We've reached the halfway point in the Big Ten regular season. While a clear hierarchy exists in the Leaders (Ohio State, with Wisconsin closely behind the Buckeyes, Indiana/Penn State, then Illinois, and lastly, the football-ish like team dubbed "Purdue".), it's muddled in the Legends with every team competitive (offer not valid if your team is Minnesota). Let's take a look back at the week.
THE BEATIN' OF THE WEEK
Wisconsin 35, Northwestern 6
The problem for CHICAGO'S BIG TEN TEAM wasn't that the Wildcats let the Badgers' offense run rampant for 527 yards, given Northwestern's problems with their defense at times this season. The crux was that the Wildcats could only muster 44 yards on 26 carries. When a team is mediocre on the ground, they better be good in the air to beat Wisconsin. SPOILER: The Wildcats were not. Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian combined to go 17-39 for 197 yards and one interception. Northwestern is now 0-2, and essentially have to win out to have any hope of appearing in the Big Ten title game.
Wisconsin also will most likely not make the Big Ten title game, but at least they're making themselves attractive for a good bowl game in the process. Melvin Gordon continued his campaign for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, with 172 yards on 22 carries including a 71-yard dash for a touchdown. Gordon now has 870 yards in six games, averaging 9.7 yards a carry. Nope, that's not insane at all.
TRUE TO FORM
Nebraska 44, Purdue 7
No Taylor Martinez, eventually no problem for the Cornhuskers. Tommy Armstrong got the start at QB for Nebraska while Martinez missed his third game to turf toe and Armstrong...he was all sorts of all kinds of not good. 6-18 for 43 yards and three interceptions would be a performance bad enough to cost a team a win against most Big Ten opponents. Fortunately, Purdue is not one of those teams, and after Armstrong got the hook Ron Kellogg III stepped in to go 10-13 for 141 yards and a score. The Nebraska ground game was also good throughout, gaining 251 yards on the day.
As for Purdue...well, Danny Etling was inaccurate throughout the day, completing 40% (14-35) of his passes. The last one of those went for 55 yards and a touchdown with less than a minute to play to avoid the shutout. It's been said that moral victories count for nothing, but the word "victory" is there for a reason Boilermakers! I'd take those wherever I could.
Michigan State 42, Indiana 28
The conventional wisdom stated Indiana would put up a good number of points; they did, with help from a few MSU shots in the feet. The conventional wisdom also stated MSU would put up a lot of points on Indiana's patchwork defense; that also happened. Nothing to see here. Indiana needs to beat Minnesota, Illlinois, and Purdue (all at home) to get bowl-eligible unless you think they can win one of @ Michigan, @ Wisconsin, or @ OSU. The first one of those seems the most likely of the three for a win, because...
ADVENTURES IN GAME MISMANAGEMENT
Penn State 43, Michigan 40 (4 OT)
I don't know where to begin. Let's fast forward past the 2-3 Devin Gardner great plays and crippling interceptions that are his standard operating procedure and pick up with about a minute left. Michigan is up by seven and has 4th and 17 at the PSU 35. It'd be a 52-yard field goal and Michigan...punts it into the end zone, gaining 15 yards in field position. THAT'S THE JOKE.
- No problem, right? Well, Penn State happens to have the best human receiver in the conference, Allen Robinson (note: Jared Abbrederis is 57 years old and must be some sort of cyborg, thus he is disqualified), and sure enough he makes the key 36-yard catch to put PSU on Michigan's 1-yard line, and the Nittany Lions score to tie the game.
- Michigan gets the ball at their 35 yard line with 25 seconds left, and Gardner quickly completes a pass to Jeremy Gallon, then another short pass to Justice Hays to Justice Hayes to put them...on Penn State's 35-yard line again. This time Michigan kicks the field goal, and the attempt by Brendan Gibbons is short. Overtime beckons.
- PSU misses its field goal in the 1st Ovetime, giving Michigan a chance for the win. Brady Hoke has saved key plays all season for this situation, and opens the part of the playbook labeled "Mark Richt's Tips and Tricks for Winning Games in Overtime". Three runs up the middle later little to no gain, and sure enough, Gibbons's 40-yard field goal is blocked.
- Overtime the 2nd: Brady Hoke crosses Richt off his Christmas card list and reinstates the offense. Not too much of note happens here as the teams trade field goals. The third overtime cometh.
- Overtime the 3rd: Fumble Penn State! The Wolverines might escape! A pass to Gallon on 2nd and 10 brings up 3rd and 1. Hoke gets nervous and reaches for Richt's Tips and Tricks again, which means we know what's coming -- another run up the middle for no gain. Gibbons now has a 33-yard field goal to win it...and pushes it wide. All the brunette girls in the world won't help now.
- Overtime the 4th: To switch it up, Michigan tries a couple passes that are incomplete, gets a delay of game penalty, then Gardner has a seven-yard run. Somehow, Gibbons makes this 40-yarder. Michigan gets Penn State to 4th and 1. Penn State, with maybe the gutsiest decision in the Big Ten so far this year, goes for it. "Fortune Favors the Bold" is cliche for a reason, and Bill Belton gets the first down. A run, a pass interference call, and a run later, ball game.
If we all learned something this week (if it wasn't learned during the 2012 Outback Bowl) it was this: never, ever play for a field goal.