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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?  

#23 Michigan State 28, #11 Michigan 14
The Michigan State defensive plan for containing Denard Robinson: hit him, hit him again, and then hit him a third time (even if the play is technically "over").  If you can get away with twisting his facemask while in a pile, even better!  (Don't forget to throw a throatpunch or two at his teammates, too; football's a team sport, after all.)  Penalties, schmenalties (13 for 124 yards, in case you were wondering.)  But decry the legality or ethics of Sparty's approach all you like -- you can't really deny that it was very effective.  Michigan State held Michigan to 250 total yards of offense, the lowest output of the Denard Robinson era at Michigan and their lowest output period since the 2009 Penn State game.  Michigan State's success at curtailing Michigan on the ground (36 carries for 82 yards and 1 TD, including 42 yards and 1 TD on 18 carries for Denard) was critical, since it forced Michigan to pass the ball a lot and -- surprise! -- Denard wasn't very good at that (9/24, 123 yards, 1/1 TD/INT).  The Michigan State defense was so good on Saturday that it hardly needed any help from Michiga -- but they got it anyway, thanks to a rotation pattern between Robinson and QB2 Devin Gardner that could best be described as "curious" and some playcalling that was downright insipid (see: the play-action pass on 4th-and-inches from the MSU 9).

For their part, the Spartan offense was aggressively okay: Kirk Cousins had a fairly forgettable day (13/24, 120 yards, 2/0 TD/INT), but, hey, he can say that he never lost to Michigan, which is something not many multi-year Sparty QBs can say.  Fortunately, MSU didn't need too much out of him Saturday because the running game was humming: Edwin Baker and 167 yards and 1 TD on 26 carries and as a team the Spartans ran for 213 yards on 39 carries.  That and a hard-hitting (and, to be sure, cheapshot-friendly) defense was plenty for a Michigan team that's still more finesse than ferocity, which is why The Paul Bunyan Trophy will reside in East Lansing for the fourth-straight year.  Now we'll see how Sparty's smashmouth approach does against the biggest, baddest team on the block (Wisconsin).

Ohio State 17, #16 Illinois 7
Well that's one solution to getting around the problem of not being a very good passing team: just don't pass.  At all.  Ohio State, having been BAUSERMAN'D to feeble, impotent defeat in road games against Miami and Nebraska and dealing with a slightly hobbled Braxton Miller (a better runner than passer anyway) at quarterback, opted for a throwback gameplan that emphasized the run, although saying that they "emphasized the run" my be underselling it.  They had 55 offensive plays on Saturday.  They ran the ball on 51 of those offensive plays.  Yes, a team won a 2011 Big Ten football game despite passing the ball just four times and completing one pass (albeit for a 17-yard touchdown).  They weren't even particularly outstanding at running the ball.  Those 51 carries went for 211 yards (4.1 ypc) and 1 TD.  It was enough, though, particularly with a defense that managed to put a stranglehold on Nathan Scheelhaase (20/34, 169 yards, 1/2 TD/INT; 49 rushing yards on 16 attempts) and the rest of the Illini offense. Super-duper receiver A.J. Jenkins had 8 catches, but for only 80 yards, far below his usual big play standards. 

But Ohio State also benefited from some classic Ron Zook coaching: he punted from the Ohio State side of the field three times (including once on 4th and 4 from the OSU 32) and, in the dumbest moment of the day, opted to go for it on 4th and 3 from the OSU 17, down 10 with a little over a minute to go.  It's nice to be reminded that at the end of the day Ron Zook is still Ron Zook and he will still do fundamentally Ron Zook things.  Adjust your season expectations for Illinois as needed.

#4 Wisconsin 59, Indiana 7
It took ten minutes for the Badges to get on the board against lowly Indiana, but once they broke the seal the points really started flowing.  They scored 38 points in the final twenty minutes of the first half and put the game on ice.  Russell Wilson did normal Russell Wilson things (12/17, 166 yards, 1/0 TD/INT) and abnormal Russell Wilson things (1 catch, 25 yards, 1 TD), while Montee Ball just did a little bit of everything: 14 carries, 142 yards, 3 TD; 1 catch, 46 yards; 1/1 passing, 25 yards, 1 TD.  Wisconsin scored in all three phases of the game (in addition to the six offensive touchdowns they had, they tacked on a punt return for a score and a fumble recovery in the end zone for more touchdowns) and generally did whatever they felt like doing -- same as every other game this year, really.  Indiana found some success on the ground (45 carries, 223 yards, 1 TD), although minus one freakish 64-yard touchdown run, their results weren't too impressive.

How Low Can Minnesota Go? is on hiatus this week since the Gophers were on bye, so let's check in on our favorite octogenarian head coach's charges:

Penn State 23, Purdue 18
Penn State's inexorable transformation into Iowa 2009 continues apace.  Really good defense?  Check.  Shaky offense?  Check.  Inability to play anything but close-ish games?  Check.  Whether it was a hangover from them getting the Iowa monkey off their collective back a week ago or just their inherent tendency to play teams close, Penn State just couldn't shake OMHR on Saturday.  In fact, if not for some unusually poor kicking by normally reliable Purdue kicker Carson Wiggs (he missed a field goal in the first quarter and an extra point in the third quarter and booted one kickoff out-of-bounds), Purdue might have been tied -- or even winning -- in the fourth quarter, necessitating a game-winning drive from Matt McGloin or Robert Bolden.  Yeah, they're still playing both guys; no, they're still not that good.  Mattbert McGLOLden went 10/23 for 185 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT on Saturday.  That Silas Redd fellow is still pretty good, though: 131 rushing yards and 1 TD on 28 carries. 

NEXT: Wisconsin finally plays an opponent with a pulse -- and ventures further than three hours away from Madison -- when they head to East Lansing to play the mean old Spartans in primetime; Minnesota welcomes Nebraska to the Big Ten by letting them run all over the Gophers; Northwestern tries to avoid a third-straight primetime loss as they entertain Penn State (PROTIP for jNW: JoePa likes a good floor show); and Illinois tries to avoid a patented Zooker death spiral by heading to West Lafayette to play the dreaded feared mostly forgotten Boilermakers.