Wha Happened? Week Four Around The Big Ten

Wha Happened? is the weekly round-up of the rest of the games that were in the Big Ten -- you know, the ones that were going on while you were shotgunning that beer, or watching Iowa, or sleeping off that early-morning tailgating.  Who won?  Who lost?  Who made us quiver with fear?  Who made us laugh hysterically?  In short... Wha Happened?  

I'm suspending the WIN/PLACE/SHOW categorization this week because the Big Ten played a terrible, terrible slate of opponents.  If you can distinguish between a blowout win over a MAC team, a blowout win over an FCS team, and a blowout win over a Sun Belt team, well, you're a damn liar.  The only reason people paid any attention at all to the Big Ten this weekend was because of the faceplants that Indiana and Minnesota made on Saturday night (more on that below), which is embarrassing.

#24 ILLINOIS 23, WESTERN MICHIGAN 20
This is why you can't have nice things, Illinois.  A week after I sang your praises for toppling Arizona State and emerging as Wisconsin's most credible challenger in the IlliBuck division, you go out and lay a turd like this.  Granted, Western Michigan may be the finest of the directional Michigans this year (they already pantsed Central and Eastern is, well, Eastern)... but they're still a directional Michigan.  QB Nathan Scheelhaase had a largely forgettable day (14/20, 133 yards, 1/1 TD/INT; 40 rushing yards), but Donovonn Young (12-100-1) and Troy Pollard (14-133-0) picked up the slack and then some.  A week after keeping Arizona State's Brock Osweiler in check, the Illini defense got picked apart by WMU QB Alex Carder (30/48, 306 yards, 2/1 TD/INT), although they did smother the Bronco running game (35 yards and 0 TD on 21 carries).  Maybe the lesson to be learned is this: try as you might to cover it up with competence in the form of Petrino and Koenning, you can't prevent Illinois' essential Zook-ness from slipping through from time to time.  Tread carefully with them in the future.

OHIO STATE 37, COLORADO 17
Braxton Miller completed barely more than a third of his passes and ran for as many yards as he passed for (83); it's like Terrelle Pryor never left!  Jordan Hall was a bright spot for the Buckeye offense (18-84-1), but in general the offense was once again anemic, totaling just 336 yards on 62 plays.  They still won comfortably because Colorado is still Colorado and one of the worst BCS teams in the nation and because they consistently got far better field position than the Buffaloes: all but a small handful of their drives started on at least their own 40-yard line, while Colorado was routinely starting inside their own 20-yard line.  Of course, the usual caveat with Ohio State applies (they may be a markedly different team when the Tatgate players return), but for now they still aren't impressing anyone.

#6 WISCONSIN 59, SOUTH DAKOTA 10
Midway through the second quarter, Wisconsin led this game only 10-3.  Then the brats wore off and Wisconsin rattled off five touchdowns in the next twenty minutes of gametime and by the end of the third quarter they had a commanding 45-3 lead.  Order restored.  To no one's surprise, the Badgers could largely do whatever they wanted on offense: Russell Wilson went 19/25 for 345 yards and 3/0 TD/INT, while a horde of running backs added almost 270 yards and 5 TD on the ground.  In the end, another week, another Badger massacre.  They still haven't been remotely tested, but so far they're laying waste to patsies exactly like a dominant team ought to do.  

#9 NEBRASKA 38, WYOMING 14
Nebraska became the latest big-money team to make the unusual trip to Laramie to play the Cowboys; clearly the siren song of Cowboy Joe is not easy to resist, even for the sport's most monied outfits.  The clean mountain air and general softness of the opposition proved to be the perfect tonic for what had ailed Nebraska in recent weeks: the defense held Wyoming to just over 300 yards of offense and only 7 meaningful points.  Rex Burkhead carries the load on the offense (15 carries, 170 yards, 2 TD), while Taylor Martinez was his usual Taylor Martinez self in the passing game (i.e., woefully inconsistent): 12/21, 157 yards, 1/0 TD/INT.  He was very un-Taylor Martinez in the rushing game, though, with just 37 yards and 1 TD on 12 touches.  But the preliminaries are over: shit's about to get real for Nebraska.

#22 MICHIGAN 28, SAN DIEGO STATE 7
See Denard run left.  See Denard run right.  See Denard run up the middle.  Rinse, repeat.  Congratulations!  You've just seen the entire 2011 Michigan offense.  Denard's magical feet (200 yards and 3 TD on 22 carries) were once again all the offense Michigan needed, which is good because there wasn't much else to speak of: Denard once again had a below-average day passing the ball (8/17, 93 yards, 0/2 TD/INT).  On the bright side, the Michigan defense put a convincing stranglehold on a solid San Diego State offense, holding them to under 400 yards of offense and just 7 points.  Of course, they aren't going to recover three fumbles every game, either.  We still have very little idea how good Michigan is and probably won't until at least the Michigan State game.

