Happy Sunday morning, friends of the Empire. For some, this weekend was cause for celebration. For others, it was a waking nightmare of near-epic proportions. By the time you awaken from your slumber to read this fine publication, you will no doubt have seen the tragicomic ending that kept the Paul Bunyan Trophy secure in East Lansing for another year. Those ten seconds of clock time might go down in the annals of the B1G as the most improbable, electrifying finish in the history of the conference. For years hence, that finish will be spoken of in hushed tones over dimly lit tables in dangerous port cities around the world.
Beyond the ending that is sure to become this year's Auburn field goal return, there were a number great matchups around the B1G today. More importantly, the conference still sports three unbeaten teams. Whether your boys got the break or the breaks got your boys this week, it feels great to have multiple marquee matchups in the conference again. The Big Ten is playing some truly solid football this season. It's great for the conference to matter again.
14 B1G Things
1. Somebody pull on Kirk Ferentz's face to make sure it isn't Jim Tressel in disguise.
2. Is there anyone who doesn't think Northwestern was lucky to play Stanford when they did?
3. Wisconsin, it's not polite to play with your food. You're badgers, not cats.
4. This is a rough year to be in the market for a coach to bring to West Lafayette. But needs must, as the Brits say.
5. No lead is safe from Indiana's defense.
6. Rutgers adheres to the time-honored NJ tradition of celebrating fall by overcoming 25-point deficits.
7. The Big House has never been the loudest stadium, but they have "stunned silence" down pat.
8. Can an Australian punter get witness protection? Asking for a friend.
9. When Nebraska decides to stop losing on the last play, they leave no doubt. And they take your furniture, too.
10. Jerry Kill's "resurrection" of Minnesota football looks to mean something like "winning eight games twice."
11. Finally, at long last, Urban may have to confront the fact that Cardale being the better QB in practices only happens in practices.
12. Only UConn and SMU have surrendered more sacks than PSU. On the bright side, PSU fields the nation's sack leader. The yin and yang of the line of scrimmage, my friends.
13. Maryland might want to get Justin Fuente on the horn pronto. Or at least leave a voicemail.
14. Unless something truly unpredictable happens, Iowans might want to start looking at hotel prices in Indy.
The Nitty Gritty
Iowa at Northwestern // Iowa wins 40-10.
The new and improved Kirk Ferentz strikes again, summoning the ghost of Hayden Fry in what is a more emotional matchup than it first appears. Pat Fitzgerald has a special hatred for Iowa from his playing days, and looked poised to perhaps unleash the hounds on the Hawkeyes this season. Instead, the exact opposite happened. Iowa played Kirk's trademark style of run-heavy football, backed by some competent throwing from the banged-up CJ Beathard. The QB better known as Sex Cannon threw for almost 200 yards, connecting on 16 of his 27 attempts. Many (myself included) thought Iowa was doomed early when star runner Jordan Canzeri left with an ankle injury. Iowa didn't miss a beat. Backup Akrum Wadley--who had only carried the ball 8 times this season--put on a clinic against the NW defense. Wadley ran for 204 yards and four TDs, tying a school record. Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson had a day to forget, completing only 48% of his throws. His touchdown strike to cut Iowa's lead in the second quarter was Northwestern's lone endzone drive of the day. This game was all Iowa from bell to bell, and the Hawkeyes now control their own destiny in the West.
alnamiasIV's #HOTTAKE: Iowa played a walk-on and four guards on the O-line, a 3rd-string running back, had a hobbled quarterback, was without its defensive leader, and still torched NU (the No. 8 D in the country) for 40 points. On the road. At NU homecoming. This is getting to feel like one of those weird Iowa seasons (2002, 2004, 2009) where a loss would just feel inconceivable. Oh, and the Hawkeyes' "weak" schedule up to this point, Sagarin rates No. 26 in the country. I still question whether Iowa could compete with the elite (top 5) teams, but it belongs in the top 15, and now it gets a week off for some much needed rest.
LPW's #HOTTAKE: GODDAMN FUCKING BULLSHIT GAME. We couldn't do diddly poo offensively. We couldn't run the ball, we couldn't pass the ball. We got our asses kicked. We gave them the fucking game. I want a new offensive coordinator and a new offensive line coach. Maybe I'll get a grey wig and a blue colts shirt or a saints shirt and be Jim Mora for Halloween.
Iowa next up: BYE | Northwestern next up: at Nebraska
Purdue at Wisconsin // Wisconsin wins 24-7.
The Boilermakers' Season(s) of Woe continues. Wisconsin got off to slow start in this one, and toyed around with Purdue a bit before finally putting the game comfortably out of reach. Purdue's sole scoring drive tied the game at seven apiece in the second quarter. Following a Stave interception that Purdue's Leroy clark took 66 yards the other direction, QB David Blough took a play-action bootleg to the endzone. The deadlock was soon broken by a Wisconsin field goal, and the Boilermaker offense would not manufacture another scoring drive all afternoon.
