Every week of college football is a gift from the gods. These autumn Saturdays, chock-a-block full of gridiron action, are to be savored. Soon enough, winter will be upon us and the season will dwindle to but a few bowl games. I say this because each year we are tempted to write off a week such as this one. Across today's slate, only one game in all of college football featured two ranked teams. Several top teams have the week off. The SEC is entering its trademark late October cupcake stretch. Suffice it to say, the excitement level certainly took a dip this week...at least on paper.
Our beloved B1G looked to offer little respite from the mid-season malaise. The two best teams played struggling opponents. Two other solid squads weren't featured at all. Perhaps this seemed like a day for yard work, or for the buying of pumpkins, or for the happy swilling of apple cider. Those are all wonderful pastimes, but not for a Saturday. Waver not in your loyalty to your television, B1G fans. Even the least enticing matchups can keep up us on the edges of our seats. Behold another great week of football in our beloved Middle West. And Jersey, too, I guess.
14 B1G Things
1. Nobody in the B1G screams at a ref like Pat Fitzgerald. Brian Kelly might send him a cigar for that effort.
2. Exactly how terrible does Bo have to be as a person in order for this Mike Riley hire to still make sense?
3. Maryland may not win the Trivalry, but they are the Eastern Bloc's undisputed kings of the backbreaking turnover.
4. PSU was so hurt by a one-point loss to Maryland last year, they just had to return the favor.
5. We must all convince Maryland that their inspired post-Edsall play was the result of these uniforms. It's a stretch, but we owe it to our eyes to try.
6. Illinois couldn't have asked for a better shot at Wisconsin, barring the entire team contracting dysentery. Something to consider for next year...
7. Wisconsin's backup QB has a mullet, which seems appropriately Wisconsin. Maryland uses wrestlers as QBs, and the Badgers apparently use Canadian defensemen.
8. The Badgers notched their longest run of the year, a 56-yarder, on an end around by a wide receiver. It's safe to say they miss Clement.
9. The NCAA needs to investigate whether Sparty and Indiana had a side bet as to who could screw up the kicking game worse.
10. Speaking of Sparty and Indiana, that got out of hand in a hurry.
11. Connor Cook has done amazing things for his offense this year. Oddly, no one seems to want to help him out.
12. Indiana is so close to turning the corner and being an 8 or 9 win team. It's becoming painful to watch these losses, and Kevin Wilson has to be getting a bit worried about where his mail will be delivered in the future.
13. Insert hackneyed Kyle Flood "natural disaster" joke here. Chuckle or nod your head in shame depending on your Rutgers allegiance.
14. OSU now owns the longest winning streak in the nation at 21. Though Cardale deserves some serious credit for that, the streak seems a lot safer in J.T.'s hands.
The Nitty Gritty
Northwestern at Nebraska - The Battle to be NU // Northwestern wins 30-28.
Mike Riley has two chairs. One is a slightly broken $5 trophy that the Gophers miss dearly, and the other is heating up quickly. That is not to say the first-year Nebraska coach is in danger of losing his job just yet, but the temperature is slowly rising beneath his backside. For all of Bo Pelini's personal foibles, losing five games was not among them. Northwestern entered this game in a situation not unlike the Huskers'. While Mike Riley's team has been the victim of a seemingly impossible string of heartbreaking losses, the Wildcats have gone from trouncing opponents to being trounced in rapid fashion. After ripping off four wins, the 'Cats were utterly blown off the field in two outings by a combined score of 78-10. Pat Fitzgerald has become a bit known for these sorts of collapses. The 2013 season stands out in many fans' minds as the archetype for what looked to be happening to Northwestern this October. Accordingly, this matchup had a must-win air about it for both programs.
To make a long story short, the day was the tale of two different quarterbacks. Clayton Thorson rose to the occasion, and Tommy Armstrong largely did not. Thorson's worst play of the day was arguably his first quarter sack in the endzone that gave Nebraska two points and the ball. Thereafter, he seemed to hit the long scampers and big throws his team needed at just the right times. Thorson ran for one TD and threw for another, as well as driving deep into Nebraska territory to set up three Jack Mitchell field goals.
Tommy Armstrong, Jr., on the other hand, put his team behind the sticks for much of the afternoon. Though he threw for 291 yards, he did so on 48 attempts and only 24 completions. Those attempts included a back-breaking pick-six that put his team two scores behind in the second quarter. To the Huskers' credit, they battled back to lead briefly in the 4th following a field goal, but Armstrong's next two drives both fizzled after three plays. Northwestern continued to drive the ball, answering Nebraska's lead with a 37-yard TD strike from Thorson to Dan Vitale. Armstrong received little help from his receivers, who spent the afternoon dropping passes they should've caught--including a sure TD. Clayton Thorson finished the day 13 of 28 with two TDs to his credit, and the Wildcats end their slide at Mike Riley's expense. Northwestern wins the right to be NU for the year.
