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Wha Happened? Week Eight Around the Big Ten

Recapping the week that was in Big Ten football. In which no lead was safe. (Except a 24-0 halftime lead. That was pretty safe. Sigh.)


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?

NOTE: This post always discusses the rest of the teams in the Big Ten, not Iowa. So, no, Iowa is not featured in this week's Dumpster Fire Scale of Competitive Suckitude. I think we can all probably guess where they'd land if they were included, though. Anyway.



Honestly, other than Iowa's no-show performance this week, no one else really had a complete debacle of a game in the Big Ten, which is why we're leaving the four and five dumpster fire categories empty this week. Three of the other four Big Ten meetings that lost this weekend blew fourth-quarter leads, which is pretty bad, but those blown leads also came against teams better than them (yes, I do think Navy is better than Indiana). Purdue takes top (dis)honors for blowing a game that Ohio State practically served up on a silver platter to the Boilermakers. Purdue had an extra point blocked (bit costly, that, in a game they lost after a TD and two-point conversion attempt in the final two seconds of regulation sent the game to OT), had a 34-yard field goal blocked (and missed another 50-yard field goal), threw an interception in the OSU end zone, and gave up a 61-yard game-tying drive with 0:47 left to OSU's back-up quarterback. This was an eminently winnable game... and Purdue just pissed it all away. A win over Ohio State might have been the sort of thing to turn around Purdue's season or at least provide a signature win that Danny Hope could cling to this off-season. Alas, a loss like this just draws us ever-nearer to The Final Shave.


jNW led by 12 points (28-16) with a touch over 8 minutes to play in Saturday's game. How'd they lose? Well, letting Taylor Martinez go 27/39 for 342 yards and 3 TD (and zero INT) would be a good place to start. Holy hell, jNW, is your pass defense bad. Maybe that's the result of practicing week in and week out against the worst passing offense in the Big Ten; this is the opposite of iron sharpening iron -- two dull spoons grinding away to make something even duller. Watching Martinez dissect the jNW secondary must have been particularly painful with Wildcat quarterback Trevor Siemian looking so hapless: 15/35 for 116 yards, 2 TD, and a yards-per-attempt average so ghastly (3.3) that even James Vandenberg would recoil in horror. Frankly, it's a wonder that this game was as close as it was; Nebraska gained over 500 yards of offense but could only turn that production into 29 points -- that's a lot of wasted yards.



Speaking of that game... kudos to Ohio State for rallying to a win (especially behind their second-string quarterback), but holy hell was that damp squib of a performance. Purdue had countless chances to hit Ohio State with a potential kill-shot (see above); they just kept shooting themselves in the foot instead. Braxton Miller had a sub-par game going even before he got injured (9/20, 113 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT; 12 carries, 47 yards, 1 TD), but outside of Carlos Hyde (19 carries, 91 yards, 2 TD) he wasn't getting a ton of help, either. The defense played better than they had in ole performances against Nebraska and Indiana -- Purdue gained only 347 yards -- but they did give up two big plays for touchdowns (an 83-yard touchdown pass and a 31-yard touchdown pass). (The special teams decided to get in on the big play DERP-ness, too -- they gave up a 100-yard kick return touchdown.) Good teams win even when they're playing badly, but Ohio State has been playing with fire lately against Purdue and Indiana; keep this up and they seem very likely to get burned eventually.


It's hard to play right,
with a true freshman quarterbaby back,
But there's this big Ax,
So we'll win it, maybe?

Better luck next year, Minnesota. (Or maybe you'll just run your streak of futility against Wisconsin to an even decade, which would be the longest winning streak for one team in the history of the series. Wisconsin's current streak of nine wins ties a nine-game winning streak Minnesota put together from 1933 to 1941.) WIth MarQueis Gray out again with a sprained ankle and Max Shortell out with a sprained neck, Minnesota handed over the keys to the offense to true freshman Philip Nelson, which went about as well as you might expect. Although Nelson didn't do terribly: he went 13/24 for 149 yards, 2 TD, and 2 INT (along with 67 yards on 16 carries). The Gophers again got overwhelmed on the ground: after giving up 177 yards to Mark Weisman in their B1G opener and 182 yards to jNW's Venric Mark last week, they conceded a whopping 337 rushing yards to the Badgers. Montee Ball ran for 166 yards and 2 TD on 24 carries, while his back-up (James White) went for 175 yards and 3 TD on just 15 carries. Safe to say they have a pretty big issue stopping the run.

This week's home game with Purdue looms large for the Gophers: their four remaining games after that are home games with Michigan (also their last chance to claim a trophy this season) and Michigan State and road games at Illinois and Nebraska. The Illinois game should be very winnable, but they'll need to grab one more to get bowl eligible and the game against Purdue looks like the most winnable by far.


