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Wha Happened? Week Eleven 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?

#19 Nebraska 17, #12 Penn State 14
If the quality of a Big Ten game is measured by the number of punts it contains (with more punts meaning more quality, naturally, since PUNTING IS WINNING), then this game was practically an instant classic.  These teams combined to punt fifteen times.  And yet despite punting seven times, Penn State still managed to gain almost 400 yards (375).  Go figure.  The Ginger Avenger had a very Matt McGloin-y day (16/34 for 193 yards), although he did manage to avoid any interceptions.  Forgotten man Stephon Green was surprisingly the most effective running back for PSU (17 carries, 71 yards, 2 TDs), but his day was topped by Nebraska's Rex Burkhead, who used his grittiness and deceptive athleticism to pick up 121 yards and and a touchdown on 25 carries.

This was a surprisingly close game; given the mind-bending events of last week at Penn State, I figured there were only ways the game could go: Penn State would pour their hearts and souls into the game and play the most inspired sixty minutes of their lives, blowing Nebraska off the field or Penn State would be so broken-hearted and distracted that Nebraska would torch them.  It looked like the latter might happen when Nebraska opened a 17-0 lead midway through the third quarter, but Penn State scraped and clawed their way to two touchdowns and had a pair of chances late in the fourth quarter to either tie or win the game.  Ultimately, it was the sort of close, hard-fought game I would have expected out of these teams before the mother of all distractions happened.  I have no idea what -- if anything -- that means. 

Purdue 26, Ohio State 23 (OT)
A week ago, Purdue got eradicated by Wisconsin, 62-17.  So naturally they'd bounce back and beat an Ohio State team that had appeared to be getting their shit together after struggling through the early part of the season, right?  Hell no Right.  Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve tag teamed the quarterback spot to the tune of 25/37 and 234 yards, with just one interception (Marve also added a rushing touchdown), while (King) Ralph Borden added 80 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries on the ground.  Meanwhile, the Boilermaker defense put the clamps on a Buckeye rushing attack that had gone hog wild against Indiana (three 100+ rushing performances); OSU gained just 163 yards on 47 carries here and no one came close to 100 yards.  Braxton Miller made a few plays through the passing game (8/18, 132 yards, 2 TD), including a game-tying touchdown pass off a wild scramble with under a minute to go.  But all credit to Purdue, who rose up after that play to block the ensuing extra point and then held Ohio State to a field goal in overtime.  They played their little train-shaped hearts out Saturday and were deserved winners.  And that's the last nice thing I'll say about them for the rest of the week.  #THERIVALRY

#24 Michigan 31, Illinois 14
I would really like to take back all of those nice things I said about Ron Zook and the Illini a few months ago.  What a goddamn mess.  Saturday's loss was their fourth straight and they're staring at five in a row with Wisconsin coming to town this week.  The only thing standing between them and a season-ending six-game losing streak (taste that momentum, bowl selection committees!) is a road trip to an occasionally frisky Minnesota team in the finale.  The Zooker seemed to have locked down his job security after opening the season 6-0 and getting pundits all hot and bothered with "Boy howdy, look at Illinois!" stories, but this losing streak could definitely get his hot seat re-ignited.  As for the game itself, Nathan Scheelhaase (remember when he was the best non-Russell Wilson QB in the league?!) had another miserable day -- 16/31, 170 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 16 carries for 14 yards -- and got absolutely no help from the running game (Illinois combined to run for 37 yards and 2 TDs on 33 carries).  During this four-game losing streak, Scheelhaase hasn't had a QB rating than 114.9 (in their six-game winning streak to start the season he didn't have a QB rating lower than 132.4 and four times had a rating of 180 or better) and has thrown just two touchdowns (to three interceptions).  Michigan, meanwhile, wisely took the ball out of their quarterbacks' hands (Denard and Devin Gardner combined to go 8/15 for 139 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT) and instead settled for handing off to Fitzgerald Toussaint repeatedly.  It was a good plan, since the wily Frenchman went for 192 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.

#18 Wisconsin 42, Minnesota 13
Someday Minnesota will lay hands upon Paul Bunyan's axe again.  Maybe.  Probably.  That day was not meant to be Saturday, though, as Wisconsin scored touchdowns on their first three possessions and on five of their first six and regained control of their destiny in the IlliBuck division race.  Minnesota only managed to score on a fake field goal and on a kickoff return at the start of the second half.  Their offense punted the ball four times and twice turned the ball over (once on downs).  Regrettably, Bret Bielema never once went for two.  Honestly, the biggest question I had coming out of this game was whether Russell Wilson or Montee Ball should be Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.  Wilson padded his league-leading stats with a cool 16/17 for 178 yards and 4 TD (zero INTs) day, while Ball rumbled for 166 yards and 2 TDs on 23 carries (and threw in a 5-yard TD catch for good measure, too).  Honestly, maybe they should just split the honor because they're both having absolutely stunning years.

just Northwestern 28, Rice 6
Did this game really happen?  Did anyone watch it?  Did anyone care?  I suppose jNW fans did.  In any event, the Wildcats pounded the hapless Owls behind career days from Dan Persa (25/32, 372 yards, 4 TD) and Jeremy Ebert (7 catches, 208 yards, 2 TD), preventing mighty Rice from claiming two Big Ten scalps this year (they tripped up Purdue in September).  You could quibble with Northwestern's struggles to run the ball -- 136 yards on 39 carries -- but it really doesn't matter if you can get 400 yards through the air and hold the opponent to 254 yards of offense (and zero points for the first 55 minutes of the game).  If not for three jNW turnovers, this likely would have been even more lopsided.  As it was, the win was Northwestern's third in a row, leaving them primed for bowl eligibility with a win over Minnesota this week.

NEXT: The Big Ten's most contentious rivalry is renewed as Iowa travels to West Lafayette to play Purdue; Northwestern tries to secure bowl eligibility by hosting Minnesota; Michigan State inches closer to clinching the Floyd division by facing Indiana; Wisconsin continues their march toward Indianapolis by trying to add to Illinois' current misery; Penn State attempts to rebound in the IlliBuck Division race by heading to Ohio State; and Michigan hosts Nebraska in the marquee game of the day, with both teams battling to keep afloat in the Floyd division title hunt.