Pat Lovell-US PRESSWIRE
Recapping the week that was in Big Ten football. Indiana won! Michigan State's offense woke up at the best possible time! Michigan showed us their Denard-less offense! (WARNING: Not for the faint of heart.)
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, 31-17 TO INDIANA)
For all his flaws and for all the ridicule he received, Ron Zook wasn't a complete disaster at Illinois. He could recruit well and while he couldn't always do that much with that talent, at least he won six games each of the last two years. Alas, after years of underperformance and a particularly egregious six-game losing streak to end last season, Zook was handed his walking papers and Illinois brought in Tim Beckman. Even though Zook didn't leave the cupboards bare, under Beckman's care Illinois is rocketing towards a 2-10 season and a slew of non-competitive losses. Losing 52-24 at home to Louisiana Tech (albeit a better-than-normal Louisiana Tech squad) was pretty low; losing by double figures to Indiana on Homecoming may be even worse. Illinois is riding a 10-game B1G losing streak and on the face of performances like this, that streak is in no danger of ending anytime soon.
PURDUE (L, 44-28 AT MINNESOTA)
44-28 looks like an almost-respectable loss, like maybe you just came out on the wrong end of a shootout. The truth is this far more of a blowout -- Purdue was down 34-7 at halftime and 44-7 five minutes into the third quarter. Purdue lost by a combined 10 points to Notre Dame and Ohio State; their other three losses have all been by double digits. That said, they can actually still harbor semi-realistic hopes of going to a bowl game -- their last three games are against Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana. Still, on the basis of performances like this, it's damn hard to say Danny Hope has Purdue heading in the right direction. Odds are still good he's going to be handed his walking papers at season's end.
WISCONSIN (L, 16-13 OT TO MICHIGAN STATE)
In eight quarters against FBS competition, Danny O'Brien has guided the Badger offense to all of... one touchdown. His replacement as Wisconsin's lead QB, Joel Stave, had done an effective job of helping to get the Wisco offense back on track and had guided them to a 4-1 record as a starter. Stave broke his clavicle on a sack from William Gholston on Saturday and is expected to miss the rest of the regular season. Madison, we have a problem. A week ago, Wisconsin seemed to have a vise grip on the Leaders division; now there's some doubt. Wisconsin is still headed back to Indianapolis if they can beat Indiana in two weeks... but with O'Brien in charge that no longer looks like a gimme.
PENN STATE (L, 35-23 TO OHIO STATE)
This was a close game for three quarters, until a pair of 1-yard TD runs by Braxton Miller late in the third quarter blew things open and gave Ohio State a comfortable 28-10 lead. Penn State ended the game with similar total yards to Ohio State (359 to OSU's 377), but the offense couldn't find the end zone until the fourth quarter. Their only touchdown until the fourth quarter came on a blocked punt recovered in the end zone in the first quarter. When you find yourself down by three scores, the only thing fourth quarter touchdowns do is make the final score line look a touch more respectable. Just ask Iowa. This loss probably ended Penn State's quixotic dream to win a Leaders division title this year, the only trophy available to them; they'd need to win out and hope that the Buckeyes dropped two games down the stretch.
MICHIGAN (L, 23-9 AT NEBRASKA)
This game was lost when Denard Robinson had to leave the game with an elbow injury in the first half. (I know, Denard Robinson got hurt and had to leave a game? Impossible!) Robinson's replacement, Russell Bellomy, had a bad day. A really bad day. His first ten passes were incomplete and he finished just 3/16 for 38 yards. He also threw three interceptions. So yes: he threw as many completions to Nebraska as he did to his own teammates. That is never, ever good. If anyone deserves a gameball from Big Blue, it's the defense, which held Nebraska to three third quarter field goals and helped make the score just 16-9 for Nebraska as the game entered the fourth quarter. Alas, the dam broke for the defense in that quarter and they gave up a touchdown to make the score 23-9 -- well and truly out of reach. The loss turned Michigan from Legends division favorites to Legends division on-lookers unless Nebraska trips up down the stretch. But their bigger concern by far is Denard's health: without him this is an offense that just doesn't work at all.
