Sports Q&A: Big Ten Quick Hits – Week 13

 Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The final week of the regular season for the Big Ten showed the nation that its best teams; Michigan St, Iowa and Ohio St are capable of coming up big when it matters the most. Not only are these the best teams in the conference but all are able to make legitimate claims as to why it should be a part of this year’s College Football Playoffs — even though I personally think Ohio State shouldn’t be in the conversation. .

BIG TEN EASTERN DIVISION:

Indiana Hoosiers 6-6 (2-6)

Bowl Eligible… With the 54-36 victory over in-state rival Purdue, the Hoosiers are heading to a bowl game for the first time under head coach Kevin Wilson. With the 350 yards passing in the victory, quarterback Nate Sudfeld became the school’s career leader in passing yards. With Jordan Howard out due to injury, Devine Redding picked up the slack with a career-high 144 yards rushing. The 659 total yards tied the season high for a Hoosiers team that may have finally turned the corner in the underwhelming tenure of head coach Kevin Wilson who came from Oklahoma with high hopes.

Maryland Terrapins 3-9 (1-7)

The Terrapins put together back-to-back good performances with the 46-41 victory over Rutgers. The 656 total yards was a season high for Maryland and despite another interception from one of its quarterbacks, the offense showed a lot of progress. Brandon Ross closed his Maryland playing career with an outstanding game rushing for 173 yards and three touchdowns. Perry Hills did not turn the ball over on the way to throwing for 239 yards and rushing for 98 more. Newly named head coach, and former Michigan defensive coordinator, D.J. Durkin will have to convince his quarterbacks that turning the ball over is a bad thing, but the defense returns enough pieces to be hopeful 2016.

Michigan State Spartans 11-1 (7-1)

If the victory over Ohio State was a wake-up call, then the 55-16 blowout victory over Penn State was the declaration that the Spartans may be ready to seize their championship goals. Every aspect of the MSU team operated at an optimal level as the offense amassed 486 total yards — 248 from a healthy Connor Cook at quarterback — and the defense forced the PSU offense into four turnovers — including a 13-yard interception return by defensive lineman Malik McDowell. The only mishap was a missed extra point by kicker Michael Geiger… maybe that celebration dance last week messed up his equilibrium. Either way, MSU is getting hot at the right time in the season.

Michigan Wolverines 9-3 (6-2)

Against a wounded team, it is imperative that you limit careless mistakes and unfortunately for the Wolverines they weren’t and it cost them in the 42-13 embarrassment against Ohio State.  A roughing the kicker penalty early in the game swung momentum completely towards the OSU side and all afternoon it seemed as if U-M was trying to overcome that, as well as the six other penalties. Offensively the team had its moments as Jake Rudock passed for 263 yards but against a team as good as OSU you have to get touchdowns and not field goals or punts. In defeat, Jabril Peppers and Jehu Chesson showed that they will be important pieces to the Wolverines rebirth on both sides of the ball. And with the departure of defensive coordinator DJ Durkin, the new coordinator will hopefully be able to address the run defense and linebacker issues moving forward.

Ohio State Buckeyes 11-1 (7-1)

When you poke a bear, there’s a good chance he will attack and that’s exactly what OSU did in the 42-13 demolishing of Michigan on Saturday. Ezekiel Elliott reminded us all that he is one of the top backs in the nation as he rushed for 214 yards on 30 carries and JT Barrett’s versatility, 113 yards passing and 139 yards rushing, made many fans wonder why Cardale Jones was even the starter. Urban Meyer did a great job of pointing out a weakness and attacking it on both sides as U-M could not stop the pass and could not run the ball. Too bad it took a loss to refocus the team… because it ultimately cost them a berth in the College Football Playoff.

