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?
#16 Wisconsin 45, #19 Penn State 7
I've been on record as expecting a Wisconsin win in this game for a while, even after the Badgers dropped back-to-back games against Michigan State and Ohio State and Penn State rattled off a stunning start to Big Ten play. But even I didn't expect a demolition like this. On their first drive of the game, Penn State went 80 yards and scored a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead on Wisconsin. If games were just five minutes long, Penn State would have been your improbable IlliBuck Division winners. Alas, games are not just five minutes long and the remaining fifty-five minutes of this contest did not go well for the Nittany Lions. The 80 yards they gained on that drive were more than a third of their total offense for the game and they didn't even sniff the end zone again. But if their offense had a bad day on Saturday, then their defense had a downright nightmarish day: after forcing a punt on Wisconsin's first drive, they gave up touchdowns on five of the next six Badger drives. The Penn State defense that had been so stout all season was completely and utterly overrun on Saturday: they gave up 450 yards of offense, 27 first downs, and 45 points. They gave up 38 points in their previous three Big Ten games combined and 93 points total in their previous seven Big Ten games. It was utter domination from Wisconsin after those first few minutes.
Russell Wilson had another effortlessly solid game (19/29, 186 yards, 2 TD; 36 yards rushing), but the star of the show was -- who else? -- Montee Ball. He personally lit up the stingy Penn State defense for 156 yards and 4 (!) TDs on 25 carries. He's had an unbelievable season and the fact that he's even within sniffing distance of Barry Sanders' all-time single-season touchdown mark (39; Ball has 34) is staggering. (Even if Ball matches or betters that mark, Sanders' mark will remain more impressive, since he did it in 11 games, while Ball will have taken 14, but still: that's a lot of damn touchdowns. (For the sake of reference, Iowa's career mark for most touchdowns scored is 36, held by Tavian Banks.) Ball and Wilson have combined to form the most fearsome backfield tandem in the Big Ten since... I have no idea, actually. But they have been absurdly, astoundingly productive for the Badgers this year and the biggest reason why they seem like the best team in the league.
#15 Michigan 40, Ohio State 34
It was undeniably the most exciting Big Ten game of the day (if not the most exciting game of the day, period; it was a pretty lackluster slate of games on Saturday) and the most thrilling installment of "The Game" (oh pretension, thy name is OSU-Michigan) since the 2006 barnburner Troy Smith's Buckeyes and Chad Henne's Wolverines. There wasn't nearly as much on the line this year -- just pride, bragging rights, and Michigan's hope at a BCS at-large bid -- but it was thoroughly entertaining all the same. Denard Robinson picked a perfect time to have his finest game of the season (14/17, 167 yards, 3 TD; 26 carries. 170 yards, 2 TD; zero turnovers) while Braxton Miller showed the sort of form (14/25, 235 yards 2 TD, 1 INT; 16 carries, 100 yards, 1 TD) that's sure to terrify Big Ten defenses for the next 2-3 years.
More than any Ohio State-Michigan match in recent memory (well, since the 2006 game at least), this game truly felt like a heavyweight fight, with each team countering a big shot from the other team with one of their own. Michigan never relinquished the lead after going up 9-7 on a safety midway through the first quarter, but they could also never pull away from Ohio State: every time Michigan would tack on another score, Ohio State would respond with a score of their own. It was a hugely entertaining, back-and-forth affair and with the win Michigan not only snapped Ohio State's 7 year pwnage of them, but also kept alive their hopes of snaring a BCS at-large bid next week.
Minnesota 27, Illinois 7
Minnesota's starting to make a nice little habit out of poaching season finale wins from teams that have thrown in the towel on the season. A year ago, the Gophers met a demoralized Iowa squad in the post-Thanksgiving game and snatched a win. This year, Minnesota got to play an even more beleaguered team: an Illinois squad that was (is?) in freefall in the midst of a 6-game losing streak and with a head coach on his last legs. Given those circumstances, it's not exactly a shocker that Minnesota managed to not just beat the but blow their doors off. Still, that does a bit of a disservice to the Gophers, who managed to win two of their final five games and very nearly pulled off a big upset over Michigan State. They dominated this game, mainly thanks to the feet of Marqueis Gray (27 carries, 162 yards, 2 TD) and a surprisingly formidable defense (they held Illinois to 160 total yards and 11 first downs). It was a sad, ignominious way for the Zooker to go out... then again, was there any other way for him to leave? Au revoir, Zooker -- you'll most certainly be missed.
In other news...
#14 Michigan State 31, just Northwestern 17
There was some thought that Michigan State might Clemson themselves here, having already locked up the division title a week earlier. But Sparty had no interest in pratfalls here: MSU jumped out to a 17-3 halftime lead and tacked on additional touchdowns in the second half whenever Northwestern managed to cut the lead to a single score. B.J. Cunningham had himself another McNutt-esque day (6 catches, 120 yards, 2 TD) for MSU, while Dan Persa was again pretty heroic for jNW (23/32, 245 yards, 2 TD). In hindsight, of course, we should have realized that jNW used up all their Wacky Upset Mojo on their nutty win over Nebraska earlier this month; only good Northwestern teams have been able to pull off two of those in one year. This year's jNW is not especially good -- just a thoroughly average 6-6 squad.
Purdue 33, Indiana 25
A real triple-threat win for Our Most Hated Rivals: they regained their beloved Old Oaken Bucket (which really would be a billion times more awesome if it was full of moonshine) from the despicable Hoosiers, earned a sixth win and (in all likelihood) their first bowl bid in three years, and presumably saved Danny Hope's job for at least one more year, guaranteeing us another season of his immaculate lip-warmer. Caleb TerBush had himself a pretty solid day (16/25, 192 yards, 1 TD; 48 yards rushing), but the real hero of the game for the Boilermakers was their rushing game, which gobbled up 292 yards and 2 TDs on 55 carries. BREAKING NEWS: Indiana's rush defense is really shitty. Indiana became the fourth Big Ten team of the 21st century to finish 0-fer in conference play, joining 2003 Illinois, 2005 Illinois, and 2007 Minnesota on that roll of dishonor. This 0-8 performances comes on the heels of back-to-back-to-back 1-7 efforts; from 2008-2011, Indiana has won as many Big Ten games (3) as they did in the entire 2007 season. Oh, Kellen Lewis, where oh where have you gone?
NEXT: Michigan State v. Wisconsin II: THIS TIME IT'S PERSONAL. Or something. I think there's a championship trophy involved. Which isn't really "personal" or anything, but is kind of important. Probably. Maybe. Trophies are kind of gauche, really. I think that's why we don't have any right now. /Iowa hipster fan'd