On the whole, Purdue's offense was an exercise in futility against the Badger defense. Purdue went 4-of-13 on 3rd down conversions, and the offense got almost no breaks on field position. None of that is particularly surprising at this point, but what is startling to most is Wisconsin's inability to establish the run game. Coming into this week, Purdue was surrendering a B1G-worst 215 yards rushing. Wisconsin finished the day with a paltry 96 yards out of its stable of backs. Stave, on the other hand, performed well. The big QB went 30-of-39 for 322 yards and the aforementioned interception. Despite 418 yards of total offense, the Badgers only managed to post three touchdowns, mostly due to red zone mistakes.
Tspeth's #HOTTAKE: No QB IN THE NATION IS GOOD AT LOOKING BAD WHILE COMPLETING 77% OF HIS PASSES FOR 322 YARDS AS JOEL STAVE. Seriously though at one point he was 16-19 for 202 yards and still managed to be looking pretty meh. The defense is great and this team isn't losing with Clement on the field the rest of the regular season.
Wisconsin next up: at Illinois | Purdue next up: BYE
Rutgers at Indiana // Rutgers wins 55-52.
Plucking defeat from the looming jaws of victory seems to be Indiana's bailiwick. Rutgers also has a taste for digging themselves out of holes, one might think. For the second time in as many seasons, the Scarlet Knights came back from a 25-point deficit to beat a B1G opponent. Last year, Maryland felt the wrath. This year, it was the Hoosiers who gift-wrapped a win for the embattled Knights. Indiana held a 52-27 lead late in the 3rd quarter, and that's when the trouble began. After Rutgers' Chris Laviano led his team down the field for a TD, the flood gates opened. Indiana muffed a punt snap (sound familiar?), giving Rutgers a scoop-and-score. Indiana doubled down on the mistakes, with Sudfeld tossing a pick-six and another INT that let Rutgers tie the score at 52. Laviano assembled one final drive to let kicker Kyle Federico put the game away for good. Indiana's seemingly unstoppable offense completely melted down in the fourth quarter. In all honesty, there was almost no defense to be found all afternoon. Both Sudfeld and Laviano put up insane numbers--424 and 386 yards respectively. Both offenses ended in 600-yard territory. Neither defense had much to offer, but mistakes made Rutgers the improbably victors.
Ray Ransom's #HOTTAKE: This game saved Kyle Flood's job. The past 6 quarters of Rutgers football have been some of the most exciting that we've ever played, despite incredible personnel losses, the likes of which I've certainly never seen. Losing your boat offensive player (Carroo, 3rd quarter), your best 2 defensive players (Hamilton, Longa), and 4 members of your secondary and still scoring some of the most memorable performances in the history of Rutgers football? You get another year, friend. Now, can we clean our shit up off the field?
Rutgers next up: OSU | Indiana next up: at MSU
Michigan State at Michigan // SPRATY wins 26-23.
What can be said about this game that hasn't already been said? This may be the most talked-about finish of this season, both in and out of the B1G. Some other folks will cover the game in great detail, so we won't bother too much with the intricacies of stats and such. Suffice it to say, it was a hard-fought battle with solid performances across the board. Cook and Rudock both looked like senior QBs, and these two teams brought their Probably the only effort deserving of any real criticism was that of the officials. The B1G crew in Ann Arbor was an absolute embarrassment. Wrong calls. No calls. Review after review after review. Probably the most egregious was the decision to not blow the whistle at the goal line when Sione Houma was so obviously stopped short in the pile. When watching the replay, it's quite apparent that each official is waiting for someone else to do the simple job of declaring the play dead for stopped forward motion. Instead, we got our own Bush Push. Nonetheless that play will certainly be lost to the archives of garbage B1G officiating in the wake of a finish that largely defies description.
On the whole, the game seemed very even. Though Sparty out-gained Michigan 386 yards to 230, and doubled UM in first downs, Michigan started with much better field position for most of the afternoon. Connor Cook's offense averaged 5.4 yards per play, while Rudock's crew managed a more pedestrian 4.0 per snap. There was plenty of defense on both sides of the ball.
Regardless of the outcome, this game harkened back to the great B1G grudge matches of decades past. Add in that wild ending, and this one is an instant classic that will make fans cringe for years. Even the announcers on the UM radio network (a group that includes booth veteran Dan Dierdorf) could only offer pre-verbal noises and/or stunned silence.