MICHIGAN STATE 45, CENTRAL MICHIGAN 7
Michigan State responded to their lopsided loss to Notre Dame by... steamrolling a hapless directional Michigan squad.  And so the circle of life is made complete.  Le'Veon Bell had three first half touchdowns and the Spartans blew the game open with a 24-point second quarter.  Meanwhile, the MSU defense was pretty salty: they intercepted CMU quarterbacks four times and held them to 112 yards of offense (just 21 on the ground).  The mighty Chippewas ran almost thirty fewer plays than MSU and were nearly doubled up in time of possession (38:05 to 21:55).  Through four games, we know Michigan State can drill lousy teams and... not much else.  

PENN STATE 34, EASTERN MICHIGAN 6
By jove, Penn State can throw a passing touchdown!  The previously dormant Nittany Lion passing game erupted with four touchdown passes and well over 300 passing yards against a hopeless EMU squad.  For the second straight week, everyone's favorite ginger was the more effective quarterback (14/17, 220 yards, 3/0 TD/INT), while Bobert Bolden struggled (7/13, 115 yards, 1/0 TD/INT and 71 of those yards came on a play where a running back caught a ten-yard pass and zoomed down the sideline for the rest).  Of more concern was the surprisingly ineffective running game; Silas Redd ran for just 48 yards on 12 carries and as a team, PSU mustered just 104 yards on 25 touches.  Still, it was a comfortable win and the offense looked far more competent than it had in a loss to Alabama and an unconvincing win over Temple, so that's a positive.  The news on defense was less positive, though: despite holding EMU to 270 yards and just a pair of garbage time field goals, the bigger news was that they lost star LB Mike Mauti for the year with a torn ACL and may have to do without the services of D'Anton Lynn for a period of time after he was involved in a frightening collision and had to be carted off.  The defense was going to be the unit that carried Penn State this year; they can ill afford injuries to some of the best players on that side of the ball.

And then there were Indiana and Minnesota.  /shakes head sadly

NORTH TEXAS 24, INDIANA 21
First off, I TOLD YOU SO.  Ahem.  I may have whiffed on some of my predictions (and will surely whiff on some yet to come), but I had a feeling that North Texas would knock off Indiana and, lo and behold, that's precisely what they did.  They jumped out to a 24-0 lead after three quarters and then held on for dear life as the Hoosiers mounted a comeback in the fourth quarter.  The Hoosiers nearly rode the arm of back-up quarterback Dusty Kiel (the older brother of future program savior, Gunner Kiel) to victory, but even his 145 yards and 2 TD were no match for the production of North Texas' Lance Dunbar, who had 279 yards of total offense and a TD for the mighty Mean Green. Still, there's no sugarcoating this loss for Indiana: North Texas isn't a "sneaky good" Sun Belt team -- they're a bad Sun Belt team that had been drilled in previous weeks by Alabama, Houston, and Florida International.  Not even Indiana's snazzy Stormtrooper duds could cover up the embarrassment of this loss.

NORTH DAKOTA STATE 37, MINNESOTA 24
First things first: I wish Jerry Kill a full and speedy recovery as he receives treatment for his seizures.  A man's health is certainly no laughing matter.  The Gophers, on the other hand, are very much a laughing matter.  Take Marqueis Gray, for instance: over the second and third quarters, he accounted for negative yardage on five plays, had a net total of zero yards, and threw an interception that was ultimately returned for a score.  Yeesh.  As a technical matter, this was an upset -- given the disparity in resources, an FCS team beating an FBS team will always be an upset on paper -- but as anyone who watched the game can attest, it wasn't much of an upset on the field.  The better team won -- they just happened to be wearing green and gold.  The Bison were the beneficiaries of a fortuitous bounce on the pick-six/fumble return immediately before halftime, but in general they didn't need a slew of fluke plays to pull off this win: they outgained the Gophers (336 to 292 yards) and had little trouble moving the ball up and down the field.  The loss was Minnesota's second-straight to NDSU (they also lost in 2007, in Brewster's first year) as well as their second-straight loss to a team from the Dakotas (they lost to South Dakota last year) and their third loss in four tries against a college from the Dakotas (their lone win was a 16-13 nail-biter over South Dakota State in 2009).  What I'm saying is: they need to stop playing teams from the Dakotas ASAP.  Have they considered Canada?

NEXT WEEK: Wisconsin gives Nebraska a warm welcome to the Big Ten, Mark Dantonio and Luke Fickell trade sour expressions (and punting tips), Northwestern and Illinois battle over the most coveted oversize Monopoly piece in college football, Minnesota stares longingly at the Little Brown Jug, Penn State enjoys a bye week plays Indiana, and Purdue tries to give the Big Ten a winning record against Notre Dame in 2011.

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