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Sunday Morning Coming Down // Week 9

How 'bout them Zebras?

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Like a fine meal, Week 9 offered something for everybody. An appetizer of upset in the West, a main course of total domination, and a sweet-n-sour nail biter for dessert. If you're a Buckeye fan or a Nittany Lions backer, your heart rate is probably just now returning to normal. No matter where your allegiances lie, you likely know more than ever where your team fits in the B1G pecking order. If your heart is tied to Maryland or Rutgers, I'm sorry.


Wave Tops...

1. The announcer's description of Michigan's "four play drive covering no yards" may well end up being the explanatory footnote on Brady Hoke's Michigan tenure.

2. When it comes to dimensions on offense, two are better than one. Minnesota has learned that the hard way.

3. Gray uniforms looked better than anyone would've thought, as did the team inside them.

4. Rutgers' hopes of winning another game this season look bleaker than last week, and they weren't good then.

5. Michigan State's offense seemed very mortal against the UM defense for the first half. The Sparty defense was unrelenting until the late going. Right now, that looks to be enough.

6. Penn State's defense played their best game of the season last night, by far. The only thing holding them back is their nearly complete ineptitude on the other side of the ball.

7. J.T. Barrett has come a very long way since the night loss against VT. J.T. Barrett still has a very long way to go.

8. B1G officials are the most embarrassing thing about B1G football.

9. The East has collapsed into the worst possible caricature of itself, consisting of a great team, a good team, and four teams desperately awaiting basketball season. I don't know what Rutgers has to look forward to.

10. The Spartans uncharacteristically drove for a capstone touchdown in the waning moments of the game. Word around the B1G is that Michigan players placed some sort of spear in the S at midfield (why would they have a spear?). Whatever happened, it clearly led to a continuation of Dantonio's "F*** me? No, f*** you!" policy toward the University of Mike Hart.

Bonus: Hugh Freeze for the B1Ggest moment of the week.

Double Bonus: PSU fans have upped the ante in the Worst Fans Ever race, after it was revealed that a group showed up outside OSU's hotel at 4 AM with air horns. Stay classy, State College.


The Deep Dive...

Rutgers at Nebraska. Once again it's the same two words, over and over like a ceaseless drumbeat: Ameer Abdullah. It's hard to find much else to talk about when the young man amasses yards by the hundreds. This game marked the first meeting of Nebraska and Rutgers since 1920, and the 94-year layoff did little to change the Scarlet Knights' fortunes. Abdullah was his usual electric self, racking up 341 all-purpose yards and generally juking defenders out of their undershorts. Rutgers did their level best to stay in it, thanks to Nova's throwing and Caroo's catch and scamper. But Scarlet lost the battle in the trenches on both sides, and with that went Rutgers' chances of stopping Big Red. The loss of Nova for the second half only exacerbated the issues, though backup QB Laviano did yeoman's service under center for a kid who had thrown only four passes in his career. They both wear red, but these two teams are on very different arcs. Rutgers next up: Wisconsin.  Nebraska next up: Purdue.


Maryland at Wisconsin. Normally I'd say just reread the recap above and swap "Melvin Gordon" for Abdullah, but Wiscy surprised us today with their decent rendition of a passing game. Stave went 9-of-15 for 155 yards and two (count ‘em two) TDs through the air. With a 24-0 halftime lead, thanks in part to a fake punt jump pass (you read that right), the Badgers were rolling before the Terps realized what was unfolding around them. Probably the most interesting stat is the the longest TD run of the day belongs to Tanner McEvoy and not to his famous running backs. All told, neither of the B1G's new additions enjoyed their trips to the great Middle West. Maryland next up: at Penn State.  Wisconsin next up: at Rutgers.