INDIANA (W, 31-17 AT ILLINOIS)
Jacobi penned a speculative post a few weeks ago about the "darkest timeline" for the Big Ten, one in which Indiana went to the Rose Bowl. Don't look now, but that dark future suddenly doesn't look so implausible. Indiana has three remaining games against Iowa, Purdue, and a Wisconsin team that's struggled to score points with Danny O'Brien at the helm. They'd still need a little help in the form of a few more Wisconsin losses... but with Stave out for the season, that looks very possible. Indiana in the Big Ten Championship Game? Gulp. As far as this game goes... surprisingly, Indiana actually kind of won it with defense. Their offense gained just 292 yards of total offense, 80 less than what Illinois gained. Indiana turned that limited production into 31 points, though, and their defense kept Illinois out of the end zone for the better part of the final three quarters.
MINNESOTA (W, 44-28 OVER PURDUE)
Apparently sometimes it's not such a bad idea to hand over the keys of the offense to a freshman quarterback. True freshman Philip Nelson, making his first home start in place of the injured and/or less effective MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell, ripped apart the Boilermaker secondary: 15/22, 246 yards, 3 TD/0 INT. Maybe Jerry Kill and the Gophers have found their quarterback of the future after all. Donnell Kirkwood added 134 yards on 22 carries on the ground and A.J. Barker proved to be Nelson's favorite target through the air (5 catches, 135 yards, 2 TD), although he's an injury doubt for their game this weekend. The win ended Minnesota's three-game losing streak and was their first win over a non-Iowa or Illinois Big Ten opponent since a 42-34 win over Michigan State on Halloween... of 2009. It also moved the Gophers to within one game of clinching their first bowl trip in three years; with a game against Illinois looming (albeit on the road), bowl eligibility looks very much within their rodent-like grasp.
MICHIGAN STATE (W, 16-13 OT AT WISCONSIN)
Prior to Saturday, Michigan State had scored more than one touchdown in just one of their four previous Big Ten games, their 31-27 comeback win over Indiana. For about 55 minutes of game action Saturday, it looked like they wouldn't even be getting one touchdown. So, yeah, it was pretty damn shocking when they managed to score not one but two touchdowns in about twenty minutes of real time. That Sparty even had a chance so late in the game was down to their championship-caliber defense. If they could pair this defense with their 2010 or 2011 offense, they would undoubtedly be walking away with the Big Ten this year. Alas, they're stuck with what they've got. The win also kept alive their (still very slim) hopes of making it back to the Big Ten Championship Game.
OHIO STATE (W, 35-23 AT PENN STATE)
Braxton Miller didn't have a great day passing the ball (7/19 for 143 yards and a touchdown and an interception; half of the yards came on a 72-yard touchdown pass to TE Jake Stoneburner), but he did enough and he had another hugely impressive game on the ground -- 134 yards and 2 TD on 25 carries. When/if he becomes a truly consistent passer, OSU's offense is going to become an absolute nightmare to defend. Meanwhile, their own defense rebounded to an extent after a few games of getting lit up; they gave up 327 passing yards to Matt McGloin, but many of those came in the fourth quarter when OSU had opened up an 18-point lead. They held the PSU offense without a touchdown until the fourth quarter and held the PSU ground game to just 32 yards on 28 carries (including sack yardage).
NEBRASKA (W, 23-9 OVER MICHIGAN)
Nebraska's 2012 Revenge Tour continued Saturday night as the Cornhuskers notched their third win over a team that beat them in Big Ten play a year ago. They opened and closed the scoring with a touchdown; in-between the teams combined to kick six field goals. Hooray for placekickers! After weeks of getting shredded, the Nebraska defense responded with an impressive effort here, holding Michigan to just 188 total yards, no touchdowns, and just 9 total points. They were aided by a woefully overmatched backup quarterback for Michigan, but still: credit to them for making his life every bit as hellish as they should have in that situation. The win not only gave Nebraska a spot of revenge for last year, it also put them in the catbird's seat for the Legends division moving forward. Win out and Nebraska will be making their first trip to Indianapolis.
NEXT WEEK: Ohio State aims to continue Illinois' misery (and keep the IlliBuck at home in Columbus), Penn State tries to rebound against reeling Purdue, Minnesota and Michigan battle for a jug, Nebraska and Michigan State trade blows near the top of the Legends Division, and Iowa tries to prevent Indiana from putting together their first B1G winning streak since 2007.