Big Ten Football: What We Learned During Week 13

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor INovember 24, 2013

Nov 23, 2013; West Lafayette, IN, USA;  Illinois Fighting Illini wide receiver Steve Hull (9) catches a pass with Purdue Boilermakers defensive back Frankie Williams (24) defending the play during the fourth quarter at Ross Ade Stadium. Illinois won 20-16. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Those results seemed like a forgone conclusion given Indiana and Northwestern as opponents and results played out that way. 

Yet, Week 13 in the Big Ten wasn't devoid of storylines or amazing endings by a long shot. 

What did Week 13 provide for us? It gave us another wacky overtime and a crazy second-half meltdown. 

That was just the tip of the iceberg as well, so let's see what Week 13 told us about the conference.

Minnesota Isn't As Far Away from Top of Conference As We Thought

Wisconsin may own the Axe for the 10th straight time, a record for either team in the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe, but the way the game played out told a different story.

The Gophers and Badgers aren't that far apart—and it isn't that Wisconsin isn't good, it's that Minnesota is closing the gap.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 23: Ra'Shede Hageman #99 and Cedric Thompson #2 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers tackle James White #20 of the Wisconsin Badgers during the first quarter of the game on November 23, 2013 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnes
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Wisconsin's rushing attack came in averaging over 300 yards a game in Big Ten play, yet the Gophers held UW to just 197 yards on the ground. More importantly, the Badgers averaged just 4.4 yards a carry and managed just one touchdown on the ground.

That's a credit to the Minnesota defense, but it was Minnesota's offense that should have given some hope to Gopher fans.

One has to wonder what would've happened had the Gophers not turned the ball over three times on the day—especially since two of them came while inside Badger territory.

Minnesota also challenged Wisconsin's secondary and was just a few completed passes away from really being in the game.

For the first time in years in this series it felt as if two equals were on the field and that's a huge complement to where Jerry Kill, Tracy Claeys and the rest of the coaching staff have this team in just three years.

The Illini May Have Saved Tim Beckman's Job By Breaking Their Losing Streak

Streaks and records are made to be broken, whether good or bad and on Saturday the Illini got a monkey off their back. 

Nov 23, 2013; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Purdue Boilermakers running back Jonathan Curry (2) is chased down by Purdue Boilermakers linebacker Ruben Ibarra (6) during the third quarter at Ross Ade Stadium. Illinois won 20-16. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Beckman finally got his first conference win, 20-16 over Purdue, and it snapped a 20-game losing streak—nearly the exact opposite of what is going on in Columbus. 

Did it come against one of the big boys in the Big Ten? No, but that shouldn't matter. A win is a win, especially when you haven't been doing a lot of it lately. 

Let's not forget how that streak started, either. In Ron Zook's final year the team was riding high on a six-game win streak. But, that was the end of the winning as Zook's crew lost the final six games of the season and the head coach was out of a job. 

The losing has continued for all of last season and for the first time since Oct. 8, 2011 the Illini were winners on a Saturday in the Big Ten. 

Losing is contagious, but so is winning. Ending the season on a high note is important. 

Even more important is showing progress and that's exactly what the Illini did by winning, and winning on the road no less. 

Yes, it was just Purdue and the Boilermakers are going through a remodel of their own, but when you haven't won in over two full calendar years, does it really matter? 

To Tim Beckman it does—it quiets his critics and shows his team isn't giving up. More importantly, his defense didn't give up 20 or more points for a change as well. 

No doubt there is a long way to go in Champaign, but Beckman now has something to build off of and he should get one more year at least to figure out how to play defense.

Penn State + Overtime = Must-See TV 

Just when you think you've seen it all from Penn State, they go and play another overtime game and something crazy happens once again. 

Nothing about Penn State's 2013 season screams normal by any stretch of the imagination.

Whether it is being down to 61 scholarship players, having future sanctions lifted in the middle of the season or playing three overtime games—something new seems to happen to Penn State regularly this year.

That's the case when the clock reads 0:00 and Penn State is tied with its opponent on the other side of the field.

Earlier this year it was the Nittany Lions pulling out a crazy win after Michigan missed a pair of field goals that allowed Bill Belton to score a game-winning touchdown in the fourth overtime.

Then it was a game-ending interception in overtime just two weeks later against Illinois.

On Saturday, things went against the Nittany Lions, but it was still not without drama.

Sam Ficken missed a chip-shot field goal wide right and Nebraska's Pat Smith hit a 42-yard field goal to end the game.

In 2013, it's all about the entertainment value with Penn State.

One has to wonder what Penn State has in store for a finale next week against Wisconsin.  