Minnesota at Illinois. It's the Great Gophering, Charlie Brown. That was just bad, all around. I don't mean to be unduly harsh on Illinois, but in all fairness the Illini have been fairly awful against teams that look like Minnesota, giving up 270+ on the ground. Something just didn't click today in the Gopher running game. That something probably had to do with the 7 or 8 gray ghosts of Illinois' past stacking the box and daring the Gophers to throw the ball. Even when Lender and company did get something going on offense, the Minnesota defense appeared to still be somewhere at MSP, waiting for their flight to Champaigne. Reilly O'Toole looked like a man possessed, running the read option against a confused Gopher defense with a masterful hand, and backing it up with a 14-of-21 passing campaign that, while not Heisman material, was more than the Gopher defense could bear. A scoop & score off a David Cobb fumble sealed the deal for the Illini. The Gophers' truly one-dimensional offense got thoroughly exposed in this game. While Leidner amassed 240 yards passing, he completed only 12 of his 30 attempts. You can't sustain drives or make a desperate comeback with numbers like that. Minnesota next up: Iowa.  Illinois next up: at Ohio State.


Michigan at Michigan State. On a positive note, this was the first time in seven fights for the Paul Bunyan Trophy that Michigan didn't score fewer points against Sparty than they did the previous year. That's where the positives end if you're a Blue backer, so take it in. The UM defense started out playing hard-nosed ball, making MSU fight for every yard. That couldn't last, especially in light of Devin Garnder's inability to hold onto the ball or to keep his defense off the field. Slowly, surely, like the grinding of a glacier, the MSU offense took control of the game and tilled the Wolverine defense under. Connor Cook was a pedestrian 12-of-22, but he averaged 10 yards per completion and didn't surrender the ball. Devin Gardner was just the opposite, coughing the ball up three times, including a crushing pick-six in the early going. By any measure, Devin Gardner seems to be a model scholar-athlete and an outstanding young man in all the ways we hope our football players could and would be. He's just not a good quarterback. In the grand scheme of life, that's probably a good thing. Either way, Mr. Bunyan can see the future as well as anyone and is now looking for a condo to lease with an option to buy in East Lansing. Michigan next up: Indiana.  Michigan State next up: Bye.


Ohio State at Penn State. I said in my picks that I hate night games in Happy Valley, and if nothing else I feel venerated by this pitched battle. Both teams played masterfully at times, and pitifully at others. The first half was a textbook defensive performance by Ohio State, holding the Nittany Lions to almost no appreciable offense. The Nittany Lions vaunted defense showed flashes of brilliance, but it was clear they'd not made their bacon against truly competent rushing teams. The PSU defense came into the game allowing 60 yards on the ground per outing. By then end of the 1st quarter, the Buckeyes had 84, enroute to 219 on the day (some statistical allowance must be made for the extra 2 series in OT). Nonetheless, the Buckeyes only averaged 3.8 yards per carry. Not amazing, but almost 4 yards per touch should win any ballgame. The second half, in which J.T. Barrett showed signs of injury to his knee, was all Penn State. To the glee of Todd Blackledge, Penn State battled back to tie the ball game on a late FG. Despite the giant swing in momentum, the Lions would ultimately be crushed in the second overtime by a combination of Barrett running forward and Joey Bosa driving blockers back. For many, the real highlight of this game was the abysmal officiating. Beyond abysmal, really. OSU was awarded a phantom interception due to a replay malfunction. PSU had two drives sustained by laughably bad roughing the passer calls. The piece de resistance was the goat-rope coin toss scene at the opening of overtime, which occurred fully mic'd for maximum cringe value. Ohio State is clearly the better team, though the fact that the Buckeyes made only two attempts to go deep against a PSU defense missing its senior starting safety leaves one to wonder exactly what was going on with Urban's team. OSU next up: Illinois.  PSU next up: Maryland

Also next week...

Northwestern at Iowa

In conclusion, it's becoming increasingly clear to this reporter that something has to be done about the state of officiating in the Big Ten. The cause of just and righteous football is no longer being served by the performance of this collection of brain-damaged drifters the league is dressing in stripes week in and week out. I'm sure Jim Delany will get right on it.