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Wha Happened? Week Seven 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?  Now with new-and-improved performance ranking system!

Ah, special teams, you fickle little minx, you.  A year ago, Wisconsin thoroughly outgained Ohio State, but wound up losing decisively anyway because the Buckeyes got a pair of pick sixes off of Scott Tolzien and a 96-yard kickoff return score right after Wisconsin had chopped the Buckeye lead down to one score.  This year, the Badgers didn't give Ohio State any cheap points and, in fact, scored some of their own when David Gilreath took the opening kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown.  That shocking score seemed to knock OSU off-kilter, which enabled the burly Badger running game to run amok throughout most of the first half and power them to a 21-0 lead.  John Clay even scored a touchdown by leaping over the pile, so you know the Badgers were feeling frisky on Saturday night.

Running the ball may be the Badgers' meat and potatoes on offense, but they were still canny enough to know when to effectively change things up.  After OSU scored a touchdown to cut Wisconsin's lead to 21-18 early in the fourth quarter and it seemed like the inevitable Buckeye comeback/Badger collapse was in motion, Wisco responded by having Scott Tolzien throw on the first four plays of the ensuing possession; three of them went for completions and brought Wisconsin inside the OSU 40.  A handful of plays later, the Badgers had another touchdown, a 28-18 lead, and the game itself virtually salted away.  The other story of the game was that the Badger defense did a remarkable job of keeping the Ohio State offense in check; a week after Terrelle Pryor went bombs away on Indiana, he threw for 156 yards and no scores on 14/28 passing.  He wasn't terribly effective on the ground, either, with just 56 yards rushing on 18 attempts.  In fact, two of the first three league opponents Ohio State has faced (Illinois and Wisconsin) have kept the OSU offense in check, something which should give Iowa confidence in a few weeks, assuming the defense that showed up in the fourth quarter against Michigan was just a bad fever dream and not a prophecy of things to come.

For about a half, it seemed as though Michigan State was in the throes of their duly expected "hangover game" and that those plucky Fightin' Zooks might pull off another unexpected road upset and we'd get to bring back the SPARTY NOOOO and "Sparty bein' Sparty" memes and all would be right with the interwebs (well, aside from Justin Bieber's continued domination of Twitter, but c'est la vie).  Unfortunately, Illinois forgot they still had to play a second half and Michigan State woke up from their slumber to rattle off 23 unanswered points and cruise to a comfortable win over the Zooks. 

One of the main culprits in Illinois' swoon was young QB Nathan Scheelhaase, who had the sort of day (15/27, 141 yards, 0/3 TD/INT) you'd expect to see out of a freshman quarterback going on the road against a capable defense.  It didn't happen a week ago at Penn State because the Nitany Lion defense was a (barely) walking MASH unit in that game.  Alas, Greg Jones & Co. were healthy this week, which stifled Scheelhaase and smothered the Illinois running game (114 yards on 42 carries).  The Spartan offense had a fairly blah day themselves (Kirk Cousins went 13/24, 201 yards, 1/0 TD/INT and the running game chewed up just 93 yards and a single touchdown on 31 carries), but credit where it's due: the Illinois defense is pretty salty this year and they're going to slow down most offenses they face.  The good news for the Illini is that their once-improbable quest for a bowl game is still very much alive: their next four games include home games against Indiana, Purdue, and Minnesota, as well as a road game against Michigan -- all of those games look winnable for a team that plays defense as tenaciously as this Illini squad.

For this week's installment in "How Bad Is Minnesota Football?", let's look at the efforts of their defense.  Prior to this game, Purdue QB Rob Henry had gone 27/59, 280 yards, 2/2 TD/INT; against Minnesota he went 13/20 (a perfectly respectable 65% completion rate) for 163 yards and 1/1 TD/INT.  Meanwhile, a Purdue running game that's reliant on a converted fullback (Dan Dierking) and a true freshman QB (Henry) rolled up 230 yards and three touchdowns on 46 carries.  Truly, Minnesota's defense is wretched.  Not that the Gopher offense was much more competent: Adam Weber was a fairly dreadful 20/45 for 214 yards and 2/2 TD/INT and the running game rumbled for just 65 yards on 25 carries.  The lone bright spot for Minnesota?  WR Da'Jon McKnight (6-123-1) has emerged as a fairly reliable target for Weber and Minny's only consistent scoring threat (he has a touchdown catch in five of the last six games).  Minnesota fans would also argue that the fact that this game represented the official end of the Tim Brewster Era at Minnesota was an undeniable bright spot, but we strongly disagree; the demise of Brewster is something to be mourned, not celebrated.  Let those savages at The Daily Gopher hoot and holler; we'll be wearing black and crying our eyes out to Michael Bolton, thankyouverymuch.

Also: Purdue is one of only three teams in the Big Ten that remains undefeated in league play; this is possible despite their massive injury losses because their league schedule to date has been: BYE, @ jNW, MIN.  Minnesota and BYE are both guaranteed wins at this point and just Northwestern had been looking for an opportunity to throw up all over themselves all season; they just happened to pick the game against Purdue to do so.  So we shouldn't mistake this record for the notion that OUR MOST HATED RIVAL is, like, actually good or anything.  Now if they manage to make it two in a row over Ohio State by winning at the Horseshoe this week... well after we're done shoving helping get Ohio State fans down off their ledges, we'll be happy to reconsider our assessment.

INDIANA 36, ARKANSAS STATE 34 (coverage)
Meh.  We knew Indiana had a potent offense (against teams not named Ohio State, at least); 36 points and 495 yards (382 through the air) later, that's still the case.  We knew Indiana had an incredibly porous defense; 34 points and 337 yards (276 through the air) later, that's still true.  Did we learn anything new from this game?  No, we did not.  NEWSFLASH: Ben Chappell (26/42, 382 yards, 4/0 TD/INT), Tandon Doss (8-103-1), and Damarlo Belcher (6-121-1) are quite good.  The only thing of note from this game is that Indiana completed their non-conference slate at 4-0, maintaining their realistic hopes of making a bowl game for the first time in three years.  They just need to poach two games from their remaining slate (@ Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa, @ Wisconsin, Penn State, @ Purdue), which seems like a reasonable proposition with that high-powered offense.

BONUS!  Let's check in on our soon-to-be-conference-mates Nebraska and see how they did this week...

TEXAS 20, #5 NEBRASKA 13 (coverage)
Ooh, REVENGE FAIL.  So much for gettin' back at those damn cheating Longhorns, Nebraska.  Better luck, uh, never.  The Taylor Martinez hype train got derailed by his first encounter with a legit defense; a week after he ran circles around Kansas State and evoked memories of the villainous Eric Crouch, he crashed back to earth against Texas -- 4/12 for 63 yards, 13 rushes for 21 yards, no touchdowns, and one late game benching for the previously banished Zac Lee.  We'd say more about this game, but we don't really care beyond LOL NEBRASKA.  Oh, and because THujone of Shaggy Bevo pretty much knocked it out of the park with his account of the game anyway:

For more MS Paint-related awesomeness, we strongly advise you click the link above.  It's kinda NSFW, but aren't the best things in life?