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Wha Happened? Week Six Around The Big Ten

Recapping the week that was in Big Ten football. Some teams did well! Those teams were not named Nebraska.

Greg Bartram-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

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?



Why not five dumpster fires? After all, giving up 63 points (56 in the final three quarters) and getting completely eviscerated on national television is pretty bad, right? Well, yeah, but a) they were on the road in a very hostile environment (the Horseshoe), and b) they were playing the unquestioned best team in the Big Ten (Ohio State). But this was still a really, really awful performance for the Huskers. The defense, gashed earlier this year by UCLA, gave up 497 yards of offense and 49 of those 63 points (OSU also scored on a pick-six and a punt return touchdown; hard to blame the defense for those). The last time Nebraska had a defense this bad the locals were sharpening up their pitchforks to run Bill Callahan out of town. The Nebraska offense wasn't terrible -- 437 yards and 38 points is a good night's work (although their final touchdown came in garbage time) -- but Taylor Martinez reverted back to his bad old self for much of this game. He threw three interceptions (including one that gave OSU their first points in the game) and by the second half he was in full-on arm-punting mode, shotputting ducks into the middle of the field off his back foot.

But, really, this loss was about the defense. They were absolutely shredded by Ohio State, especially on the ground. The OSU rushing attack was so potent that Braxton Miller only attempted three passes the entire second half. Of course, there's no need to put the ball in the air if they can't stop you on the ground. The good news for Nebraska is that the Big Ten isn't overflowing with potent offenses. On the other hand, it's very easy to see teams like Michigan and Northwestern using this game as a blueprint for how to attack the Nebraska defense -- and being very successful doing so unless Pelini can magic up a better defense in a hurry.



With 15 minutes left in their game with Penn State, just Northwestern looked well on their way to answering their critics and quieting some of the naysayers who had been poking holes in their 5-0 start. After a 75-yard punt return touchdown by Venric Mark at the end of the third quarter, jNW had a 28-17 lead and seemed well on their way to a 6-0 start. Their offense was finally starting to move the ball and their defense was slowing down Penn State's offense -- an offense which didn't seem explosive enough to produce two touchdown drives in the final quarter. Oops. Instead, the Wildcats gave up three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter (though at least one came on a short field after a jNW turnover) and helped make burnish the legend of the Ginger Avenger; Matt McGloin finished the game 35/51 for 282 yards, 2 TDs, and (most impressively) 0 INTs. The 'cats also gave up several yards on the ground (161) and, more than anything, just couldn't get off the field to give their offense more cracks at the PSU defense. Penn State had the ball almost twice as long as Northwestern (a 39:17 to 20:43 edge in time of possession) and ran a staggering 99 offensive plays to Northwestern's 61 plays. It's tough to win in the face of stats like that.


In some ways, this was one of those games that wasn't quite as bad as the final scoreline suggests. Illinois actually led early on (7-0), was tied at halftime (7-7), was close after three quarters (10-7), and even kinda-sorta-maybe in it with 6:24 to go (24-14 Wisconsin). On the other hand, they gave up 427 yards and 31 points to a Badger offense that had ranked among the worst in the nation. They made Joel Stave look like a polished passer and even Montee Ball was made to look like a passable copy of his dominant 2011 self (19 carries, 116 yards, 2 TD). On the other side of the ball, Illinois welcomed back QB Nathan Scheelhaase... which was good, because he accounted for all but 22 rushing yards for the Illini offense. Of course, that offensive output still only amounted to 262 yards (178 passing, 84 rushing), which is not really going to cut it. Ron Zook didn't leave the cupboard bare for Tim Beckman, but his successor seems determined to sink the program to the bottom of the league anyway. Home games with Indiana and Minnesota offer a little hope that they won't go 0-fer in B1G play this year, but four double-digit losses already this year do a lot to throw water on that hope.


So maybe a few blowout wins over flotsam (Eastern Michigan and Eastern Kentucky) and a close loss to Notre Dame are not the stuff of resume gold. Maybe that closer-than-it-should-have-been 51-41 win over Marshall a week ago was an omen. Certainly, giving up 40+ points in back-to-back weeks is not the sort of stat that bodes well for the remainder of a team's season, especially when that defense was supposed to be one of the team's selling points entering the season. They gave up 409 yards of offense (304 yards of which came on the ground) and allowed Michigan to hold onto the ball for 36 minutes. Meanwhile, their own offense (which had helped the Boilermakers score 40+ points in every game against non-Notre Dame competition) shriveled up in a corner and died: 213 yards of offense, 4 turnovers, and a ghastly 1/11 on third downs. Given that this is the Big Ten in 2012, Purdue is still very much alive to represent their division in the Big Ten Championship Game, but they're going to need to improve in a hurry to make that possible.



