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Wha Happened? Week Nine Around The Big Ten

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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!

Oh, how little we know.  Surely, we thought, the Penn State offense was incompetent enough that even a defense as thoroughly inept as the Michigan defense could slow them down enough to score a much-needed win for RichRod.  Surely, we thought, they would have little trouble containing a much-hyped senior running back whose disappointing senior campaign had included just one game with 100+ rushing yards (187 against Temple).  Surely, we thought, they would have no difficulty stopping a quarterback who was (a) an inexperienced former walk-on and (b) a ginger.  And yet, as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, Michigan's tackling remains hapless, the coverage remains haphazard, and the scheming remains non-existent.  At this point, if your offense fails to score 30+ on Michigan, you should hang your head in shame.  A reasonably athletic intramural flag football team could put up points on them. 

The details of their incompetence this week are grisly.  Matt McGloin, said ginger QB, went 17/28 , 250 yards, 1/0 TD/INT.  Evan Royster, said disappointing senior RB, went 150 yards and two scores on 29 carries and emphatically claimed the Penn State career rushing yards record.  When Michigan scored two touchdowns to chop PSU's 21-point lead to a nerve-jangling 38-31 with over nine minutes to go, PSU had little difficulty moving down the field and getting a clinching field goal.  Because the Michigan defense cannot stop anyone.  On the other hand, this knowledge, combined with an awareness of their prolific offense, should be a gambler's delight -- TAKE.  THE.  OVER. 

Denard Robinson was again spectacular in defeat, going 11/23 (OK, that wasn't so spectacular) for 190 yards passing and a touchdown and adding on 191 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries on the ground.  But, yet again, he got no help from anyone else.  The Michigan running backs combined for 42 yards and no touchdowns on 15 carries and while Robinson's completion percentage was low, it wasn't helped by his receivers' propensity to drop passes.  Robinson remains the most singularly breathtaking talent in the Big Ten this year -- but that alone isn't enough to will a team to victory, not when the rest of the offense is so pedestrian and the defense and special teams are so wretched.  On the other side of the ledger, Penn State built on the momentum of the Minnesota win, notched another much-needed win, and moved closer to salvaging the season.  They're 5-3 now and while the Ohio State game still seems like a tall hill to climb, wins over Northwestern, Indiana, and Michigan State don't seem so impossible after Saturday's results.

Also known as The Nathan Scheelhaase Show, starring Nathan Scheelhaase.  Scheelhaase had by far the best game of his young career: 16/20, 195 yards, 4/0 TD/INT, plus 21 carries for 118 yards rushing.  That's a tremendous day's work by any standards, and doubly so when you're talking about a redshirt freshman.  While we still hate Scheelhaase for spurning his Iowa legacy ties to suit up in orange and blue for the Zooker, talent like that deserves nothing but respect.  Frankly, we're not too upset that Iowa doesn't play Illinois this year -- or the next two years, for that matter, meaning that it's entirely possible that Iowa could miss the entirety of Scheelhaase's Illini career.  Meanwhile, Illinois remains on pace for the most surprising turnaround of the season in Big Ten-land (a 9-3 regular season isn't at all impossible, with games left against Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Fresno State, though all but the Minny game are on the road); amazing what happens when you surround the Zooker's obviously talented recruits with good coaches.  On the other hand, that means we could be headed for Ron Zook, Big Ten Coach of the Year for the second time in four years -- and if that doesn't chill your blood a little, you're clearly an evil cyborg bent on the total annihilation of the human race.  Oh, and Purdue?  Still sucks.

First, the good news: halfway through the first quarter, Minnesota had the game tied up at 7-7.  Then the bad news: the rest of the game happened.  Ohio State rattled off 24 unaswered points and 45 of the final 48 points scored in the game and that was that.  Terrelle Pryor proved once again that he can abuse bad defenses (18/22, 222 yards, 2/1 TD/INT, 55 yards and a touchdown on five carries), and he was ably assisted by Dan Herron (17-114-1) on the ground.  Adam Weber proved once again that he is not good (9/20, 162 yards, 0/1 TD/INT), but the Gophers are sticking with him anyway, god bless 'em.  It would be a goddamn shame if the Iowa defense didn't get one final crack at Weber.  On the other hand, if he did get benched and didn't play the rest of the season, we wouldn't have to deal with the ignominy of him moving past Chuck Long on the Big Ten's all-time passing yards list (he's currently at 10,361, while Long is at 10,461).  It's bad enough that Long's already been passed by two guys from OMHR (Drew Brees and Curtis Painter) and a dude from jNW (Brett Basanez); at least they were all actual good college quarterbacks.  Weber's numbers are the product of little more than 12-game seasons, the general trend towards increased passing in the modern game, and his own ability to stay healthy.

just NORTHWESTERN 20, INDIANA 17 (coverage)
Yet again, these two teams played a close game (the last seven meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less). Yet again, they confounded expectations -- both teams have fairly lousy pass defenses and prolific quarterbacks, so naturally it turned into a defensive cripplefight and the lowest scoring Big Ten game of the day (in fact, four Big Ten teams scored as many or more points by themselves than these two teams scored together).  Yet again, these teams proved that a close game does not necessarily mean a good game; this game was nigh-unwatchable, unless you like watching overthrown passes, dreadful red zone offense, and a bag full of penalties.

The three big takeaways from this game?  One, jNW QB Dan Persa (aka, pretty much their entire offense this season) left with a concussion and if he's forced to miss any time, they're probably in deep shit.  Two, jNW did find a capable running game in this game (Mike Trumpy logged 110 yards on 21 carries), but before we get too excited, let's remember that he did it against the hapless Indiana defense.  Three, Indiana's hopes of making a bowl are officially on life support; coming into the season, their games against Illinois and Northwestern looked like two of their best shots at getting the two Big Ten wins they need to go bowling -- they lost both.  Now they're going to have to take the Old Oaken Bucket game against Purdue -- and get an upset along the way (Iowa, Penn State, and Wisconsin are their next three foes).  It's not impossible, but they may want to start getting comfortable with their couches anyway.