The last week of the regular season is upon us. While Ohio State vs. Michigan is always going to be the Big Ten’s biggest rivalry, the biggest game this weekend is in Madison where Penn State and Wisconsin play for the right to represent the Leaders Division in the first-ever Big Ten Championship Game.
It’s a Penn State team that showed great resolve in its win over Ohio State on Saturday. I thought the Nittany Lions might be emotionally drained after the events of the past couple of weeks. I was wrong. On top of that, the coaching staff inserted some new wrinkles, including a wildcat formation that helped them put together arguably their best offensive half of football this season – a fact which showed up in the numbers.
3, 1: Penn State had 3 runs of 38 yards or longer against Ohio State. They had 1 such run all season entering the game.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, comes into the game after some uncharacteristic offensive struggles against Illinois.
285: The Badgers managed just 285 total yards in their match-up with the Illini. It was Wisconsin’s lowest yardage output in the last two seasons.
The Badgers’ Montee Ball also fumbled in the first half against Illinois. Given that Wisconsin recovered, it’s a play that might have gone unnoticed – were it not for this.
936: Ball’s fumble was the first by a Wisconsin running back in their last 936 touches – including carries, catches and returns. Just to clarify, that’s not 936 touches since they lost a fumble. It’s 936 carries since they fumbled at all. A Badger back had last lost the handle on a ball in the second game of the 2010 season.
While that streak ended last week, another impressive one continued.
35: Russell Wilson’s five-yard touchdown pass to Ball in the third quarter made it 35 straight games with at least one TD pass for Wilson. That is one shy of the all-time NCAA record of 36, held by former Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell. As an aside, Wilson is also on pace to break the NCAA record for passing efficiency in a season.
Michigan State awaits the winner of that Penn State – Wisconsin game after wrapping up the Legends Division title last week. Like Wisconsin, the Spartans have a QB putting up some historic numbers. For that matter, so does their opponent this week – Northwestern.
23, 246, 2: After throwing for 272 yards last week against Indiana, the Spartans’ Kirk Cousins now has 23 career games with 200 or more passing yards. That ties the all-time MSU record held by Jeff Smoker. Cousins is also in a position to pass Smoker for first place on the school’s career yardage and TD pass lists this weekend. He would do so with 246 passing yards and 2 TDs.
1st: Northwestern’s Kain Colter has thrown for 660 yards, rushed for 571 yards and has 410 receiving yards this season. As I’ve mentioned in the past, we have a searchable database that goes back to 1996. In that time frame, Colter is the 1st and only player nationally to achieve all three of those numbers in the same season. In fact, he’s the only player in that time span to have more than 500 passing yards, 500 rushing yards and 200 receiving yards. His 8 rushing TDs, 5 passing TDs and 3 receiving TDs are also a 1st in at least the last 16 seasons.
As long as we’re on the topic of individual accomplishments:
8: Iowa’s Marvin McNutt has 8 100-yard receiving games this season. He’s the first Big Ten player to accomplish that since Wisconsin’s Lee Evans did so in 2001.
The Hawkeyes take on a Nebraska team that had all kinds of trouble moving the football against Michigan last week. They were particularly bad on 3rd down, which limited the length of their possessions, leading to this shocking number.
18:39: The Huskers held the ball for just 18:39 against Michigan. It was the first time Nebraska had been held under 20 minutes of possession time in a game since 1983, when they held the ball for just 19:33 against Kansas State. The difference is, they won that game 51-25.
More from the statistical oddity department:
5, 0-5: Illinois has had more first downs than its opponent in 5 straight games. The Illini are 0-5 in those games. The last team that had a longer streak of consecutive losses in games in which it had more first downs was Rice – which dropped six straight in that scenario back in 2005.
Part of the explanation for the Illini’s slump – an absence of big plays.
32, 5: Illinois had 32 plays from scrimmage that went 20 yards or longer in its first six games – all wins. In their last five games – all losses – the Illini have had just 5 such plays.
They’ll face a Minnesota team that has started to address one of its more glaring weaknesses.
9, 9: The Gophers had just 9 sacks last season – tied for the fewest nationally. They have totaled 9 in the last 4 games alone, equaling last year’s total.
Indiana has made less progress addressing its defensive woes.
267.6: The Hoosiers are allowing 267.6 rush yards per game in conference play this season. That is the most for any team in the nation.
That will be a welcome sight on Saturday for a Purdue team that has had problems moving the ball on the ground of late.
206.5, 113: The Boilermakers averaged 206.5 rushing yards per game in their first six outings this year. They’ve picked up just 113 per game over their last five.
Purdue’s best rushing output in that stretch came against Ohio State – a game in which the Boilers accumulated 129 yards and beat the Buckeyes.
It was one of two losses for Ohio State this month.
2, 1: Ohio State has lost 2 games in November so far this season. Coming into this season, the Buckeyes had lost 1 November game since 2005. This is the first time they’ve lost two in a row in November since 1999, when they dropped their final three.
The Bucks will obviously face a fired-up Michigan team on Saturday. They’re playing for a possible BCS bid, they’ve lost seven straight to OSU, and, on top of that, they happen to be really good – particularly on defense.
77, 203: Michigan has given up 77 second-half points this year. The Wolverines allowed 203 last season. In fact, the fewest points they yielded in any quarter last season was 83.
While the Wolverines still have a shot at a share of the Legends Division title, they cannot win the Big Ten.
2001: This will be the first time since 2001 that neither the Buckeyes nor the Wolverines will capture a Big Ten Championship.
Still plenty of focus on that game as well as the rest of the day’s action on the final regular season Auto Owners Insurance Pre-Game of the season on Saturday. We’ll see you at our normal time – 10:30 a.m. Eastern. Have a great Thanksgiving.