Halfway through the season, Michigan State already has three conference losses and their hopes of making a second-straight trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game are on life support. Those three losses have come by a combined six points -- Sparty has mastered the art of losing heartbreakers in 2012. Aside from one half against Indiana, the Spartan defense has generally lived up to the hype this year -- only two teams (Indiana and Notre Dame) have put 20 or more points on them and in their three recent Big Ten losses, they've given up just 17, 19 (in 2OT), and 12 points. Those are winning performances, to be sure. Or rather, they would be if Michigan State had a decent offense. Sparty has scored more than 20 points just three times all year -- and two of those games were against directional Michigans. (And the other was against Indiana, whose defense has been good for what ails opposing offenses all season.) Against defenses with a pulse, MSU has been able to muster only 62 points total. Andrew Maxwell sputtered against Michigan -- 21/34, 192 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT -- and Le'Veon Bell was really held in check: 26 carries for 68 yards (a pitiful 2.6 yards per carry) and 0 TD, with a long run of... 8 yards. This Spartan defense is probably top 10-caliber. Unfortunately, the Spartan offense is bottom 10-caliber. Which is probably why Michigan State finds itself .500 two-thirds of the way through the season.


Like Northwestern, Indiana also took a two-score lead in the fourth quarter over their opponent this week. Like Northwestern, they also lost by one point. D'oh. Indiana actually did a decent-ish job of keeping Navy's offense in check -- they gained just 353 yards -- but some costly errors (most notably, a 24-yard pick-six late in the second quarter after the Hoosiers had opened up a 17-7 lead) did them in. Indiana has blown leads in four of their last five games (all losses), including a pair of late leads against Ball State and Navy. They just can't get over the hump and figure out how to finish games. On one hand, it's easy to chalk that up to a young team figuring out how to compete. On the other hand... this is also Indiana's ninth loss by 8 points (i.e., one score) or less over the last two seasons -- this is starting to seem like a trend in the Kevin Wilson Era.



The bad news? QB Joel Stave had a pretty forgettable day: 7/15 for 106 yards. The good news? Wisconsin is back to making QB play functionally irrelevant. Who cares what your QB does when you can get two running backs going for over 150 yards apiece? As noted above, Montee Ball and James White (and the Wisconsin offensive line that was blocking for them) flattened the Gophers on Saturday: Ball had 166 yards and 2 TD, while White had 175 yards and 3 TD. Granted, not every opponent will be as easy to steamroll as the Gophers so they'll probably need more out of Stave and the passing game at some point, but for now? This is old-school Wisconsin football and it's working beautifully. The troubles of September look a long, long way away for the Badgers at the moment.


Who likes playing against just Northwestern? Taylor Martinez, that's who. Two of the four best passing performances of his career have come against the Wildcats. Last year, T-Magic lit up the jNW secondary to the tune of 28/37 for 289 yards and 2 TD (no interceptions), albeit in a losing effort. This year, T-Magic went 27/39 for 342 yards and 3 TD (again, no interceptions). Martinez completed 69% of his passes against jNW this year -- and his career completion percentage against them went down. Of course, but for two fourth quarter scoring drives, that performance (and the 500+ yards of offense Nebraska put up on the Wildcats) would have gone for naught. But Martinez came through in the clutch and grabbed a conference road win (even if it's a little less impressive to win on the road when 2/3 of the fans in attendance are yours -- he didn't exactly have to triumph over a hostile environment on Saturday) when Nebraska absolutely had to have it to keep within touching distance of Michigan in the Leaders division race. Rex Burkhead left the game with a mystery injury, but Ameer Abdullah proved to be an able fill-in (19 carries, 101 yards). Even the much-maligned Nebraska defense actually looked fairly Blackshirt-y in holding Northwestern to just 301 yards of offense Saturday.


As bad as the Michigan State offense was on Saturday, the Michigan offense wasn't much better -- they went for just 326 yards and all 12 of their points came on field goals (Brandon Gibbons made all three of his attempts and Matt Wile added a 48-yard make). But the day was won by the Michigan defense, undressed by Alabama at the start of the year but one of the league's -- and maybe even nation's -- best now. Since giving up 66 points combined to Alabama and Air Force to open the year, Big Blue's defense has given up just 59 points over their next five games. That's pretty stingy. It's fitting, too, that defense led the way for Michigan's first win over Michigan State in five tries, since one of the main culprits in those four straight losses to "little brother" had been flimsy defenses that had been blown apart.

NEXT WEEK: Michigan and Nebraska compete for primacy in the Legends division, Ohio State and Penn State compete in the Ineligi-Bowl (and for primacy in the Leaders division), Purdue and Minnesota lock horns in a crucial battle for bowl eligibility, Michigan State and Wisconsin renew one of the Big Ten's best recent rivalries (albeit with almost nothing on the line for either team), Iowa and just Northwestern attempt to rebound from painful losses, and Indiana and Illinois battle for the distinction of being the Worst in the Big Ten.