Penn State Nittany Lions 7-5 (4-4)

With the offensive line struggling, most observers knew that Penn State would struggle against Michigan State… but not 55-16 struggle. Despite putting up 418 total yards, it seemed as if the Penn State offense, and specifically Christian Hackenberg, was under siege all afternoon. Hackenberg had two turnovers and even though he was only sacked two times on the afternoon, looked as if he didn’t know where to go with the ball or was inaccurate when he did have a receiver open. Saquon Barkley continues to be a bright spot for the PSU offense as he rushed for 103 yards on only 17  carries. Many expect Hackenberg to declare for the 2016 NFL draft so maybe now we will get to see the style of offense that head coach James Franklin really wants.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights 4-8 (1-7)

The offensive stats were there — 530 total yards, 344 yards passing from Chris Laviano and a monster 183-yard game from Leontee Carroo — but football is played on two sides and defensively Rutgers couldn’t hold onto the lead against Maryland in the 46-41 shootout. Up 31-10 in the second quarter it looked as if Rutgers was going to get its second consecutive win, but the team was outscored 36-10 in the second half and the hopes of ending the season on a high note were dashed. What’s crazy is that Maryland was able to mount the comeback on the ground as the Scarlet Knights defense surrendered 401 yards rushing — including five runs over 20 yards.

 

BIG TEN WESTERN DIVISION

Illinois Fighting Illini 5-7 (2-7)

Missed opportunities continue to plague the Illinois football team. This time, it was a costly interception by Wes Lunt and an ill-timed false start penalty on a fourth-and-one at the Northwestern four yard line that were just two of the mistakes in the 24-14 loss to Northwestern. It also didn’t help that the offense only converted 30% of its 18 third-down conversions. Running back Josh Ferguson had 140 total yards and linebacker Mason Monheim had a 58-yard interception return in the defeat. The one good thing that came of the weekend was interim coach Bill Cubit getting a two-year extension.

Iowa Hawkeyes 12-0 (8-0)

Sometimes you need a hard-fought victory to challenge you and that’s exactly what Iowa got in the 28-20 victory over Nebraska on “Black Friday.” Despite getting 140 yards from Jordan Canzeri, the victory was an ugly one for a Hawkeyes team that was looking to go undefeated for the first time in 93 years. With the offense struggling — it only had 250 total yards and was 0-of-9 on third-down conversions — the defense stepped up huge. Four interceptions, including a four-yard interception return for a touchdown by Parker Hesse, kept a Nebraska offense at bay all afternoon. Even with the victory, the Hawkeyes have a lot to fix if they want to win the Big Ten and crash the College Football Playoff party.

Minnesota Golden Gophers 5-7 (2-5)

The Gophers were hoping to pull off the upset and leave Paul Bunyan’s Ax in Minnesota for the first time since 2003, but turnovers and an inept offense would not allow it in the 31-21 defeat. Mitch Leidner has had an up and down season and against Wisconsin, it was more down as he had three interceptions and fumbled the ball once. After getting a 16-yard interception return for a touchdown by Briean Boddy-Calhoun to take the early lead it looked as if the upset was possible, but the Badgers went on to score 31 of the next 38 points to seal the victory. With the struggles of the passing game, you would have thought that Minnesota would lean more on the run game, but that didn’t happen as leading rusher, Rodney Smith, had 35 yards but on only seven carries.

Nebraska Cornhuskers 5-7 (3-5)

Looking to pull one of the biggest upsets of the 2015 season quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. found himself pressing all afternoon and it cost the team in the 28-20 defeat. His desire for the big play led to four interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown, and it seemed to cripple the entire team. It’s hard to look at Armstrong stats without getting frustrated as he passed for 295 yards and Nebraska outgained Iowa by 183 yards, but it wasn’t enough. This loss was a microcosm of the entire season: good moments but maddening decisions that lead to heartbreaking defeats. Imani Cross led the way on the ground with 55 yards and two touchdowns, but it took him 19 carries for an uninspiring 2.9 ypc average.

Northwestern Wildcats 10-2 (6-2)

Running back Justin Jackson led the way with 172 yards and one touchdown as the Wildcats defeated the in-state rival Illinois Fighting Illini 24-14. Northwestern benefitted from costly Illinois mishaps and was able to overcome a less-than-spectacular performance from quarterback Clayton Thorson (12-of-25 for 146 yards) to win its tenth game of the season. The defense carried the team in the second half as it forced Illinois into four drives of five plays or less and the two other drives resulted in a missed field goal and an interception by Matthew Harris.

