Big Ten Football: What We Learned During Week 10
Were you not entertained? Seriously, if you didn't enjoy Week 10 in the Big Ten, then you have no pulse.
From a crazy Hail Mary to another crazy overtime involving Penn State and a shootout in Bloomington, there was plenty to love about what took place across the conference on Saturday.
Oh, and then there was the slugfest in Iowa City for all you old-school Big Ten fans, too.
Needless to say, there was plenty to take away from a wild weekend in the conference.
What did we learn? Let's get to the lessons.
Michigan State Has Become Big Brother
Sorry to say, Michigan, you aren't the team or school that runs the state of Michigan anymore.
You may have dubbed the Spartans "Little Brother" when you won 20 of 25 games from 1970 to 1994, but those days are over.
Not only did MSU win in convincing fashion, 29-6, over its in-state rivals, but it has now won five of the last six in this series.
Even Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio recognized the confidence this team has when playing Michigan.
"I can just tell you that we do what we do," said Dantonio. "There are guys that they have on their football team that we haven't offered, let's get that straight right now. There are guys on our football team that they've never offered, so it's what you do with the players that come and what their belief system is. Our guys are believing."
Michigan State has done it with defense during the last six games, never allowing more than 21 points and allowing just 12 points in the lone loss.
On Saturday, it wasn't just the six points, but the fact that the Spartans defense held Michigan to minus-48 yards rushing.
In fact, Michigan only had 44 yards of positive rushing yardage to minus-92 on 29 carries in the loss.
Michigan State bullied Michigan all over the field in East Lansing on Saturday, and it wasn't the first time, either.
"Defensively, we've just been dominant," Dantonio said after the game. "In modern football, you just don't see that very often and that's a credit to our staff, Coach Narduzzi and his defensive staff, Coach Burton, Coach Tressel, Coach Barnett and our graduate assistants, and it's also a credit to our players, how they're able to adjust midstream and play with confidence."
"There's a certain amount of talent out there, but when you tack on confidence and the belief in the system and each other, great things are possible. I think we saw that today."
Saturday proved the old adage—be careful of what you wish for, you just might get it—true.
After dubbing the Spartans as "Little Brother" during the good times, it's time the Wolverines wear that moniker for a little while themselves.
When Ohio State Starts Fast, It Usually Doesn't Look Back
Everyone talks about how explosive Baylor and Oregon are on the offensive side of the football, but no one has done it like Ohio State has this season.
At least in the first quarter, where Ohio State leads all of FBS football in points scored, with 171.
That is six better than Baylor.
Oregon only has 145 points in the first quarter, and Texas A&M is fourth with 124 points.
On Saturday, the Buckeyes got out to a quick 28-0 lead and never looked back—a trend that has been happening increasingly throughout Big Ten play.
They did the exact same thing against Penn State last week.
The quick start is also how Ohio State won the Big Ten opener versus Wisconsin, scoring on the opening drive and going up 14-7 late in the first quarter.
So, if you want to stop the Buckeyes, you have to slow them down from the beginning.
However, that's easier said than done—as Ohio State has scored on its first drive of the game in all but one try this season.
The Buckeyes have scored touchdowns on six of their nine opening drives and have 48 points on those drives; the only stop came on an interception thrown by Kenny Guiton in the Florida A&M game.
Pretty hard to top those numbers, yet Ohio State is nearly as good coming out in the second half as well.
The Buckeyes have scored on five of their nine first possessions of the third quarter—all of them touchdowns.
It hasn't just been the offense that has started strong in each half, either, as Ohio State has allowed just 38 points in the first quarter and just 31 points in the third quarter to opponents this year.
Playing that well in the opening quarter of each half is what has Ohio State 9-0 this season.
It's also the biggest difference between this year and last, when Ohio State struggled nearly all season to put opponents away.
Nebraska Got Its Kellogg's on Saturday but Will Need to Eat Its Wheaties to Stay in Legends Division Race
Talk about a change of fortune, huh?
Nebraska went from the end of the Bo Pelini era to still in the mix thanks to one flick of the wrist by Ron Kellogg III.
It was an exciting finish and a memorable moment—no one should take that away from the Huskers.
The win kept them in the Legends Division race, just one game behind Michigan State.
Still, there was plenty to worry about, and the reaction said it all.
Nebraska celebrated like it had won the Big Ten championship—against a team (Northwestern) that hasn't won a conference game all season.
So let's be real here—the Huskers need a heck of a lot more than a Hail Mary to stay in the Legends Division race.
The defense gave up 245 yards on the ground to Northwestern, and the offense could only muster 195 yards on the ground with one of the best running backs in the conference, Ameer Abdullah, on its side.
Abdullah was good but unspectacular on the day—gaining 127 yards on 24 carries—and had no touchdowns.