LPW's #HOTTAKE: Northwestern needed to win this game to salvage October. Not a pretty win, but I'll take it. Thorson still needs to mature faster, and I still think Pat Fitzgerald could use a new offensive coordinator and a new o-line coach. Christian Jones needs to catch things. It would help.
MNWildcat's #HOTTAKE: Northwestern is bowling, and that is such a major step that I'd say a third of fans didn't see coming before the season. Yet somehow that now feels like a hollow accomplishment. Let's be clear: it's not. This program needed a bowl berth in the worst way.
The offense looked ugly for a half, and the defense gave up way too many long third down conversions, but Northwestern showed that with Clayton Thorson and Justin Jackson, then have the potential to be the Northwestern offense of the Bacher-Kafka-Sutton Era. Get WRs who can put CT in a position to succeed, and run an up-tempo offense that allows Thorson to make easy reads and use his legs as much as he wants.
Northwestern next up: BYE | Nebraska next up: at Purdue
Penn State at Maryland // PSU wins 31-30.
This game was as much a comedy of errors as it was a grudge match between two Eastern Bloc foes with little love lost between them. Unlike last year, the pre-game rituals were largely drama-free and Penn State's hands did not go unshaken for another season. Both teams should be commended for adhering to the basic rules of sportsmanship. More than anything, turnovers were the story of the afternoon in Baltimore. The offenses combined for an eye-bleach-worthy eight giveaways, including a back-to-back fumble series in the fourth that killed Maryland's hope of a go-ahead score. Perry Hills accounted for three interceptions on his own. His misreads and bad throws ended drive after drive that could've put Maryland in command of the game. Even so, the erstwhile grappler ran for 124 yards and a touchdown, and threw for another score to keep his team in the hunt all afternoon.
To their credit, Maryland managed to bottle up Penn State's rushing offense all day. The Nittany Lions managed only 48 yards on the ground, losing 16 yards to sacks of Hackenberg. That output stands in stark contrast to Saquon Barkley's nearly 200 yard performance in Columbus last week. Speaking of Hackenberg, the most interesting stat line of the day belongs to the big man in the backfield. Despite completing only 13 of his 29 passes, he amassed an astounding 315 yards through the air and three touchdowns. His efforts vaulted him into the record books as Penn State's all time leader in pass completions and passing yardage, dethroning Zach Mills from both spots.
DJ Carver's #HOTTAKE: Maryland pissed that game away. The referees gifted Penn State a touchdown on an inexplicable defensive pass interference in the endzone when penn state's WR clearly pushed the MD defender to the ground. These big ten referees are bullshit if half of what Andrew was ranting about yesterday is to be believed. Still, Maryland had other chances, especially when PSU gave them a roughing hte kicker penalty to put them on the 6 yard line and they couldn't punch it in. What BS. Can't go six yards. And why exactly Mike Locksley stopped running the zone read straight up the middle that was going for like 8-9 yards per run I will never know. At the end of the day though? OUR SECONDARY WAS TRASH. TRASH. And no, it wasn't that they couldn't cover, mind you. They ran right with the Penn State WR's all day. But actually turning to track the ball, or even throwing their hands up to block a pass when the PSU WR would look back? Nah, forget that non-sense. Moral victories for staying with the WR I guess? That was some of the worst secondary play I've seen all year.
As an aside, some Penn State fans are absolutely awful. Players injured on the field? That doesn't stop your god awful WE ARE chant. Yeah, you are awful people cheering on your school as players are laying injured on the field. Get fucked. Baltimore wasn't bad for the game even though the ticketing office gave us the literal opposite of what our tickets are at Byrd Stadium, the last row of the section as opposed to the first. I suppose if it had rained we would've been golden though.
PSU next up: Illinois | Maryland next up: at Iowa
Indiana at Michigan State // MSU wins 52-26.
Rarely does a team score 52 points and seem lucky to come away with a victory. The Spartans were slow to wake up this week against an Indiana team that scores points in bunches when Nate Sudfeld is healthy. Indiana jumped out to an early lead on a 5-yard Jordan Harris TD run in the first. Sparty answered with a Connor Cook TD pass and a Delton Williams touchdown run to take a 14-7 lead. Both teams were slowed in the early going by a squall line that dumped rain on East Lansing at a rate best described as biblical. The storm passed quickly and the offenses got down to business. Cook and Sudfeld traded scoring strikes for the first three quarters. While Indiana never recaptured its early lead, the Hoosier offense kept moving the ball at will. Indiana trailed by no more than a touchdown through three periods, and the Spartans held only a 28-26 lead heading into the fourth.
The fourth quarter was a different story altogether. Leading 31-26 after a field goal, the Spartans drove the field on the arm of Connor Cook. The Spartan field marshal showed why he's one of the best throwers in the game, threading the needle for a perfect back-shoulder TD strike to R.J. Shelton. The Spartans' late awakening was aided by Indiana's decision to go to sleep, quit, or both. After failing to convert on fourth down at their own 44, the Hoosiers surrendered a long touchdown run to MSU's L.J. Scott. Indiana then fumbled the ensuing kickoff at their own 25, giving the Spartans another short field scoring opportunity, which they happily exercised.