Purdue Boilermakers 2-10 (1-7)

A major disappointing season finally came to an end with the 54-36 loss to in-state rival Indiana on Saturday. The Boilermakers trailed all afternoon and despite an admirable 332-yard and two touchdown performance from quarterback Austin Appleby, Purdue just couldn’t seem to keep up with the high-powered Indiana offense. Freshman Markell Jones capped a great introductory season by rushing for 96 yards on 16 carries and posted a yard-per-carry average of 6.0 or better for the fifth time this season. Head coach Darrell Hazell has a lot to work on in the off-season if he wants to turn this struggling Purdue program around.

Wisconsin Badgers 9-3 (6-2)

12 straight victories… That’s how much Wisconsin has dominated Minnesota recently and the 31-21 victory had the same type of feel to it. The Badgers dominated on both sides of the ball as it forced five turnovers, only allowed 276 total yards and dominated time of possession by over 21 minutes. With Cory Clement missing the game due to disciplinary reason, the Wisconsin backups filled in like they have most of the season. Dare Ogunbowale rushed for 155 yards on 33 carries and Twain Deal added 90 and two touchdowns on 22 carries. Tanner McEvoy was the defensive star with two interceptions and the Badgers close the regular season with a much-needed victory after the controversial loss to Northwestern the week before.

Sports Q&A Big 10 Player of the week:

Ezekiel Elliott: running back Ohio State- I should have known that Urban Meyer would give in to the wants of his player, and luckily for OSU fans it was something that helped the team. The 200+ yard performance was dominating on so many levels and even if U-M wouldn’t have had its own issues stopping the run, the defense still may have had its problems slowing down the focused Elliott.

Game of Week 14:

Michigan State vs Iowa

The Big Ten Championship is finally here and while some had MSU as an East Division representative at the beginning of the season, not many figured it would be the Hawkeyes representing the West Division. A strong running game and opportunistic defense resulted in Iowa having one of its best seasons ever, but the Hawkeyes will need to play better to beat the Spartans. Now that Connor Cook is healthy, you can add him to an offense that has rediscovered its run game and a defense that has been playing its best ball of the season recently. The matchup of two metro Detroit prospects, Desmond King and Aaron Burbridge will be must see tv. Too bad the Hawkeyes won’t have enough help for the ball-hawking cornerback. Michigan State 34 Iowa 23

Big Ten Conference Power Rankings: (last week’s ranking)

  1. Iowa Hawkeyes (1)- The offense didn’t look good against Nebraska, but the defense came to its rescue.
  2. Michigan Sate Spartans(2)– Finally a dominating performance by the Spartans
  3. Ohio State Buckeyes (4)- If they would have played this way all year they could still be ranked No. 1
  4. Michigan Wolverines (3)– It’s hard to win if you can’t stop the run and can’t run the ball yourself.
  5. Northwestern Wildcats (5)- A great 10 win season for the Wildcats, the head coach wants more respect, but you get that by not losing 38-0
  6. Wisconsin Badgers (6)  The Ax goes back to Madison where it’s been getting mail for the past 12 seasons
  7. Penn State Nittany Lions (7) PSU was the poor victim of MSU opening an offensive can of whoop ass
  8. Nebraska Cornhuskers (8) Tommy Armstrong could not stop giving the ball away and it cost the Cornhuskers again
  9. Indiana Hoosiers (9)- Going Bowling… now can they use this prep time to get Jordan Howard healthy so he can show how truly good of a back he is.
  10. Minnesota Golden Gophers(11) – Couldn’t bring back the Ax because the offense was wack… (yeah terrible line but hey it’s indicative of how Minnesota played)
  11. Illinois Fighting Illini (10)- Missed opportunities killed Illinois chance for a .500 season. Maybe new long-term coach Bill Cubit will get them over the hump next year
  12. Purdue Boilermakers (12)- The Boilermakers Couldn’t stop Indiana high-powered offense, how long before ppl call for Hazell’s head, or do they even care
  13. Maryland Terrapins (13)- One turnover this time, but still a great rush performance by the Terrapins to end the season with a win
  14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (14)- Rutgers fans can rejoice, the season is over… the suffering can stop
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