Big Ten Football: What We Learned During Week 8

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor IOctober 20, 2013

The Big Ten is boring. Well, not so much anymore after Week 8, huh?

One could be forgiven for being lulled into a false sense of "here we go again" after two eye-gougingly awful games to open the day on the Big Ten slate. 

However, the final three games of Week 8 more than made up for the faults of the first two games. On the whole, Week 8 will be remembered as one of the most entertaining weekends in recent memory. 

That said, what lessons did that entertaining football give us to learn going forward? 

Let us explore what we should've all learned from Week 8 of the season for the Big Ten. 

Devin Gardner at his best is scary, record-setting good...and super fun to watch

Oct 19, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner (98) runs the ball by Indiana Hoosiers linebacker Forisse Hardin (4) in the second half at Michigan Stadium. Michigan won 63-47. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Spo
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, Michigan's game against Indiana was an affront to good defensive football by both the Wolverines and Hoosiers—but it was also highly entertaining to watch. 

Not to mention record-setting, as well. 

It was also an example of what people saw in Devin Gardner before this season. 

Let's just go over the numbers for a minute: 

  • Michigan set a school record with 751 yards of offense
  • It's total was the second best in Big Ten history
  • Devin Gardner's 584 total yards was a school record 
  • Gardner's 503 yards passing was also a school record 
  • Wide receiver Jeremy Gallon had 14 catches for a school- and conference-record 369 yards (second highest total in FBS football history)

It was simply impressive all the way around, and anyone who wants to throw out Indiana's defense as a caveat wasn't paying attention to just how incredible this was. 

Was part of what happened because Indiana's defense played bad? Sure, but it was vastly more about what Gardner was doing right. 

Asking him to do that every week is a bit much, but seeing more of that and less of the turnover-prone version of himself will make this team a true contender for a division title. 

Soak up what happened on Saturday in Ann Arbor, and let's see if this is a catalyst for things to come for Gardner and the Wolverines. 

Illinois' offense is legit

Wisconsin's defense came in as the second best in the Big Ten, and Nathan Scheelhaase and Co. proceeded to shred the Badgers secondary. 

Illinois also scored the most offensive points against this Badgers defense of any opponent this season (tied with Arizona State at 32 points).

Too bad the Illini defense didn't play along, or this game would've likely looked a lot different. 

On Saturday night, the Illini passing game proved it was for real against a very solid defense—going for 319 yards and two touchdowns as a team. 

Nathan Scheelhaase did all he could do to keep his team in the game and bounced back in a big way after a down game on the road against Nebraska two weeks ago. 

What may have been most impressive was what the Illini did in the red zone against the Badgers, scoring on four of their five opportunities—with three touchdowns. 

Coming into the game, Wisconsin had given up just five red zone touchdowns in the previous six games this season. 

Illinois can win a few more games with that offense alone, and that's a credit to how hard Scheelhaase and Co. have worked under Bill Cubit. 

Northwestern's Big Ten title hopes have crashed and burned with loss of Colter and Mark

Give Minnesota credit: It won in every phase of the game on Saturday in Evanston and showed it is a clearly improved team. 

Oct 19, 2013; Evanston, IL, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers defensive lineman Theiren Cockran (55) causes Northwestern Wildcats quarterback Trevor Siemian (13) to fumble during the second half at Ryan Field.  The Minnesota Golden Gophers defeated the Northw
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

However, the Gophers win was also the death blow to Northwestern's division title hopes and exposed just how much the Wildcats need a mobile quarterback to win games.

Earlier in the week, I said Northwestern still controlled its own destiny in the Legends Division, and as we sit here on Sunday, the Wildcats only have themselves to blame for losing three straight conference games. 

I mean, just 94 yards on the ground versus a bottom-half rushing defense in the Big Ten? That simply doesn't get it done. 

The rest of the Northwestern offense did its part, as the Wildcats outgained Minnesota 328 to 299 yards in the loss. 

Northwestern's main problem was its lack of a running game on early downs, and it was too predictable with only Trevor Siemian at quarterback. You knew that the running back was getting the ball on zone-read plays or that it was going to be a pass play if there wasn't any gain on early downs. 

The Wildcats went just 6-of-16 on third downs in the game as well, and most of them were third and longs. 

You can't win football games in the style of offense Northwestern wants to play without a quarterback that is a threat to run on any down. Ultimately, without Kain Colter and Venric Mark, Northwestern's title hopes went by the wayside Saturday afternoon. 

Ohio State proves why it should be a national contender...

The Buckeyes outscored Iowa 24-7 in the second half after going into the half down 17-10.

Talk about making a statement. 

The good news for Ohio State is that it has taken the best shots from three Big Ten opponents and has come out on the winning end all three times. 

Additionally, Ohio State fans saw a glimpse of the old Braxton Miller

Oct 19, 2013; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller (5) runs the ball during the fourth quarter against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

He was 22-of-27 passing for 222 yards with two touchdowns, adding 102 yards on the ground as well. 

That's great news for Ohio State and bad news for the rest of the conference and possibly the nation. 

More of that in the future from Braxton Miller, and these close wins are going to turn into the "style points" blowouts everyone seems to need to see to validate just how good Ohio State is.

...While Iowa proves the Big Ten is better than its national perception

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 19:  Noah Spence #8 of the Ohio State Buckeyes forces quarterback Jake Rudock #15 of the Iowa Hawkeyes out of the pocket in the second quarter at Ohio Stadium on October 19, 2013 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Image
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Don't believe that statement? 

Ask yourself a few of these questions, and then tell me what you think.

Would the 2012 Minnesota Gophers have won a road game against Northwestern? Considering its two wins last year on the road were to two terrible teams in UNLV and Illinois, that would be highly doubtful. 

Would the 2012 Hawkeyes have put a scare into the Buckeyes at the Shoe? Not with James Vandenberg.

Lastly, would the 2012 Illini have been able to put up 32 points on this Wisconsin defense? You mean, the 2012 Illini offense that averaged 16 points and just 168 yards through the air? Yeah, that wasn't going to happen. 

Add in an Indiana team that can beat anyone it wants with the offense it has, and the depth of this conference is far superior to what it has been the past few seasons. 

There aren't any weeks off in the Big Ten this year—for anyone. 

Enjoy Melvin Gordon while we can

Watching MGIII, as he's affectionately called by Badger fans, is pure unadulterated fun. 

He's second nationally in rushing yards (1,032) and rushing touchdowns (11), doing it all on fewer carries than everyone else inside the top 10 in the nation. 

Every time he touches the ball, he's got home-run-hitting capability. 

In fact, words can't say it all, so I'll let the video speak for itself in this case: 

Since Gordon is a redshirt sophomore, there has been some speculation he could be off to the NFL after this year. 

Who could blame him with the kind of numbers he is putting up and the loaded backfield Wisconsin has—and will have next season as well?

Point is, enjoy what you are witnessing from Gordon, because it won't be around for long if this keeps up.

Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.


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