Two monumental games - one of which determined the fate of the Big Ten title race, the other of which determined the course of the rest of the season for two of the Big Ten's youngest teams - were the centerpieces of yesterday's action. These two games followed a very meh start to the day, in which Northwestern and Indiana duked it out while Illinois laid the wood to Purdue.
Illinois 44, Purdue 10
Were I still not at least a bit bitter about Purdue Harbor even today, I would feel a bit sorry for Purdue. This is a team that is on its fourth quarterback, without its best wide receiver and down a couple running backs, which still has to play four games to close out this dismal season. Illinois was merciless, racing out to a 37-0 lead before letting off the gas to start the fourth quarter. Nathan Scheelhaase had easily his best day as a passer on the season, completing 16 of 20 passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns, while adding another 118 on the ground. Mikel LeShoure was bottled up by the Purdue D, but the secondary was too much of a sieve for the Boilers to even have a hope of slowing down the Illini attack. Ron Zook's team continues to impress, and is now one win away from bowl eligibility, with teams like Minnesota, Northwestern and Fresno State remaining on the schedule. First up, though, are the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor next week. Purdue, meanwhile, gets Wisconsin at home.
Northwestern 20, Indiana 17
Northwestern is 6-2 - with a loss to the aforementioned awful Purdue team - following this closer-than-expected win against the Indiana Hoosiers. Even as a bowl eligible team, though, the Wildcats are worried: QB Dan Persa left the game after throwing his second touchdown pass, with what appeared to be a concussion. He had gone 18/28 for 216 yards up to that point. His backup, Evan Watkins, didn't have to do much with the game largely out of reach. A late Indiana score and a failed onside kick resulted in a 20-17 final. Both teams will be tested against next week, with the Hoosiers hosting Iowa and NW traveling to Penn State.
Iowa 37, Michigan State 6
The first half started poorly and ended worse for Mark Dantonio's Spartans. After giving up a touchdown on the opening drive to the Hawkeyes, Kirk Cousins threw a pick six, which featured an awesome lateral from safety Tyler Sash to cornerback Micah Hyde. A second interception in the second quarter gave the Hawkeyes ideal field position, and Ricky Stanzi threw his second touchdown of the day on a 32-yard strike to a wide open Adam Robinson. Yet another touchdown pushed the lead to 30-0, and the game was over before the half. Wow. Iowa is scary. Ricky Stanzi didn't get much work after an 8/10, 144 yard, two-touchdown opening half, finishing 11/15 for 190 yards and three touchdowns, the third coming on a 22-yard toss to Marvin McNutt in the third. Adam Robinson added 69 yards on 20 carries, and the touchdown that closed the 1st half. Thus, one of the dominos has fallen for the Buckeyes in the title race; we needed a Michigan State loss here, preferably and ugly one, and got it. Now we just need to take care of Iowa, and that's looking like the tallest task of the season right now. Michigan State gets Minnesota at home next week, and Iowa travels to Indiana.
Penn State 41, Michigan 31
Leave it up to Michigan's defense to make Penn State's offense look not just competent, but downright deadly for a game. This year may end up being the swan song for both coaches in this game. The Rich Rod era, if it is truly over, was cut abruptly short by a defense that just couldn't stop anybody ever. It's a situation diametrically opposed to that of JoePa, who built his program on defense and has enjoyed unmatched longevity as a result. If you're a Michigan fan, you can put it on attrition, on GERG, on former DC Tim Schafer, but in the end, some responsibility has to fall at Rich Rod's feet. When walk-on Matt McGloin toasts your defense for 250 yards and a touchdown, things are simply ugly and aren't going to improve any time soon. The offense, on the other hand, seems fine, as Denard Robinson threw for nearly 200 yards and rushed for 191 and three touchdowns. It was another Heisman effort, but not enough to overcome the defense's shortcomings. The dejected Wolverines host Illinois (who have housed Michigan in both of the last two seasons) next week, while Penn State faces another potent spread offense in Northwestern, who may or may not have Dan Persa.