Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
Recapping the week that was in Big Ten football. Congratulations on winning the Leaders division, Wisconsin!
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?
ILLINOIS (L, 45-0 AT MICHIGAN)
Good grief, Illinois. What the hell is going on down in Champaign? Ron Zook may not have left the cupboard as well-stocked as he did when he left Gainesville (and given Zook's obvious love of teams with blue-and-orange color schemes, I can only assume UTEP will be his next destination), but it's not as if Illinois is devoid of talent. Yet they've lost four in a row and given up 30+ points in all four losses, while managing to score just 45 points combined over those four games. In Big Ten play alone, they've been outscored 111-21. And in case you've forgotten, the Big Ten kinda sucks this year. (Latest evidence? No Big Ten teams crack the initial top 25 in the BCS standings.) Basically what I'm saying is this: Illinois, you were made for the Dumpster Fire Scale of Competitive Suckitude, baby.
Illinois has a scoring offense that makes Iowa look positively explosive... well, not really, but they are worst in the Big Ten in that category (18.1 ppg). They're going for a matching set on defense as well and seem well on their way to obtaining it -- they're giving up 30.7 ppg so far, a hair better than Indiana (31.8 ppg). Coincidentally, Illinois' next game (in two weeks) is against Indiana (it's in Champaign, but they've lost their last two home games by a combined score of 87-31... so it's not like they have much of a home field advantage). Despite the fact that it's Indiana (who has not won a conference game since 2010) and despite the fact they're on the road... I would almost feel comfortable making Indiana a double-digit favorite in that game. That's how stunningly, impressively godawful Illinois has been over the last month. Ron Zook took Illinois football from the outhouse (2-9 in 2005) to the penthouse (the shock Rose Bowl berth in 2007) and to all the mediocre floors in-between; Tim Beckman appears to be taking them back to the outhouse at speeds that would make even Felix Baumgartner blush.
PURDUE (L, 38-14 TO WISCONSIN)
While seemingly half the SEC is staring at a pink slip-filled future (Au revoir, Messrs. Dooley, Phillips, Chizik, Smith, and Richt? Maybe.), the coaching landscape in the Big Ten looks far more secure, even with the uninspiring results for several teams in the league. Mostly that's because of timing -- the league has added six new coaches in the last two years and they all figure to get at least three years to improve things. Of the more-entrenched Big Ten coaches, guys like Ferentz, Pelini, Bielema, and Dantonio all look pretty safe, in spite of some disappointing results and subsequent grumbling from certain parts of the fanbase. No, there's really one Big Ten coach whose job security looks tenuous -- our mustachioed friend, Danny Hope. And let me tell you, Danny, this is not the way to go about firming up your job security. Hope inherited a golden opportunity to win a division title and play for a Big Ten Championship with two of his division-mates (Ohio State, Penn State) barred from post-season play and two of his other division-mates at the bottom of the rebuilding cycle (Illinois, Indiana). There was only one real obstacle in Purdue's trip to Indianapolis: those pesky Badgers, and even they had looked eminently beatable through the first month of the season.
So what happened? A week after Michigan ripped Purdue limb from limb, Wisconsin picked over the corpse and rubbed some dirt in the wounds. A Wisconsin offense had that sputtered through the first half of the season erupted for 645 yards of offense and 38 points. Like the Badger offenses of old, the bulk of the damage was done on the ground: Montee Ball ran for a career-best 247 yards, but his back-up (James White) added 124 yards and, as a team, they ran for a stupefying 467 yards. This against a Purdue defense that's been alleged to have as many as four potential NFL draft picks on it. Ouch. Meanwhile, the Purdue offense did nothing to keep up with their Wisconsin counterparts: they amassed just 252 yards and 14 points and 81 of those yards (and 7 of those points) came on a meaningless garbage time TD run from Akeem Hunt. The loss drops Purdue to 0-2 in the Big Ten and effectively three games behind Wisconsin in the Leaders division (since Wisconsin now has the head-to-head tiebreaker); unless the entire state of Wisconsin burns up in a terrible grilling accident in the next few weeks, Purdue has no realistic shot of winning the division. With road trips to Ohio State, Iowa, and (frisky-looking) Minnesota ahead, as well as a home game with Penn State, even getting to six wins (and bowl eligibility) is no sure thing for the Boilermakers. And no bowl game would almost certainly mean the end of Hope in West Lafayette.
OHIO STATE (W, 52-49 OVER INDIANA)
Scoring 52 points? Good! Giving up 49 points? Bad! Their win over Indiana was such a spectacular point orgy I briefly wondered why BTN was showing a WAC game on Saturday night. Ohio State crossed the 50-point mark for the second-straight game in conference play; clearly the Urbz-ification of their offense is working just fine. They've scored 115 points over their last two games, which is more points than many Tressel teams would have scored in an entire month's worth of games. On the other hand, Meyer won two national titles at Florida not just with potent offenses and dual-threat triggermen, but with nasty, airtight defenses as well and so far the OSU defense has a whole lot of leaks in it. They've given up a whopping 88 points over the last two weeks, which is... bad. Braxton Miller is a superlative-defying talent and he has some talented sidekicks on offense like Carlos Hyde (22 carries, 156 yards, 1 TD) and Devin Smith (2 catches, 106 yards, 2 TD), but a defense that porous virtually guarantees a loss at some point. Just ask West Virginia.
