OK, so more surprises this week, and some continued all the way through the game. Some of the conference games were real surprises in that the momentum swung back-and-forth. In others, an unexpected blowout occurred. The first of the latter is the game we will begin with this week:
#13 Ohio State 48 #12 Michigan State 3
This game between closely ranked teams sure didn’t look like one. Ohio State decided to show that the loss to Iowa was a fluke, and took it out on the Spartans. It was over long before the end of the first half. Ohio State scored 35 unanswered point in the first half before the Spartans finally scored with a field goal to end the half. In the second half it was no better. The #12-ranked Spartans were manhandled in every phase of the game. The running duo of Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins combined for just under 200 yards on the day, and the Buckeye’s total offense topped 500 yards. This game produced the most points allowed by Michigan State since Mark Dantonio came to East Lansing ten years ago.
Minnesota 54 Nebraska 21
In a game that may be the last nail in the coffin that is Mike Riley’s tenure in Lincoln, the Golden Gophers made short work of the ‘Huskers. Minnesota scored seven touchdowns on the day, and their defense looked strong throughout. Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee left the game due to illness, and highly touted and 2016 recruit Patrick O’Brien came in relief. The change in quarterbacks did nothing to spark the Nebraska offense. The biggest question now is whether Nebraska’s Riley will remain in charge until the end of the season. The 54 points scored by Minnesota is the most points they have scored against Nebraska since one month following the end of World War II (October 1945 for those of you who are not history buffs).
Indiana 24 Illinois 14
This turned out to be a closer one that you would have imagined early on. Indiana had a 17-7 lead in the 3rd quarter and looked like they were in control. However, an Illini touchdown in the fourth quarter made it a close 17-14 game, until Indiana scored again with just under six minutes left in the game to put this one out of reach. Illinois has to face Ohio State and Northwestern for their last two games, and it is beginning to look like they will not win a conference game in 2017. This game also gives Indiana its first conference win of the season. The Hoosiers will host Rutgers next week in hopes of winning two in a row at the expense of the Scarlet Knights.
Michigan 35 Maryland 10
This was another that was over early. Michigan dominated on both sides of the ball, and took a 28-0 lead into the locker room at halftime. Brandon Peters, who played in his first game against Rutgers two weeks ago, started and threw for two touchdowns, while Chris Evans ran for another pair of TDs. The offensive attack of the Wolverines was very balanced, with the yardage between passing and running almost identical.
Maryland could do nothing right. However, to be fair, injuries have had a terrible impact on the Terps, as they are now on their fourth-string QB Ryan Brand starting, who was a walk-on to the program.
Northwestern 23 Purdue 13
The Wildcats hosted the Boilermakers, and did what they have quietly been doing this season, win games. This was the first game in almost a month (October 13) that Northwestern did not have to win it in overtime. No overtime was needed against the Boilermakers. Northwestern scooted out to a 20-0 lead before Purdue finally got on the board with a touchdown just before the end of the first half.
The Boilermakers held Northwestern to only a field goal in the second half, but the offense was not able to get the points needed to catch up, and Northwestern took this one, winning their fifth conference game in a row.
#8 Wisconsin 38 Iowa 14
Early on, it looked like Iowa was going to do it again to the highest ranked team in the Big Ten. Wisconsin’s first possession was returned for a pick-six by Iowa’s Josh Jackson, but that pick was misleading if you thought that Wisconsin would roll over at that point. The Badgers bad a 17-7 at halftime. The game hinged on the ability of the Wisconsin defense to hold back the Hawkeyes, and they did their job. A week after gaining 487 yards against Ohio State, they were held to only 66 yards, and 0-13 on third down conversions. The 66 yards are the fewest Wisconsin has ever held a Big Ten opponent, with those records going back over 120 years.
This win clinches the Big Ten West division title for the Badgers as they host the Michigan Wolverines this coming Saturday. A win against them and finishing with wins against Minnesota and the Big Ten Conference Championship may be enough to put them in the College Football Playoff.
#14 Penn State 35 Rutgers 6
Rutgers took an early 6-0 lead, and after that, it was all Penn State. The Nittany Lions scored 14 unanswered points in the first half, and then points in the second half. In the end, it was not close, and Penn State wins the fourth consecutive game in the conference series. A lack of a passing game on Rutgers’ part was glaring as the game progressed. In the end, the Nitty Kitties were too much for the Scarlet Knights. After taking that 6-0 lead, Penn State scored 35 unanswered points. While the Scarlet Knight defense was able to stop Saquon Barkley, but were unable to put the brakes on quarterback Trace McSorley.
The conference is down to the last two weeks of the season, but several key games remain. Will Wisconsin end the season undefeated? Does Ohio State’s huge game against Michigan State make an impact on the Playoff Committee, despite the two losses on their record? Will Indiana, Rutgers, Maryland, Purdue, Minnesota, or Nebraska make a bowl game in 2017? Those questions are still to be answered, but they will all be known in the next two weeks.