syracuse 22, Virginia 20 – At least the Orange are like Penn State: Undefeated.

Off the Cuff Big Ten Power Rankings

1. Ohio State – They are a death machine.

2. Michigan – Finally tested, but they passed in the end.

3. Penn State – A real missed opportunity for Purdue now.

4. Minnesota – The best in the West by a pretty wide margin right now.

5. Maryland – Can they keep things going past September?

6. Iowa – Mostly by default because of the defense.

7. Illinois – If not for the loss to Indiana they might be top 25.

8. Wisconsin – 2-2, but I have been fooled before.

9. Purdue – So close to 4-0. Best 2-2 team in the country?

10. Indiana – If they could play a first half they would be in the top 25.

11. Rutgers – They are at least 3-1, but struggled in their first real test.

12. Michigan State – That pass defense is awful.

13. Northwestern – Only reason they are here is because they beat…

14. Nebraska – At least there wasn’t a loss this week.