A cold November Saturday of Big Ten football answered some questions and raised the stakes for the final two weeks of the regular season. Here’s a breakdown of what Week 11 had to offer Around the Big Ten
Michigan survives a slugfest in Happy Valley
Despite its collapse in East Lansing a fortnight ago, Michigan seems to have something that previous Wolverine teams have lacked in the Harbaugh era: grit.
That’s right, even with Penn State taking a 17-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the boys in maize and blue found a way to win on the road and keep their Big Ten Championship aspirations alive.
Hassan Haskins surpassed his 27 rushing attempts from last week with a staggering 31 carries for 156 yards due to the fact that his counterpart, Blake Corum, was sidelined with an injury. The run-dominated offensive attack for the Wolverines didn’t prevent Cade McNamara from throwing three touchdowns, headlined by his game-winning 49-yard heave to Erick All that gave his team a 21-17 lead late in the fourth quarter.
Sean Clifford gave his all for the Nittany Lions, throwing for over 200 yards and a touchdown in spite of the Wolverines’ seven sacks and two forced fumbles on the senior quarterback. James Franklin’s team’s inability to score touchdowns was the difference in this one, as Penn State converted only one touchdown on six trips inside the Michigan 25.
After coming into the year unranked, Harbaugh’s team has completely exceeded expectations and has set itself up for a potential win-and-in game against arch rival Ohio State in the final matchup of the regular season (provided both teams handle business next weekend).
Ohio State puts up video game numbers in rout of the Boilermakers
It’s safe to say that this isn’t the same Buckeyes team that lost to Oregon in Week Two, with Heisman Trophy candidate CJ Stroud looking like anything but a freshman in Ohio State’s 59-31 dismantling of Purdue.
The scariest part of this game for other Big Ten teams was that Purdue played relatively well on the offensive end, with Aidan O’Connell putting 390 yards and four touchdowns. David Bell also had himself a productive afternoon, nabbing 11 catches for over a hundred yards. But as the score may suggest, it didn’t matter in the slightest.
Ryan Day’s squad put up 45 in the first half, scoring touchdowns in six plays or less on five separate occasions before the midway break. The same Purdue team that upset Sparty last weekend was down 35-7 with 13:28 left in the second quarter. OSU receivers Jaxon Smith-Njabi, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave all had nine or more receptions, combining for 350 yards and five touchdowns between the wide receiver trio. Oh, and before I forget, the Bucks added 263 more yards on the ground at The Shoe on Saturday, too.
Ohio State remains undefeated in conference play and will play Michigan State next week, followed by The Game, played this year at the Big House on Nov. 27. If either of these teams hope to knock off the star-studded Buckeyes, they seemingly must put up a copious number of points and force Day’s offense into turnovers and field goals, because fully shutting down the Buckeyes offense seems impossible with Stroud playing at the level he currently is.
Minnesota falls to the Petras-less Hawkeyes
PJ Fleck’s team lost a crucial game that it had no business losing. Time truly is a flat circle, my friends.
In 2020, Iowa’s Alex Padilla had one completion for 12 yards. This Saturday, the former backup outplayed Minnesota senior Tanner Morgan, in his first game as a starter, throwing for 206 yards and two touchdowns. He was helped out by running back Tyler Goodson, who gained 59 yards on the ground, but this game was lost by Minnesota more than it was won by the Hawkeyes.
Both teams came into the weekend in a four-way tie for first place in the Big Ten West alongside Wisconsin and Purdue. This was a perfect opportunity for the Gophers to set themselves up for a crucial Week 13 game against the Badgers, one in which the winner would emerge with not only Paul Bunyan’s Axe, but also a ticket to Indy for the following Saturday.
Despite the high stakes, Fleck’s men settled for three field goals inside the Iowa 15, resulting in a loss despite the fact that they held the ball for more than twice as long as their opponent. What should’ve been a relatively easy road win against a depleted Iowa team instead essentially eliminated Fleck’s team from Big Ten Championship contention and gave the Hawkeyes a win to keep them in the hunt.
Kirk Ferentz and company have two winnable games left on their schedule: a home game against Illinois and a road game in Lincoln against Nebraska to conclude their regular season. However, Iowa’s conference championship hopes rest outside of its control, with the Badgers having already won the tie-breaking head-to-head matchup between the two squads. Unless either the Huskers or Golden Gophers can knock off Wisconsin, expect residents of America’s dairyland to be jumping around all Thanksgiving weekend as they punch their ticket to Lucas Oil Stadium.
Wisconsin 35, Northwestern 7
Rutgers 38, Indiana 3
Michigan State 40, Maryland 21