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Wha Happened? Week Five Around The Big Ten

And on the fifth week, Iowa football did rest.  But the rest of the league did not.  So Wha Happened?

#7 Wisconsin 48, #8 Nebraska 17
Now that is how you initiate a newbie to the club.  Well done, Badgers.  Well done indeed.  At first, this looked like a potential shootout and evidence that either Nebraska was much better than it had looked through the first four weeks... or that Wisconsin was much worse than it had looked.  Nebraska and Wisconsin traded scores early, but after Nebraska opened up a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter, the Badgers hit the turbo button and went into overdrive: they scored 41 of the game's next 44 points, including 31 in a row in the second and third quarters.  The once-vaunted Blackshirts defense reverted to the form that had seen it gashed by the likes of Fresno State and Washington.  Russell Wilson had another fine day at the office -- 14/20, 255 yards, 2/0 TD/INT, plus 32 yards and 1 TD on six carries running the ball -- and cemented his status as the best quarterback in the conference.  James White was unusually ineffective running against Nebraska (26 yards on 11 carries), but Montee Ball more than picked up the slack, with 151 yards and 4 TD on 30 carries.  This Wisconsin offense has everything you could ask for, really: they have an accurate, poised passer who can stretch defenses (Wilson), a bruising running back (Ball), a speedy running back (White), a quality deep threat (Nick Toon), a solid tight end (Jacob Pedersen), and -- oh yeah -- a collection of behemoth offensive linemen opening holes for the running backs and protecting the quarterback.  There might still be a few question marks about their defense (though they largely held Nebraska in check after those early drives), but there shouldn't be any about of their offense.  They're the clear front-runners in the Big Ten this year... and no one else is even close right now.

But whither Nebraska?  The same things that raised red flags early on for them -- Martinez's inaccuracy and tendency to unleash arm punts directly the other team, a surprisingly flimsy defense, a lack of discipline -- led directly to their disemboweling in Madison on Saturday night.  Martinez went 11/22 for 176 yards and threw three hideous interceptions directly to Badger players (which led to 21 Wisconsin points).  The defense was unable to slow Wisconsin down on the ground or through the air.  And they committed 9 penalties for 80 yards.  All of which added up a recipe for abject failure on their introduction into the Big Ten.  The good news is they won't play a team as good as Wisconsin the rest of the way (unless they manage to get back to the Big Ten Championship Game, where they could see Wisconsin again).  The bad news is there are still other teams on the slate who can exploit their weaknesses.  Oh, and that "BIG-TEN-FOOTBALL" chant from the Madison crowd on Saturday night?  Positively sublime.  Excellent job, Badger fans.

Michigan State 10, Ohio State 7
The Penn State-Indiana game (covered down below) was not the only eyerape perpetrated on unsuspecting football fans by Big Ten teams on Saturday; Michigan State and Ohio State endeavored to provide their own brand of surreal awfulness to the mid-afternoon football window.  Michigan State scored on a beautifully-thrown touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to B.J. Cunningham halfway through the first quarter, which was notable for a few reasons: (1) it was one of the only passes thrown all day -- by either team -- that could honestly be called "beautiful" and (2) it was the game's only touchdown (in fact, only points scored) until the fourth quarter.  To a degree, of course, we should tip our hat to the defenses of both teams -- they did play an instrumental role in stifling the opposing offenses and producing the hideous football abomination we saw lurching across the field at the Horseshoe.  I'd give a particular shout-out to the Spartan front seven, who looked quite terrifying in scything through the Buckeye offensive line and laying waste to OSU running backs and quarterbacks.  On the other hand, good defense can only go so far in explaining that disaster.  Kirk Cousins had respectable-looking numbers (20/32, 250 yards, 1/2 TD/INT), but they belie the fact that he threw plenty of seriously ugly passes and had more than a few moments where he seemed to be possessed by a goat with no particular knowledge of how to play football.  As for Ohio State... ye gods.  30 of Ohio State's 64 plays went for zero yards (or lost yards).  They ran the ball 39 times for 35 yards, a ghastly 0.9 ypc average, and went just 12/25 for 143 yards and 1/1 TD/INT passing the ball.  I'm not sure there are words strong enough to describe how godawful their offense appeared in this game.

