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Around the Big Ten, Week Four — Michigan, Michigan State survive scares

This wasn’t the best week for offenses.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With four weeks of Big Ten football having come and gone, we now have a better picture of the conference landscape. Although there weren’t any marquee intra-conference matchups, there was certainly a lot to learn from Saturday’s games. Here’s your week four look around the Big Ten:

Michigan withstands Rutgers comeback to remain undefeated

As many Big Ten games are, this one was a tale of two halves. The Wolverines dominated the ground game early and jumped out to a 20-3 first half lead, where it began to look like a blowout. But Rutgers clawed its way back into the game, pulling within a touchdown but ultimately failing to convert on its final few drives.

Once again, Michigan dominated on the ground. Blake Corum led the backfield with 21 carries and 68 yards, while Hassan Haskins added 41 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns. The duo has been fantastic to start the season, combining for 797 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns through just four games.

Rutgers churned out a balanced offensive performance, producing 196 yards on the ground and 156 yards through the air. Simple miscues like a missed field goal and an untimely fumble from quarterback Noah Vedral prevented the Scarlet Knights from completing the comeback.

Through four games, Michigan has scored the second-most points and allowed the second-fewest points in the Big Ten. Is this the year they finally beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten East? Only time will tell.

Michigan State needs overtime to defeat Nebraska

After completely dismantling Miami last week, Michigan State looked like a team that could truly compete in the Big Ten East. But given the fact 60 minutes wasn’t enough time for them to beat Nebraska at home, that may not be the case.

Standout performers for Michigan State included receiver Jayden Reed, who caught four balls for 59 yards and a touchdown with a 62-yard punt return score to boot, and linebacker Xavier Henderson, who recorded 17 tackles. For Nebraska, Adrian Martinez once again carried the Cornhuskers with his arm and legs, putting up 251 yards through the air and 65 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

An interception followed by a field goal in overtime was enough for the Spartans to pick up the 23-20 victory, but by no means was it a pretty win. They’ll have to play much better down the stretch of their season, which includes matchups against No. 14 Michigan, No. 11 Ohio State, and No. 4 Penn State.

Wisconsin falls to Notre Dame as Graham Mertz struggles once again

Heading into the fourth quarter, it looked like whichever team could make a big play would win this game. Notre Dame made five of them.

The Irish scored 31 points in the final period, including a kickoff return touchdown and two pick-sixes en route to a 41-13 victory over Wisconsin. Wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. led the way for Notre Dame, compiling six catches, 76 yards, and two touchdowns.

The Badgers’ defense played well, holding the Irish to just nine rushing yards and a 58% pass completion rate. It was Graham Mertz’s five turnovers — four of which came in the fourth quarter — that cost them the win at Soldier Field.

Aside from his excellent debut last year against Illinois, Mertz has struggled to consistently put the Badgers in winning positions. Behind his one touchdown pass compared to six interceptions this season, the Badgers have become the Big Ten’s worst scoring offense.

Minnesota’s offense takes the week off

Remember the Golden Gophers team that scored four touchdowns and almost knocked off fourth-ranked Ohio State just three weeks ago? Well, it no longer exists. The team that showed up on Saturday was a lifeless shell of its former self which somehow found a way to lose at home to 30.5 point underdogs Bowling Green, 14-10.

The lone bright spot for Minnesota was running back Treyson Potts, who went for 141 yards on 27 carries, including a number of big plays. But quarterback Tanner Morgan struggled mightily, only managing 57 yards on five completions. Credit the Bowling Green defense for forcing three turnovers, including two fourth quarter interceptions of Morgan.

A decline in efficiency was certainly expected from Minnesota’s ground game after star running back Mo Ibrahim went down for the season, but no one expected the passing offense to become so miserable. Coach P.J. Fleck needs to figure out how to properly utilize his senior quarterback as the Gophers enter the heart of conference play in order to avoid further embarrassment.

Purdue scores only touchdown of the game in narrow victory over Illinois

Here’s how I like to think this game went down. The coaches met and agreed to make this matchup an experimental one, where field goals were the only scores allowed. Purdue, finding themselves down late in the game, proceeded to violate the verbal covenant and scored a touchdown to win 13-6.

But seriously, this was not a fun one to watch. The two teams combined for 11 punts, two interceptions, five field goals, and just one touchdown — a 14-yard strike from Purdue quarterback Aiden O’Connell to receiver TJ Sheffield — to put the Boilermakers ahead for good. Illinois running back Joshua McCray had 156 yards on the ground, but his success failed to translate into a single touchdown for the Fighting Illini.

It’s unlikely either of these teams will compete for a conference title, especially at their current level of play. However, wins like these for Purdue may end up being a factor during bowl selection season.

Other Scores:

Maryland 31, Kent State 17

No. 10 Ohio State 59, Akron 7

No. 6 Penn State 38, Villanova 17

Indiana 33, Western Kentucky 31

No. 5 Iowa 24, Colorado State 14