Nebraska's Win Makes Pelini's Future Very Interesting

Bo Pelini, meet the hot seat. After losing to Michigan State and assuring Nebraska wouldn't make the trip to Indianapolis for a second time, it sure appeared that was the direction things were heading. 

With a trip to Happy Valley and a game against a tough Iowa squad in the Heroes Game, the prospects for an impressive finish weren't looking good. 

Nov 23, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Bo Pelini  prior to the game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

After the crazy overtime win at Penn State on Saturday, Nebraska now has eight wins on the season and could well finish the season with double-digit wins. 

Beat the Hawkeyes and win a bowl game and suddenly firing or pushing Bo Pelini out the door isn't as easy as one would assume.

How do you justify firing a coach that wins 10 games for you?

Especially when you look around the country and ask yourself one question—would this coach give us any other result?

The reality is where the Huskers program is right now and where fans expect them to be aren't the same. Until some fans begin to realize the days of dominating a conference and competing every year for national championships are over, no coach is going to be safe in Lincoln. 

Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst could bring in Urban Meyer or Nick Saban and unless they were winning national championships immediately some in Husker nation wouldn't be happy. 

No doubt things aren't perfect, but on the field is there another coach that gets your team more consistent results? 

That's the dilemma facing Eichorst. Do you swing for the fences and risk missing (and thus fire yourself) or do you take a gamble that Pelini can get over the hump eventually? 

If Nebraska keeps winning, Pelini sure has a good case to keep his job.

James White May Be Big Ten's Most Under-Appreciated Player

Nov 23, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back James White (20) rushes with the ball in the first quarter against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe it's his low-key demeanor, or his soft voice or the fact that he's seemingly been overlooked all his football life—whatever the reason, it's time Wisconsin's James White gets his time in the spotlight. 

Wisconsin doesn't win the axe for the tenth time in a row without White's 125 yards and touchdown. It was just two yards less than quarterback Joel Stave had throwing on the day. 

Minnesota's defense put up a stiff test, but eventually White and the Badgers broke through. 

Over the past four games White has made a very strong case that he is the best all-around back in the Big Ten. 

Since a season-low 31 yards (on just eight carries) against Ohio State, White has gone for over 100 yards in five of the last six games. 

He has tallied 808 yards and nine touchdowns during that period as well. Over the six games since his season low he is averaging 134.6 yards a game. 

While the run game is the main focus, White has been great in other areas. He's collected 31 receptions for 257 yards this season and he's been a great blocker in the pass game as well. 

His block on Jared Abbrederis' second end-around touchdown against Indiana was the key that sprung the receiver loose for the touchdown.

White is third in the Big Ten in rushing this season with 1,218 yards and 63 percent of his season total has come over the last six games. 

While White hasn't surpassed his teammate, Melvin Gordon, he's coming closer each week and currently is averaging just under nine yards fewer a game than Gordon. 

Because of his performance over the past four conference games, White has surpassed his fellow running back at Wisconsin in rushing during conference games. 

White has 837 yards to Gordon's 812, which puts him just behind Carlos Hyde and Ameer Abdullah. 

Yet, White's name isn't mentioned in the same breath as those other four names. When it comes time to hand out awards, it will be interesting to see which Wisconsin back is ahead. 

Braxton Miller Makes it Very Clear Who's the Best Quarterback in the Big Ten

As if there was a question before this weekend, Ohio State's Braxton Miller left little doubt that he is the best quarterback the Big Ten has to offer. 

Sure, he didn't pass for a ton of yards (just 160), but his combined rushing and passing total of over 300 yards and four total touchdowns was more of the performance some thought they'd see out of Miller all season long. 

Nov 23, 2013; Columbus, OH, USA;   Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller (5) breaks a tackle by Indiana Hoosiers cornerback Tim Bennett (24) in the first quarter of the game at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Spor

Miller is fifth in conference play in passing average (202.6 yards per game), but he is the conference's most efficient passer (165.8 passer efficiency rating).

He leads the Big Ten in completion percentage at 67.3 percent in conference games and 67.7 percent overall in 2013. Additionally, Miller has a crazy 19 touchdown to four interception ratio to his credit. 

Only Michigan State's Connor Cook has thrown fewer interceptions with three. 

What has separated Miller from the rest of the pack, more than just the numbers, is his ability to know his role and take what the other teams give him. He isn't trying to, nor does he have to, do everything by himself. 

It has freed him up to become a better passer and a better decision-maker. 

As we reach the end of the road in 2013, it's hard to point to a quarterback that has performed better on an overall basis than Miller, and Saturday against Indiana was a great example of just that.

*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.


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