MINNESOTA (L, 21-13 TO just NORTHWESTERN)
Maybe this is too harsh. Maybe Minnesota shouldn't be penalized for losing to a team that's just plain better than they are. On the other hand... they were at home, got MarQueis Gray back, and, thanks to a bye week, had two weeks to prepare for just Northwestern. And they found themselves down 7-0 inside 15 seconds and down 14-3 by the end of the first quarter. As we saw against Iowa, Minnesota's not exactly a great comeback team at this point. They did chop the jNW lead to 14-10 in the second quarter, but they gave up another TD to the Wildcats almost immediately, leaving themselves in a 21-10 hole at the break. To their credit, they didn't give up any more points in the second half. Unfortunately, they only scored a field goal themselves. The run defense was again a problem: jNW RB Venric Mark jitterbugged his way to 182 yards and 2 TDs on 20 carries. Three turnovers also didn't help Minnesota's cause.
MICHIGAN (W, 45-0 OVER ILLINOIS)
What's to say, really? Michigan played a home game against the worst team in the Big Ten. They destroyed them. Denard Robinson had a very Denard Robinson-y game -- 7/11 passing, 159 yards, 2 TD; 11 rushes, 128 yards, 2 TD; a few missed plays due to injury -- and the Michigan defense continued their run of strong play. They gave up 66 points over the first two weeks against Alabama and Air Force, but over their last four games, teams have mustered just 32 points combined against the Big Blue defense. That's not too shabby. In fact, aside from Robinson, the player of the game might have been Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan, who had 11 tackles (3.5 TFL), 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.
INDIANA (L, 52-49 TO OHIO STATE)
I suspect that what Indiana would really like is to just get that first Big Ten win since 2010 already, but that wasn't to be on Saturday. Still, for a program climbing out of the depths of the league, moral victories are still of some value, especially against the best team in the conference. So how did Indiana put a scare into mighty Ohio State? Their offense torched the Buckeyes up and down the field -- 481 yards of offense, including 352 through the air -- but more than anything it seemed to be big plays. The Hoosiers made big plays on offense: Stephen Houston had a 59-yard touchdown run to open Indiana's scoring and Shane Wynn was on the receiving end of a 76-yard touchdown bomb from Cameron Coffman. They made big plays on defense: Greg Heban's interception of a Braxton Miller pass in the end zone kept OSU from doubling up the score (or worse) on the Hoosiers in the third quarter; 31-17 feels much different than 38-17. And they made big plays on special teams: a blocked punt led to a 7-yard Stephen Houston TD that briefly gave Indiana a 14-10 lead in the game and they made a marvelous onside kick recovery late in the game during their spirited comeback. Of course, the downside of this performance is that they scored 49 points in regulation -- and lost. But that's what tensd to happen when you give up 578 yards of offense and 52 points. Kevin Wilson seems to have the IU offense humming now (even with replacement parts at QB), but that terrible defense is going to put a pretty low ceiling on their ambitions for the time being.
just NORTHWESTERN (W, 21-13 OVER MINNESOTA)
Congratulations, just Northwestern, with six wins you're the first Big Ten team to achieve bowl eligibility this fall! (Ohio State has seven wins, of course, but they're not eligible to play in a bowl game this year.) Well done, 'cats. They're also just a game out of the Legends division lead. The strangest part of jNW's success this year is how it's happening; in the past, they loved to play at a very high tempo on offense and run opposing teams ragged. They loved to pick apart defenses with a patient, dink-and-dunk passing attack. This year? For the second straight game, the other team ran far more plays than Northwestern (Minnesota ran 72 to jNW's 51) and the 'cats went just 11/17 through the air for 67 yards. (Mostly) solid defense, strong special teams play, the electrifying Venric Mark, and do-everything QB/WR/RB Kain Colter have carried them so far. The results speak for themselves, but... this ain't the same Northwestern we've seen the past few years. Food for thought as Iowa gets ready for a trip to Evanston in two weeks.
WISCONSIN (W, 38-14 OVER PURDUE)
Remember the crisis in Madtown? Yeah, that's over. The Badger offense is humming again -- 645 yards of offense, with 467 yards coming on the ground -- and the defense is firming up, too. They've only given up 14 meaningful points over the last two weeks (Illinois and Purdue each tacked on a meaningless fourth-quarter TD against Wisco). Joel Stave is looking just as game manager-y as past Badger QB like Scott Tolzien, John Stocco, and Brooks Bollinger, which is just fine when you can run for four bills on a team. The hero of the day was -- who else? -- Montee Ball, who's shrugged off his early season torpor and is back to looking like the back who terrorized the Big Ten a year ago. He set personal bests for most rushing yards (247) and longest touchdown run (67 yards) and set a Big Ten best for most career touchdowns (a staggering 72). Maybe this is all just a schedule-induced illusion: the Badgers have been able to bully a godawful Illinois team and an imploding Purdue squad. Then again, their next three games are against Minnesota (home), Michigan State (home), and Indiana (away), so they could easily be 8-2 as they prepare to host Ohio State. Of course, none of that really matters: the Badgers have already effectively locked up a spot in Indianapolis -- the rest of the season is just a prologue to that game now.
NEXT: Minnesota and Wisconsin wage war over a giant ax, division leaders Iowa and Penn State duel in primetime, Ohio State aims to add to Purdue's woes, Michigan State tries to save its season against Michigan, and Nebraska and Northwestern do battle for primacy in the "NU" debate once more. Oh, and Indiana plays Navy. /shrug