When is a win not everything it's cracked up to be? When it's a come-from-behind effort by one of the Big Ten's Rose Bowl favorites against one of the Big Ten's cellar dwellers. Granted, Michigan State seems a little worse (and Indiana a little better) than when those labels were applied in the preseason, but still -- if you want to be taken seriously as as Big Ten contender, it does not bode well to dig yourself massive holes against the likes of Indiana. Maybe it was just the hangover effect from last week's dispiriting loss to Ohio State, but Sparty looked awful for most of the first half and was frankly lucky to be down only 27-14 at halftime. To their credit, Michigan State buckled down in a big way in the second half: the defense held Indiana to 37 yards, two first downs, and zero points and the offense rattled off 17 points, but this was still a very shaky performance. Most troubling was the Sparty defense, which was absolutely torched in the first half. We've known for a while that the MSU offense is prone to power outages this year, but the defense was supposed to be what Sparty could hang its hat on. Maybe not.



If there was any lingering doubt about whether or not Ohio State was the Big Ten's best squad, Saturday night should have extinguished that. Ohio State ran over, around, and straight through Nebraska's porous defense on the way to a 63-38 shellacking. Braxton Miller (as always) led the way, with 186 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Carlos Hyde was a more than capable sidekick, too, tacking on 140 yards and four touchdowns on his 28 carries. Miller didn't do much damage with his arm (7/14, 127 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT), but it's kind of unnecessary when his legs are so lethal. At some point, sure, his arm will be tested and OSU will need to win a game with passing proficiency. In the Big Ten's current state, though, that might not be until Ohio State's bowl game next year. Which is to say: he's got time to work on this whole throwing thing. If there was a downside to this deeply satisfying rout for Ohio State, it was probably the defense: they did manage to force three turnovers (including a pick-six) from Nebraska, but until the OSU offense and special teams blew the game wide open at the end of the third quarter, the Nebraska offense was moving the ball well (and scoring) on OSU and keeping the game close. In all, they gave up 38 points and 437 yards, which is not a banner performance.


Now that's how you play off a bye week. Michigan dominated this game from just about the word "go" -- they were up 7-0 after the first quarter, but a pair of touchdowns in the first four minutes of the second quarter really broke things open. Denard Robinson had another middling day passing the ball (8/16, 105 yards, 1 TD), but he had 235 yards rushing (on 24 carries), which kind of made up for the lackluster passing performance. In all, the Wolverines had 304 yards rushing and 409 yards of total offense. That'll do.


The way things look in the Rust Belt Division right now, Wisconsin probably just needs to finish third in order to book a return trip to Indianapolis and have a shot at a third-straight trip to Pasadena. To do that, they probably just need to beat the teams they're supposed to beat (and Purdue, their other challenger for third-place in the Leaders Division). So far, so good. It wasn't a particularly pretty win for Wisco, at least until they busted out three touchdowns in the final quarter to give themselves some breathing room, but the defense played well (good news after they folded down the stretch against Nebraska) and the offense managed to finally get on track a bit. As noted earlier, Stave looked solid (16/25, 254 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) and Montee Ball looked more like his old self than he has all year. Progress!


If only football was a 30-minute game, then Indiana would have notched their first league win since 2010 (Purdue), their first league home win since 2009 (Northwestern), and their biggest overall win in several years. Alas, football is a 60-minute game and the Hoosiers' failure to play in that second half doomed them to yet another league loss. They started brightly -- a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and a 27-14 lead at halftime -- but put on an epic vanishing act in the second half (37 yards, two first downs, zero points). The defense did its part in the collapse, too: after frustrating Michigan State for most of the first half and parts of the third quarter, they fell to pieces late, giving up two touchdowns in the final eight minutes. QB Cameron Coffman was the star of the day for the Hoosiers, going 33/48 for 282 yards and 3 TDs, and overall the Hoosiers look like a far friskier team than they did in Year One of the Kevin Wilson Era. They're going to knock off someone this year in league play -- let's just hope it's not Iowa.


Three weeks ago, Penn State was 0-2 and left for dead. Now, three consecutive wins later, they're clearly the second-best team in the Rust Belt Division and they appear poised to win 8-9 games this year. Wha happened? Well, aside from a unsurprisingly stout (the more some things change in State College, the more at least one thing stays the same), it's down to some surprising performances from the offense. Matt McGloin has transformed from punchline to perhaps the Big Ten's best pure passer (he has over 200 yards more passing than anyone else in the league and a gaudy 12-2 TD-INT ratio), although he'll still always be the Ginger Avenger to us. Allen Robinson is still the best receiver in the league; he leads the Big Ten in catches (41), yards (524), and touchdowns (7). And Zach Zwinak has emerged as a respectable option at running back (28 carries, 121 yards, 1 TD on Saturday; 68 carries, 317 yards, 3 TD for the season). On Saturday, all three of those players came up big for Penn State in their impressive fourth-quarter comeback and the defense bottled up jNW's potent offense. It looks like we're going to have to wait and see if Penn State is headed to a new "dark ages" in upcoming years; based on current results, it sure doesn't look like it's going to happen this year.

NEXT WEEK: Minnesota and just Northwestern try to rebound from their first losses of the season, Purdue and Wisconsin try to lock up a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, Illinois' Tour of Shame hits Ann Arbor, Ohio State bludgeons Indiana, and Sparty entertains Iowa.