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Wha Happened? Week Eight Around The Big Ten

The sweet embrace of the strangle-tackle.   Don't fight it, Persa. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Dan Persa; Colin Neely; Jerel Worthy
The sweet embrace of the strangle-tackle. Don't fight it, Persa. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Dan Persa; Colin Neely; Jerel Worthy
Getty Images

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!

#7 MICHIGAN STATE 35, just NORTHWESTERN 27 (coverage)
For a while, it seemed like our purple-clad friends were cashing in their "one big upset" card earlier than usual this season and against a different opponent (than, well, us).  They jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first half and could have had an even bigger lead if not for an untimely fumble near the MSU goalline.  But the good times couldn't last and Sparty slowly and inexorably chipped away at the jNW lead, getting a touchdown before halftime here, a touchdown after halftime there, and then blowing the game open with three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including two in the final few minutes.  Kirk Cousins continued his strong play for Sparty, going 29/43 for 329 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions; we'd be horrible liars if we said we weren't just a little terrified of what he could do to the Iowa pass defense next week.  Meanwhile, his jNW counterpart, Dan Persa, had three rushing touchdowns, but had far and away his worst day of the season throwing the ball (18/29, 187, 0/1 TD/INT).  Perhaps the most interesting (or at least strangest) stat of the game was that jNW and their previously putrid running game actually outgained Michigan State (170 yards on 47 carries to 105 yards on 26 carries).  

Northwestern's Big Ten contender credentials have been pretty well shredded by back-to-back losses to Purdue and Michigan State; at this point they look like they're back on pace to being their increasingly typical, 6-6 to 8-4-type team that's capable of being a spoiler.  Hey, someone's gotta fill that niche -- and it beats being a complete doormat.  Meanwhile, what to make of Michigan State?  They're undoubtedly a very good team -- 8-0 doesn't happen by accident, they've looked impressive on both sides of the ball this season, and their status as Big Ten front-runner is well-deserved.  On the other hand, they've trailed in all four of their Big Ten games this year, and as Iowa fans we know all too well the dangers of playing with fire like that.  Which makes next week's game against Iowa so fascinating.  On one hand you have a team that's done great things so far this season, but who's been playing nine straight weeks and dealt with innumerable emotional highs and lows (both on and off the field) in that span.  On the other hand, you have a talented team that's come up short so far in big games and that's desperate for a win to salvage their season.  Something has to give.

ILLINOIS 43, INDIANA 13 (coverage)
It's not every day that you gain fewer than 300 yards of total offense (and get outgained by 100 yards) and still manage to record a 30-point win.  Then again, it's probably not every day that you force five turnovers and get two pick-sixes and a safety, either.  The main takeaway from this game is that the Illinois defense is unquestionably legit -- Indiana has a very high-powered offense (particularly through the air) and Illinois shut them down and forced numerous costly mistakes.  They're still a work in progress on offense -- logging just 289 yards of offense against a defense as porous as Indiana's isn't too impressive -- but as long as that defense keeps playing at a high level, they should have no trouble ending that ugly little two-year bowl drought (especially since home games gainst Purdue and Minnesota are two of their next three games).  As for Indiana, well, their own quest to end a two-year bowl drought isn't looking so hot.  The Illinois game looked like one of their best bets to nab one of the two conference wins that they need -- now they're left needing to pull some upsets.

PENN STATE 33, MINNESOTA 21 (coverage)
Good news/bad news day for Penn State.  The good news is that they stopped the bleeding after two ugly conference losses to Iowa and Illinois and their offense displayed a pulse (33 points was nine more than they'd scored against any team not named Youngstown State).  The bad news is that QB Rob Bolden got hurt and may have to miss some time.  The other bad news is that they don't get to play Minnesota again this year. (insert sad face)  As for MInnesota, let's focus on one of the rare positives this team has: Da'Jon McKnight.  McKnight caught eight passes for 103 yards and three touchdowns, a mighty fine effort by anyone's reckoning.  For the season, he has 36 catches for 542 yards and nine touchdowns.  On numbers alone, he should be a strong contender for All-Big Ten honors, but it's anyone guess how much the taint of being on Minnesota will hold him back.  But, hey, in a season of unmitigated disaster for the Gophers, we may as well take a moment to tip our caps to one of the few Gopher players who hasn't been made of pure fail.

#10 OHIO STATE 49, PURDUE 0 (coverage)
Wow, that got out of hand.  I mean, that got out of hand in a hurry.  OSU was up 14-0 after the first quarter and 42-0 at halftime.  And that was that; Ohio State avenged both last week's loss to Wisconsin and last year's loss to Purdue in spectacular fashion.  There wasn't much Ohio State didn't do well (they threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns on 19/25 passing and ran for 184 yards and three scores on 48 carries); nor was there much that Purdue did well (they had just nine first downs, went 3/14 on third downs, went 15/28 for 88 yards passing, had 30 yards rushing on 27 carries and scored zero points).  If you really wanted to quibble you could probably point to Pryor's two interceptions, but c'mon -- they won 49-0.  That's a pretty unimpeachable beatdown.  

As for Purdue, remember what we said last weeK?

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 justNorthwestern 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.

Yeah, no reconsideration required.  They're not very good.