The box score makes this game look far more lopsided than it was. MSU notched 21 of their 52 points in a four-minute span late in the final quarter. Sudfeld did all he could to knock off the unbeaten Spartans, throwing 23 completions for 308 yards and three touchdowns, but to no avail. MSU once again survived on the talents on Connor Cook, thanks to his nearly 400 yards passing. Indiana's utter lack of defense also helped.
Andew K's #HOTTAKE: Regardless of whether MSU runs the table, beats OSU, wins the conference it goes to the playoff or anything else, I personally am going to appreciate just how good Connor Cook has become. In a game where I literally lost count of how many different line combos MSU had to use because of recurring injuries, Cook came within 3 yards of setting a new school record for passing yards in a single game. While his protection was more confused than Joe Hooker's line at Chancellorsville and got less push than the Union did at Fredericksburg, he stood tall and fired bullets, drilling third-down conversions all day.
MSU needs this bye in a bad way. If the OL can return to some semblance of health and the young secondary keeps improving the way it is, the perfect season should remain intact through the next two games. The special teams contained their ineptitude to one large blunder tonight, and will hopefully be a major point of focus for the bye, though at this point if we can't manage snap-hold-kick I'm not sure what good more film study will do. And the refs...yeah, they were bad. Again. Here and elsewhere in the conference, from what I hear. I suppose it isn't becoming to complain about them in a game that turned into a romp, but it was competitive far longer than it should have been in part because of several zebra gifts to the candystripers. Still, a win is a win. If MSU keeps doing it, they go to the playoff and that's all that matters. Happy bye week.
MSU next up: BYE | Indiana next up: BYE
Wisconsin at Illinois // Wisconsin wins 24-13
Illinois will likely never get a better shot to knock off the Badgers. Wisconsin's standout running backs Corey Clement and Taiwan Deal didn't make the trip to Champaign due to injury. The Badgers' big QB Joel Stave went down in the first after getting his bell rung. Despite passing the concussion protocol, Stave headed to the locker room. Enter Bart Houston. Wisconsin's backup quarterback tucked his mullet under his helmet and got down to business, completing a drive that Stave started for a go-ahead touchdown. He guided the Badgers deep into Illini territory for a field goal on the next possession, putting his team ahead by a full touchdown before tossing an interception just prior to the half. Houston added another touchdown late in the third.
The gray-clad Illini had little success against Dave Aranda's smothering Badger defense. Their lone lead came late in the first off the toe of Taylor Zalewski, who banged a 37-yarder through the uprights. Their lone touchdown came late in the third when Ke'Shawn Vaughn broke free for a 36-yard touchdown run. Zalewski added another field goal, but it wasn't enough to keep up with the Badgers. Wes Lunt had a pedestrian afternoon, throwing 22 completions for 278 yards and a fourth-quarter interception. Wisconsin did well to win short-handed, but one has to wonder if Corey Clement will ever come back.
Wisconsin next up: Rutgers | Illinois next up: at Penn State
Ohio State at Rutgers // Ohio State wins 49-7
The supposed sell-out crowd at High Point Solutions Stadium got more than they bargained for with OSU. A fired-up student section waved banners and "Battle Ready" signs, and the nearly all-scarlet crowd was treated to some early signs of life from Rutgers. The Knights drove deep into OSU territory, going 64 yards on 12 plays. Kyle Federico missed the field goal, and the Knights' only meaningful scoring opportunity melted away. The Buckeye defense buckled down for the rest of the game until the starters were pulled late. Rutgers' offense didn't see the endzone until late in the fourth, and tallied only 104 yards rushing. Quarterback Chris Laviano threw for 117 yards and an interception, which was an amazing diving grab by Gareon Conley. Standout WR Leonte Carroo nabbed three catches for 55 yards, but left due to an injury from last week's game. Without his best target, Laviano was even less effective than usual.
The story of this game really starts and ends with J.T. Barrett. Unfortunately for Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights bore the brunt of Barrett's first full game as the Buckeye QB since his 2014 injury. Despite being hit awkwardly and fumbling on his first drive, the quiet Texan was basically unstoppable. Barrett ran for 101 yards and threw for 223, accounting for five touchdowns across the board. Braxton Miller made waves as a receiver and in the backfield. His circus catch of a Barrett pass showcased his athletic ability and Barrett's willingness to go over the top with the ball. Overall, this was a simple case of the Buckeyes having far too many weapons and a newfound rhythm with Barrett taking the snaps.
Ray Ransom's #HOTTAKE: That was about as tolerable a 50-7 blowout as you can get. We had a first quarter that was well-played and competitive. If we can continue to grow as a program and string together 3 more, games like this become more competitive.
OSU next up: BYE | Rutgers next up: at Wisconsin
As your beloved OSU writer, I'd be remiss not to include this B1G milestone...