We already know just how unlikely Nebraska’s win over Purdue was from a couple of different angles. Now let’s do the same for the rest of the Big Ten slate from the weekend, a weekend in which a team from the West finally got a decent win over a team from the East. Good job, Northwestern.
Wisconsin 24 Illinois 10: The Badgers meandered along for a two-touchdown win over the prep school Lovie Smith has built in Champaign this season. (That’s not a dig, more just a acknowledgement of the insane amount of freshmen Illinois is playing in 2017.) The total yards here were pretty even (303/286) as were first downs (19/17). Where the game changed was in scoring territory. The Illini made five trips to the Badgers’ four, but averaged just two points to Wisconsin’s six. Illinois had chances to keep an upset bid alive and came up empty way too often. What’s that say about Wisconsin? Not sure in a big-picture sense, but the 14-point margin in this game wasn’t very fluky.
Michigan 35 Rutgers 14: After getting shut out against Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State last year, Rutgers finally got on the board against one of the teams from the top half of the East. It’s about all the Knights got as Michigan dominated almost every other facet. The Wolverines made a switch at quarterback and Brandon Peters did the job, going 10-for-14 for 124 yards and a touchdown. Michigan now has games against Minnesota and Maryland to gear back up for a season-ending swing that includes a trip to Wisconsin and then The Game in the the Big House. It’s possible that the young Wolverines could be playing their best football by that point.
Ohio State 39 Penn State 38: You’ve probably seen this from the marquee game of the weekend, but Ohio State had a huge yards-per-play edge in this game (6.8/4.4) and was by far the more efficient offense(48% success rate/29%). The Buckeyes had to rally, however, because Penn State a) got a special-teams touchdown, b) won the turnover battle (+2), c) averaged more than six points when it crossed the Buckeyes’ 40-yard line and d) the refs (at least if you ask Ohio State fans). Penn State’s playoff hopes could be in trouble. The Nittany Lions face Michigan State next week, but that one is somewhat diminished, then finish with Rutgers, Nebraska and Maryland. Wins in any of those three games isn’t really moving the needle much, so the Nittany Lions need help. Also of note: Saquon Barkley now ranks third in the Big Ten in rushing behind Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins, and fourth when you limit it to conference games only. Barkley, considered by many the Heisman frontrunner, has rushed for 75 yards or less this season against Ohio State, Northwestern, Indiana and Georgia State. Nine running backs in the Big Ten are averaging more than Barkley's 5.8 yards per carry.
Northwestern 39 Michigan State 31: It took three overtimes, but the West Division finally got a decent win over the East. Michigan State got a pretty good offensive game (6.2 ypp) against a pretty solid defense. Northwestern came away with a win by making more of fewer scoring opportunities and sealed it with an overtime interception to finish plus-one in turnover margin. Worth noting here as the Wildcats come to Lincoln this week: The Spartans attempted 49 passes in this one prior to overtime. It was tough sledding on the ground for both teams.
Maryland 42 Indiana 39: Maybe I’m just wrong on Indiana, but the Hoosiers are now 0-5 in Big Ten play and I don’t feel like they’ve been bad. And they weren’t in this one either. Indiana had 35 first downs, the two teams had the same success rate (33%) and the turnover battle was a draw. So how did the Terps get it done? As is common for Maryland, a slight edge in explosive plays. The Terps had 10 to the Hoosiers' eight and six of those 10 came on the ground.
Iowa 17 Minnesota 10: Iowa and Minnesota played an Iowa-Minnesota game. The two teams combined for 65 yards more (596) than Ohio State put up on its own against Penn State. The Hawkeyes got a little unlucky on the turnover front but won in scoring territory, had a tiny field-position edge and was much more efficient in the passing game. Minnesota needs two wins to become bowl eligible and has games against Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin left. It’s possible that P.J. Fleck’s first season will end with the Gophers going 1-8 in conference play with the lone win over Illinois.
The Grab Bag
- Florida brass saw an opening and effectively forced Jim McElwain out on Sunday. It looks like a huge financial win for the Gators. And, yes, Scott Frost is showing up on every potential candidates list.
- Nebraska made ESPN's weekly (and quite slick) countdown of the plays that swung Saturday.
- Good read from Mitch Sherman on Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell.
- ICYMI: You can find all of our coverage from the Purdue game here.
Today's Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.