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Around the Big Ten, Week 5: Northwestern and Ohio State distance themselves, Purdue falls in heartbreaking fashion

The ‘Cats and the Buckeyes stay unbeaten in their biggest tests of the year.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

After a Saturday full of college football, we’ll take a look at some of the top story lines around the Big Ten. We’ll follow every team throughout the bizarre eight-week season all the way up until Champions Week.

Here are the top story lines from Week Five:

Minnesota outlasts Purdue in controversial fashion

Refball (noun)

1. (In American football) A referee botching a clear call (or no call) that disproportionately helps/hurts a certain team. (ex. “That pass interference call on Payne Durham was complete refball and handed Minnesota the game.”

While Minnesota beat Purdue 34-31 in the first Big Ten game of the week, a questionable pass interference call at the end of the matchup added a huge asterisk to the Golden Gophers’ win. With just 52 seconds left, Jack Plummer threw a beautiful ball to TE Payne Durham in the end zone for a Boilermaker touchdown that put them up by three points until the officiating crew called offensive pass interference on Durham and nullified the play.

Following the penalty, Plummer threw an interception, Minnesota kneeled out the clock and that was the ball game.

Jack Plummer played lights out for the Boilermakers, throwing for 367 yards, three touchdowns and only seven incompletions on 42 attempts against the porous Minnesota defense. Rondale Moore’s return amplified Minnesota’s defensive problems, as he racked up 116 yards on 15 receptions in his first game of 2020. Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim put up another multi-touchdown performance, rushing for over 100 yards and three scores.

The next two weeks will be a test for the 2-3 Golden Gophers, as they are set to play No. 18 Wisconsin and No. 11 Northwestern before finishing out the season against Nebraska. The 2-2 Boilermakers will finish their season with games against Rutgers, Nebraska and Indiana.

Ohio State beats Indiana in top-10 battle

No. 3 Ohio State triumphed No. 9 Indiana 42-35 in a game that revealed Ohio State’s mortality. After Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade returned a Michael Penix Jr. pass for a touchdown, the Buckeyes held a commanding 42-21 lead in the waning seconds of the third quarter. However, with two quick touchdowns in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, the Hoosiers were back in the game. The Buckeyes stifled an Indiana flea-flicker on the last play to win the game to take sole control of the Big Ten East. With their victory over the only other undefeated team in the Big Ten East, Ohio State is just three games away from another Big Ten Championship game appearance.

Though Ohio State won, Michael Penix Jr. out-dueled an uncharacteristically bad Justin Fields. Penix Jr. threw for almost 500 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception; Fields only managed two touchdown passes and threw three interceptions. Indiana wide receiver Tyler Fryfogle lit up the stat sheet with 218 yards and three touchdowns on just seven receptions. Penix Jr. and Fryfogle did it all against an Ohio State defense that held Indiana’s rushing attack to a total of negative one (-1) yards on the ground.

The Hoosiers will look to rebound against a Maryland team that has yet to play a game since Week Three, and the Buckeyes will take on the inconsistent Fighting Illini in Week Six.

Northwestern upsets Wisconsin at home to remain unbeaten

Northwestern beat Wisconsin 17-7 at Ryan Field in the most Big Ten-esque game one could imagine. With just a combined 629 yards of total offense between the two teams, the game came down to defense, defense and more defense. Every time the ‘Cats needed a stop, it seemed they got one. Northwestern’s stalwart defense forced five turnovers — including two interceptions for redshirt freshman Brandon Joseph — and humbled an untested Graham Mertz and a weak Badger receiving core.

As the story of the game was defense, the Northwestern offense was not as impressive as one would’ve expected for a marquee Wildcat victory. Peyton Ramsey only threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns, and the Wildcats tallied a dismal 24 total rushing yards. Northwestern senior receiver Ramoud Chiaokhiao-Bowman was the spark plug of the offense: his web-gem worthy toe-tap touchdown grab in the corner of the end zone amounted for his fourth touchdown in the past two games and gave the Wildcats a lead they held for the rest of the game.

Northwestern is a mere three wins away from an 8-0 regular season and a Big Ten West championship. Wisconsin’s loss forces them to win out and not miss a game due to COVID-19 if they hope to make the Big Ten Championship game, and that would still be contingent on a Northwestern loss.

The No. 11 Wildcats are slated to face a struggling 1-3 Michigan State, while the No. 18 Badgers will take on Minnesota in Week Six.

Other Scores

Illinois 41, Nebraska 23

Coming off a resounding defeat of Penn State, the Nebraska Cornhuskers lost a miserable game to an Illinois squad that accrued 285 rushing yards on over 50 attempts. While Brandon Peters looked strong, Nebraska’s new starting quarterback Luke McCaffrey played the worst game of his young college career and threw three interceptions on 26 attempts for just 134 yards. Illinois dominated the game from start to finish and has won two games in a row ahead of a Week Six showdown against Ohio State. The Huskers are now 1-3, with tough divisional matchups against Iowa, Purdue and Minnesota to round out the season.

Iowa 41, Penn State 21

After the first quarter, this game looked close. However, those thoughts were quickly erased following a Hawkeye defensive shutout and three Iowa rushing touchdowns in the second quarter alone. Iowa is 3-2 and holds a combined point differential of just -5 in the two games they lost against Northwestern and Purdue. Penn State is a horrendous 0-5, the worst start in the history of the legendary program. James Franklin, a coach praised for revitalizing Penn State football and returning them to former glory, is firmly in the hot seat, as no football fan in Happy Valley is happy with his team’s performance.

Michigan 48, Rutgers 42 (OT)

This game was an electric shootout, with both teams combining for almost 1000 total yards. New Michigan starting quarterback Cade McNamara put on an offensive clinic and threw four touchdowns, cementing his place above Joe Milton on the depth chart. Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral played a fantastic game as well, leading the Scarlet Knights to overtime with a touchdown pass that set up a successful two-point conversion with just 27 seconds left in regulation. In the end, Michigan pulled this game out with an interception in triple overtime to seal the victory and keep Jim Harbaugh’s job for another week.