The Huskers' passing game wasn't anything to write home about, either, combining to complete just 52.3 percent of passes between Kellogg III and Tommy Armstrong Jr.
In fact, Kellogg III completed all of six passes for 55 yards outside of the 49-yard Hail Mary.
Not exactly confidence-building stuff considering the Huskers still have Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa on the schedule.
If Nebraska plays like it did on Saturday against any of the rest of its schedule, this may be the last win the Huskers get.
Don't Mess With Penn State in Overtime Anymore
Coming into this season, Penn State and overtime were like oil and water—they simply didn't mix.
That was especially the case in Big Ten play, where the Nittany Lions lost their first three attempts at overtime.
Now things have completely flipped, and that's thanks to a set of completely crazy endings in the last two overtime games.
First it was the debacle that was the four-overtime game against Michigan, when it took a botched field goal by the Wolverines to allow Penn State to win.
This week, it was a touchdown and tipped interception in the end zone on back-to-back plays against Illinois for the win.
PSU's overtime record against Big Ten teams now stands at 4-3.
We've gotten the message loud and clear, Coach O'Brien—don't mess with Penn State in overtime—especially at home.
The Nittany Lions have three of their four Big Ten OT wins all time in Happy Valley.
Minnesota Messed Around and Found a Passing Game to Go With Its Running Game
Caveat: This was against Indiana's defense—but that should be a given around Big Ten country by now.
That said, who saw how Minnesota would win the game in Bloomington coming?
If you did, take a bow, because you certainly hadn't been paying attention to the lack of a consistent passing game for either Gophers quarterback.
On Saturday, though, Minnesota leaned on the arm of sophomore Philip Nelson, and it paid off big time.
Nelson went 16-of-23 for 298 yards and four touchdowns through the air.
Those four touchdowns were as many as he has thrown for all season long and were a single-game high for his career as well.
Additionally, the 298 yards were a career high and just the second time in Nelson's career he has eclipsed the 200-yard mark through the air.
The fact that a quarterback had a career day against Indiana shouldn't be shocking—just ask Devin Gardner—but the fact that it was a Minnesota QB throwing for nearly 300 yards in a single game is shocking.
It also helped that Indiana got virtually no pressure on Nelson, who was sacked just once on Saturday.
Minnesota didn't abandon the run game, either, going for 248 yards on 52 carries as a team.
David Cobb continued to take control in the run game, going for a team-high 188 yards on 29 carries and adding a touchdown.
Don't let the 42-39 score fool you, though. Minnesota controlled most of the game, and that's because it was balanced offensively.
If this is a trend that continues, this 7-2 Gophers team could be looking at nine wins pretty easily.
Wisconsin's Defense Is Perhaps the Deepest in the Big Ten
No Chris Borland, no problem for the Badgers defense on Saturday in the 28-9 win at Iowa.
All his replacement, Marcus Trotter, has done since Borland went down in the first quarter of the Illinois game is lead his team in tackles in two straight games.
Imagine taking Max Bullough out of the Michigan State defense or Ryan Shazier out of the Ohio State defense.
Then imagine no Shalique Calhouhn or Noah Spence, respectively, as well.
That's what the Badgers have been dealing with over the past two games—missing the heart and soul as well as their best pass-rusher with Borland out.
Would that result in a defense capable of holding an opponent out of the end zone for an entire game for either Michigan State or Ohio State?
Yet, that's what Wisconsin did on Saturday to a very good Iowa offense, and it wasn't the first time, either.
Part of the reason for the Badgers' success in holding the Hawkeyes out of the end zone is that they are so deep in the front seven.
That depth has allowed seven players to record more than one sack and six players to record three or more tackles for loss this season.
Every week, it seems as if someone else is stepping up in big ways, and Saturday was no different.
Wisconsin was not only without Borland but was missing Tyler Dippel as well.
In stepped Pat Muldoon, and he came up big for the Badgers—recording half a sack, two tackles and a key interception.
Another secret to the success for the Badgers defense is in its ability to keep players fresh.
Outside of Borland, most front-seven players aren't playing more than 60 percent of plays for Wisconsin, and the depth allows it to do that.
The best example of that is backup defensive tackle Warren Herring, who leads the team with five tackles for loss and three sacks despite not starting a single contest this season and missing a game with an injury.
It also shows up on the stat sheet as a team.
Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score on just 76.2 percent of their chances.
Only eight of the 16 red-zone conversions given up have been touchdowns, which also leads the Big Ten.
It's all a testament to the depth and preparation the entire defense has.
Wisconsin's secret to being the second-best defense in the Big Ten? The sum of its parts is just as good as the parts themselves.
*Andy Coppens is the lead writer for the Big Ten. All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise noted. You can follow Andy on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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