AK's #HOTTAKE: I AIN'T COMING DOWN AND YOU CAN'T MAKE ME!!!!! After a dead-even game dominated by the defensive lines and some nice downfield passing (despite a valiant effort by the refs to bleed any flow or consistency whatsoever from this game's veins), MSU had all but surrendered Paul Bunyan to the baying hordes of Washtenaw when it happened. Michigan punter Blake O'Neill vaulted himself into the annals of choking history by bobbling and then fumbling a punt that, executed properly, would have all but buried the Spartans. Jalen Watts-Jackson, heretofore an anonymous special teams player, recovered it and ran it back as time expired, personally plunging a tent stake into the still-beating heart of every maize and blue clad observer in the building and around the globe.
MSU still has some issues. Until the offensive line gets healthy, the run game won't be good. The secondary is a flaming mess. But the intact parts of this team just vaulted one of the biggest obstacles between MSU and the playoff. If they can hold it together until some of the missing pieces get healthy, maybe that special season is still in reach
MSU next up: Indiana | Michigan next up: BYE
Nebraska at Minnesota // Nebraska wins 48-25.
The chair is real, my friends. The best trophy in the B1G makes its maiden voyage to a home in Nebraska after the Huskers thoroughly trounce the Gophers in their own home. Poor Nebraska has had enough heartbreak for four seasons so far this year. With the outrageously talented Demornay Pierson-El (hereafter "DPE") back in the lineup, it's no surprise that the Huskers marched into the Twin Cities on a mission. Minnesota's Mitch Leidner opened the game with a scoring volley, capping a 75-yard drive with a 24-yard TD pass. Then Nebraska got the ball, and the flood gates creaked open. Husker back Terrell Newby scampered 69 yards for the first of his two TDs. Tommy Armstrong Jr. lived up to his rather apropos last name, hucking three TD passes. Newby ran for another, and the Husker defense added a pick-six. The offense added a sprinkling of field goals and Nebby had one big, victory Runza on its hands.
At this point, Minnesota fans have to be seriously tempering expectations for this season. As others have noted, this was one of Mitch Leidner's best throwing days. The big man started 16-of-17 and ended the day with a career-high 26 completions (65%)...and they still got blown out. Until Kill finds a good QB, there will probably be a lot more of this in the future.
Jesse's #HOTTAKE: I honestly have no idea how to grade that game. Nebraska is legitimately solid up front against the run with a surprisingly stout LB Corp. Unfortunately, they are literally the worst secondary I have ever watched play major football. So naturally, Minnesota plays into this for great swaths of the game and allows Nebraska to get them off the field. If a team doesn't have a 80/20 split pass/run ratio against this defense, you should fire your OC.
On the other side, Nebraska's offense stayed on schedule. Punted maybe twice, had one three and out, and looked good against what was considered a top defense. Minnesota was averaging close to 19 points allowed per game and even scratching the late Pick 6, you had to be impressed with the numbers. Armstrong was smart as a whole and knew when to tuck an run, and the Nebraska run game complimented an efficient pass game. So yay? I am happy with a Big Ten win so no complaints but what a weird way for that to play out. I didn't see that coming.
Nebraska next up: Northwestern | Minnesota next up: BYE
Penn State at Ohio State // OSU wins 38-10.
It was a dark night in Columbus, with OSU sporting an all-black alternate look that seemed to irk as many people as it pleased. The crowd followed suit, making for an eerie stadium scene. The Buckeyes got off to another slow start, punting after a handful of plays on the first three possession. The anger among Buckeye fans had to be palpable by the end of the first, as PSU held a 3-0 lead the offense looked as out-of-sync and anemic as ever. Cardale Jones missed throws, completely botched plays (opened for right handoff when the runner went left), and showed none of the pull-it-down-and-go mobility that made him a threat in the playoffs. As the Buckeye defense clamped down on PSU, the offense began to find some rhythm behind Zeke, and finally ignited in the red zone with J.T. Barrett at the helm. Ohio State racked up 21 points in the second quarter, and looked set to cruise. But after the half, the Nits came out swinging and put the ball in the endzone on a 3-play drive that chewed up 78 yards. It would be the last points PSU would see on the night. A truly impressive Saquon Barkley TD was negated a holding penalty.
By late in the 3rd quarter, the abortive attempts to make Cardale work in the offense were thankfully abandoned. Jones went to the bench and never returned, leaving Barrett as the Buckeyes' field marshal for the rest of the evening. The quiet kid from Texas tacked on two more scores, including a TD pass to Michael Thomas who somehow caught the ball mid-mugging. For his part, Penn State's embattled QB had a tough night. Hobbled by a gash near his right knee, Hackenberg took more than his fair share of licks. The OSU front got to him five times, with several more hurry-ups and knock-downs. Hack finished 7-of-13 for 120 yards, largely mistake free. The Nittany Lions showed up to play, and played well. There's no quit in the PSU defense, it seems. Carl Nassib is an absolute force to be reckoned with. It was good to see the Buckeyes gel on offense, and the key ingredient seems more than ever to be JT Barrett.
OSU next up: at Rutgers | PSU next up: at Maryland