1. The Ohio State Buckeyes (9-0; 5-0) kept their perfect season and national title hopes alive with a 28-14 victory over a pesky Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-5; 1-4) squad that has played tough against #3 OSU, #8 TCU, and #17 Michigan so far this season. Quarterback Cardale Jones, subbing for a temporarily suspended J.T. Barrett, had a decent game by the numbers: 12/22 passing for 187 yards, one TD, no INTs; 12 rushes for 65 yards including a game-clinching 38-yard touchdown run with under two minutes left in the game. Running back Ezekiel Elliott had his 14th straight game of 100+ yards (26 carries, 114 yards, TD). Wide receiver Michael Thomas was his steady self with 4 receptions for 39 yards and a TD, while Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller each caught long balls (44 yards and 45 yards, respectively). Even with all that production, the Buckeye offense still seemed out of sorts for much of the evening (7/16 on third downs, 7 punts, 4 sacks, fumble). On the other side, Minnesota couldn't run the ball worth a damn (26 carries, 33 yards, 1.3 ypc), but Gopher quarterback Mitch Leidner lit up the Buckeyes' vaunted pass defense (#2 yardage, #4 efficiency entering the contest) for 27 completions on 44 attempts (61.4%), 281 yards, and a pair of touchdowns (but also a very costly pick six to Buckeye safety Vonn Bell). Leidner's primary target was K.J. Maye who hauled in 10 passes for 116 yards (long of 57 yards) and a touchdown. The Buckeyes still look like a playoff contender, especially with so many other hopefuls going down this week (previously undefeated Texas Christian, Michigan State, Louisiana State, Memphis, and Toledo all suffered their first loss), but there seems to be some magic missing from this year's squad.
2. The Michigan Wolverines (7-2; 4-1) staked their claim to be the best two-loss team in the country with a resounding 49 to 16 win over the hapless Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-6; 1-5). Rutgers' Swiss cheese defense was the perfect remedy for Michigan's anemic offense, as the Wolverines piled up 487 yards (128 yards over their season average) and 49 points (20 points over their season average). Michigan quarterback Jake Ruddock (18/25, 337 yards, 2 TDs, no INTs) had a big game throwing safe passes that Rutgers still couldn't defend, but the Wolverines' rushing attack was stuck in idle for most of the game (42 carries, 150 yards, 3.6 ypc). In its last three games, Rutgers has played Ohio State (49-7 loss; 293 total yards), Wisconsin (48-10 loss; 165 total yards), and Michigan (49-16 loss; 225 total yards). Prior to that three-game death march, the Scarlet Knights' offense had been averaging 448.3 yards per game (33rd in FBS) and 34.3 points per game (41st in FBS). We predicted that Rutgers' "production should normalize (i.e., become much worse) after consecutive games against Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan." And we were right: the Scarlet Knights are now averaging 375.1 yards per game (84th in FBS), down 73.2 yards per game; and 26.6 points per game (also 84th in FBS), down 7.7 points per game. More proof that statistics can be deceiving, especially college football statistics from games played against the likes of Indiana, Kansas, and Norfolk State.