#24 Illinois 38, just Northwestern 35
PERSASTRONG made his triumphant return to the Purple Kitties as they battled for the coveted LOLHat Trophy and for three quarters things were looking good for the Wizgerald's charges: Persa was 10/14 for 123 yards and 4 TDs and they'd built up a 28-10 lead on the back of some fortuitous Illinois turnovers (and one baffling offensive pass interference call that negated an Illinois score).  Then Nathan Scheelhaase and A.J. Jeknins went into BEAST MODE and things went very sour for jNW.  In their last game, jNW got torched for almost 400 rushing yards by Army's prolific option attack.  They plugged that leak on Saturday (a previously-potent Illinois rushing attack went for just 82 yards on 38 carries), but a brand-new one sprung open: Scheelhaase threw for 391 yards and 3 TD on 21/32 passing.  Jenkins was his favorite target by far, hauling in 12 catches for 268 yards and 3 TD.  You'd think after the first half-dozen catches and 100 yards you might consider double-covering him and making someone else beat you.

And in the realm of truly inexplicable stats, Northwestern dropped to 1-3 under Fitzgerald when they have a 17-point lead.  Maybe that's part of the counter-balance to their obscene good fortune in close games.  Meanwhile, Illinois improved to a gaudy 5-0; two of their next three games are against Indiana and Purdue (albeit on the road), which means the only thing standing between them and an 8-0 record heading into Happy Valley on Halloween weekend is a home date with a dreadful-looking Ohio State squad.  It's the Zooker's world and the rest of us are just staring slack-jawed in disbelief.

Meanwhile, this week's installment of As The Dumpster Fire Burns has some of the Big Ten's worst teams plumbing new depths of wretchedness.

#19 Michigan 58, Minnesota 0
Had Brady Hoke felt like it, I feel confident in saying that he could have ran up 80 on Minnesota in this game.  Michigan had a 38-0 lead at the half and consciously put on the brakes in the second half, scoring just 20 points total and not really trying to be explosive on offense at all.  Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this mauling was that it didn't require a Herculean effort from Denard Robinson at all: The Denard was 15/19 for 169 yards and 2 TD through the air and tacked on 51 yards and 1 TD on six carries on the ground.  Michigan dominated because they did whatever they felt like on offense: 363 yards and 3 TD on 48 carries (a blistering 7.6 ypc) and 18/25 for 217 yards and 3 TD through the air.  Their defense also continued their season-long trend of being able to put the clamps on bad offenses: Minnesota ran just 47 plays (for 177 total yards), had six three and outs, and (by my count) ran just seven plays on the Michigan side of the field.  Holy hell, is Minnesota a bad football team. 

Penn State 16, Indiana 10
Oh god.  All video footage of this game should be magnetically erased, then burnt to ashes.  The ashes should be swept up and locked in a safe and the safe should be buried ten miles underground, with the location of the burial site erased from all records.  In other words: PLEASE OH PLEASE LET US NEVER WATCH THIS GAME EVER AGAIN.  EVER.  While Penn State wound up with some reasonable overall numbers (464 yards of total offense), Mattbert McGLOLden still completed less than 50% of their passes (16/36 overall) and had a 1:1 TD: INT radio and the running game racked up 193 yards -- but took 50 carries to do so.  This is still not a good offense.  Not even close.  The defense is still plenty good, although facing Indiana's toothless attack isn't going to tell us too much about them.  Penn State remains an ugly, confusing mess of a team right now.

Notre Dame 38, Purdue10
Purdue got a last-minute touchdown to crack double figures and make the final score look marginally more respectable, but don't be fooled: they were dominated from the opening whistle by Notre Dame.  Caleb TerBush started the game, but gave way to Robert Marve, who was so ineffective (9/22, 91 yards) that TerBush got another crack in the fourth quarter (where he promptly led Purdue on their lone, meaningless scoring drive).  The Boilermakers couldn't run the ball (27 carries for 84 yards) and couldn't stop Notre Dame from doing whatever they wanted: 551 yards of total offense, including 287 yards and 2 TD on 40 carries on the ground.  More damaging was the fact that their defense couldn't force a single turnover against a Notre Dame team that had been all-too-happy to give the ball away in their first four games.  Purdue also incurred 13 penalties for 118 yards; when a bad football is also an undisciplined football team, you wind up with horrendous results like this one.

NEXT WEEK: At least one of the league's most obnoxious fanbases will be inconsolable after falling to 0-2 when Nebraska entertains Ohio State; just Northwestern tries to prevent their season from slipping farther down the drain by hosting... Michigan?  (gulp); Illinois continues to make Indiana fans pine for Cody Zeller; and Minnesota and Purdue battle over which program is dumpster fire-ier