3. The Michigan State Spartans (8-1; 4-1) had been living on the edge all season long and last night they finally fell off. After single-score victories over Oregon (31-28), Purdue (24-21), Rutgers (31-24), and Michigan (27-23), the Spartans suffered a 39-38 loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-6; 2-4), and they did it in true Sparty fashion. After Nebraska cut the score to 31-26 with 13:06 left in the fourth quarter, Michigan State did what any good team would do: they went on a 9-minute, 16-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a one-yard touchdown run from Gerald Holmes to go up 38-26. And then the Spartiness began. A short kick-off and a decent return set Nebraska up at their own 47-yard line, and then much-maligned Husker quarterback Tommy Armstrong (19/33, 320 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) took it from there. Armstrong immediately hit Jordan Westerkamp for 22 yards, subsequently converted a pair of third-and-longs with passes to Stanley Morgan, Jr., and finally scored on third-and-goal with a one-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 38-32 with 1:47 left on the clock. After a quick (52 seconds) three-and-out, Michigan State punted the ball down to the Nebraska 9-yard line, and with just 55 seconds remaining it looked like the game was secure and Sparty would survive with yet another single-digit win. But Armstrong had other ideas: he completed a pair of passes to Westerkamp (9 receptions, 143 yards, TD) for 28 and 33 yards to move the ball into Michigan State territory. After an incompletion, Armstrong connected with Brandon Reilly for the final 30 yards and the go-ahead touchdown, 39-38. (The play shouldn't have counted, but that's another story. And besides, it detracts from the "Sparty being Sparty" narrative that we're trying to emphasize here.) Michigan State still had time for a couple plays, and nice kick-off return and a quick 17-yard strike had the Spartans squarely in the Hail Mary zone with 7 seconds left. Then quarterback Connor Cook went full Sparty, standing in the pocket until the clock struck zero before heaving the ball out of bounds to stop the clock. Well, duh! The good news for Nebraska fans is that the Huskers still have a chance to be bowl eligible. The bad news is that head coach Mike Riley probably saved his job with a win over a top-10 team.
4. The surprising Iowa Hawkeyes (9-0; 5-0) kept their improbable playoff hopes alive with a 35-27 victory over the Indiana Hoosiers (4-5; 0-5). The game was remarkably even on the stat sheet as Iowa had 467 yards of offense, 26 first downs, and 7/15 on third and fourth down conversions, while Indiana had 407 yards of offense, 26 first downs, and 10/19 on third and fourth down conversions. The difference in the game was an interception by Iowa cornerback Desmond King (his 8th of the season) and Indiana twice stalling out in the red zone and settling for short field goals instead of touchdowns. Iowa has a decent chance to close out the season undefeated, as their remaining three opponents have a combined record of 10-18 (.357) and 4-12 (.250) in conference play. After going perfect against a Charmin soft non-conference slate (Southern Illinois, Florida International, Western Kentucky, Wake Forest), Indiana has now lost five straight in Big Ten action. The good news for the Hoosiers is that they were generally competitive against a trio of top-10 teams (Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa). That and $3.65 will get them a cinnamon dolce latte at Starbucks.
5. The Wisconsin Badgers (8-2; 5-1) struggled but survived an upset bid from the Maryland Terrapins (2-7; 0-5) by the score of 31 to 24. The teams were pretty much dead even on offense, with Wisconsin gaining 305 total yards, 18 first downs, and 5/15 on third and fourth down conversions; and Maryland gaining 316 yards, 16 first downs, and 5/17 on third and fourth down conversions. In other words, both teams sucked. Wisconsin needed a 98-yard kick-off return from Natrell Jamerson and a 57-yard run by linebacker Joe Schobert on a fake punt to get past one of the worst teams in FBS. Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave was his typical mediocre self (15/24, 188 yards, TD, INT), but the Badger running attack was downright pathetic (39 rushes, 60 yards, 1.54 ypc when Schobert's trickeration is subtracted from the equation). Maryland's quarterback dynamic duo of Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe continued to be off-the-charts on the suckitude index, combining for 13 for 34 passing (.382 completion percentage), 204 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INTs. For the season, Maryland has committed a mind-boggling 30 turnovers, with 25 of them being interceptions, for a -17 turnover margin. Needless to say, all of those numbers are the worst in FBS.
6. This year, the Illinois Fighting Illini (5-4; 2-3) have lost to every opponent with a pulse (North Carolina, Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State). Good thing for them that the Purdue Boilermakers (2-7; 1-4) don't have one. Illinois more than doubled Purdue's offensive output (595 yards to 263 yards) and held a seven minute edge in time of possession in ringing up a 48 to 14 victory over the Big Ten West bottom dwellers. The Illini's two-headed tailback monster of Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Josh Ferguson combined for 28 carries, 313 yards (11.2 ypc), and a pair of touchdowns; each had his season high against the un-stout Boilermaker defense (Vaughn with 180 yards, Ferguson with 133 yards). A week after upsetting Nebraska and receiving a vote of confidence from his athletic department, Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell saw his team suffer their worst defeat of the season (34 points). With the loss, Purdue is now mathematically eliminated from bowl eligibility, a fact that has been imminent since August.
7. And that brings us to the Northwestern Wildcats (7-2; 3-2) who had a quality win over the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-3; 4-2). The teams moved the ball fairly well (396 yards for NU, 362 yards for PSU), didn't commit too many turnovers (2 for PSU, 1 for NU), and scored an almost competent amount of points (23 for NU, 21 for PSU), but one must go a bit deeper into the numbers in order to see the true suckiness of this game. The teams were a combined 10/34 on third downs, the quarterbacks barely completed half their passes (37/72 for 51.4%), and the teams combined for 16 penalties for 150 yards (PSU with 9 for 70; NU with 7 for 80) and 19 punts for 732 yards (38.5 average). Lost in all the suckitude was Wildcat running back Justin Jackson's stellar performance (28 carries, 186 yards, 6.6 ypc). Of course, this mess came down to the kicking game: Northwestern's Solomon Vault returned a kick-off 96 yards for a touchdown, and Northwestern's Jack Mitchell missed a pair of field goals (39 yards, 47 yards) and an extra point before kicking the game-winning field goal (35 yards) with 8 seconds left on the clock. This was ever so close to being the Big Ten Suckfest of the Week, but....
8. This week, we are granting an Honorary Suckfest Award to those two teams who most clearly exemplified the spirit of Big Ten football, namely (and lamely) the Florida Gators and the Vanderbilt Commodores. You really had to see this abomination in order to understand just how truly sucky it all was. With a performance that would've made Joe Bauserman blush, Vanderbilt quarterback Johnny McCrary was 3 for 14 passing for 30 yards; the only reason McCrary didn't throw any picks is that most of his passes were so wildly inaccurate that no one in the field of play had any chance to track them down. By comparison, Florida's Treon Harris was Tom Brady: 12/24, 158 yards, INT. So the quarterbacks had a little bit of trouble throwing the ball. That must mean the teams were doing a good job of running the ball, right? Well, not so much. The teams combined for 82 carries for 238 yards (2.9 ypc) and 2 TDs, with Vanderbilt (48 carries, 145 yards, 3.0 ypc) being slightly less sucky thanks to a 74-yard touchdown run from Ralph Webb. The teams combined for 433 yards of offense, which is less than what 41 FBS teams average per game. The Gators were clearly the suckier team, going 3/13 on third downs and 0/3 on fourth downs; committing 8 penalties for 61 yards; and turning the ball over four times to none for Vandy. However, the Commodores tried hard to keep things close with a 6/20 conversion rate on third and fourth downs; 7 penalties for 45 yards; and 10 punts. In the end it came down to a kicker, as suckfests normally do. Down 7-6 with 2:22 left in the game (thanks to a missed extra point by walk-on Neil MacInnes), Florida turned to deposed place kicker Austin Hardin (3 for 7 on FG tries entering the game) for a 43-yard attempt, no mere chip shot. Hardin somehow found the middle of the uprights and gave the Gators a 9-7 lead. Vanderbilt got the ball back with plenty of time to score, at least plenty of time for a reasonably competent offense. The Commodores started strong with a 13-yard kick-off return which left them only about 60 yards short of field goal range. Then McCrary began to work his magic, with a run for no gain and a pair of incompletions. On fourth down, a defensive holding call by the Gators negated another incompletion and gave Vandy new life (at least a sort of zombie-like undead life). McCrary responded with an incompletion, a 10-yard sack, and another incompletion. Facing 4th-and-20 with the game on the line, Vanderbilt did what sucky teams always do: they committed a false start penalty. Now with the nearly impossible task of converting 4th-and-25, McCrary dug deep into his bag of tricks and came up with his best play of the game (no, really): a 21-yard pass completion to Sam Dobbs that (thanks to the aforementioned false start penalty) came up four yards short. Florida took over on downs and managed to run out the final 36 seconds without mishap (not a foregone conclusion based on the previous 59 minutes and 24 seconds). With the hard-fought victory Florida wrapped up the SEC East crown, which has to have the Alabama Crimson Tide salivating. Just remember kids, you can't spell "SUCK" without "SEC".
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