There were just four Big Ten games on the docket, but there was plenty of action and drama, headlined by the early front-runner for Game of the Year: Penn State’s four-overtime thriller over Michigan. Michigan State sent a statement with a strong home win vs. Indiana, while Wisconsin showed it will be a force to be reckoned with by dominating Northwestern. Here is a wrap on Week Seven.
Biggest surprise: Penn State. I didn’t see a win over unbeaten Michigan coming, especially after a 44-24 loss at Indiana the week before. But the Nittany Lions shocked many by knocking off Michigan, 43-40, in quadruple overtime behind the passing of true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who hit 23-of-44 passes for 304 yards with three touchdowns and two picks.
Biggest disappointment: Northwestern. The Wildcats suffered a disappointing and emotionally draining loss at home last week to Ohio State, 40-30. Now, this: A 35-6 demolition at Wisconsin in which the Wildcats were dominated in every phase of the game. Northwestern didn’t score a touchdown and the defense got shredded for 527 yards.
Best play: Penn State trailed Michigan, 34-27, and had the ball at their own 20-yard line with 50 seconds left. Things looked bleak for a Nittany Lion team that had blown a 21-10 halftime edge. But Hackenberg hit the biggest pass of his young career, a 36-yard desperation heave that Allen Robinson hauled in to set up a 1-yard scoring plunge by Hackenberg moments later that forced overtime. Penn State went on to win it in the fourth overtime.
Play this again: Penn State 43, Michigan 40. This was an instant classic, complete with myriad ebbs and flows and four emotionally draining overtimes. Whew! Penn State blew a 21-10 halftime lead before storming back to score the tying touchdown in the dying moments on a play set up by a heave from Christian Hackenberg to Allen Robinson. Each team’s kicker blew golden opportunities to win the game in OT before Penn State seized the moment in the fourth overtime by scoring on a 2-yard Bill Belton scoring run. The touchdown was set up by a gutsy call to go for it on fourth down instead of kicking a field goal. PSU got the first down and subsequent winning TD. Someone get me a digitalis.
Never play this again: Nebraska 44, Purdue 7. The score was 44-0 before the Boilermakers scored with 39 seconds left in the game. Every aspect of this game was lopsided. The Cornhuskers had 435 yards; the Boilermakers had 216. Nebraska had 251 yards rushing; Purdue 32. You get the point.
Week 7 grades
Michigan State: A
Penn State: B+
1. The reports of Devin Gardner’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, the Michigan junior had three turnovers (two picks and a lost fumble) at Penn State. But he carried the load all game long for the Wolverines by throwing for 240 yards and three touchdowns and running 24 times for 121 yards. It was heroic.
2. The legend of Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg continues to grow. He completed 23-of-44 passes for 304 yards with three touchdowns and two picks. Is he really just a true freshman?
3. Anyone else think we could see Michigan State play Ohio State in the Big Ten title game? Never mind. It’s only midseason. But, that would be a fun matchup in Indianapolis.
4. Taylor Who? Nebraska played without Taylor Martinez for a third game in a row as he deals with turf toe. No worries. The duo of Tommy Armstrong, Jr., and Ron Kellogg III combined to hit 16-of-31 passes for 251 yards in a 44-7 whipping of Purdue.
5. Connor Cook for Heisman. I jest. But the Michigan State sophomore continues to impress with a second consecutive strong performance, hitting 22-of-31 passes for 235 yards with two touchdowns and a pick in a 42-28 win vs. Indiana.
6. Taylor Lewan’s knee. The big fella had to leave the Penn State game after tweaking his knee. He remained on the field in uniform but didn’t re-enter the game.
7. Badger defense. The Wisconsin offense typically gets the headlines. And, rightly so; it had 527 yard vs. NU. But the Badger defense was outstanding in stifling Northwestern. The Wildcats didn’t score a touchdown and had just 241 yards of offense with only 44 yards rushing on 25 carries (1.8 ypc).
8. Northwestern owies. A week after returning from injury, running back Venric Mark was lost to an apparent left foot injury in the second quarter. And quarterback Kain Colter seemed out of sorts after a lower-body injury suffered in the first half.
9. Michigan DE Frank Clark has arrived as a big-play force. We began to see it a few weeks ago at UConn, where Clark had two sacks. And we saw more evidence today. At the start of the second half, Clark scooped up a fumble and rambled 24 yards for a touchdown. Then in the third overtime, Clark recovered an Allen Robinson fumble that looked to set up Michigan for a win—until a missed field goal washed out the effort.
10. Will Purdue win another game? I am having my doubts.
Top 5 performances
1. Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford ran 23 times for 109 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-28 win over Indiana. Has this solidified the junior as the Spartans’ go-to running back?
2. Michigan State QB Connor Cook enjoyed another strong effort, hitting 22-of-31 passes for 235 yards with two touchdowns and a pick.
3. Nebraska QB Ron Kellogg hit 10-of-13 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown in a 44-7 win at Purdue. Not bad for a third-string quarterback.
4. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon ran 22 times for 172 yards and a touchdown in a 35-6 demolition of Northwestern.
5. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg completed 23-of-44 passes for 304 yards with three touchdowns and two picks in a 43-30 four-overtime win vs. Michigan.
2.8, yards per rush for Michigan at Penn State. So, the running game in Ann Arbor still needs work.
5, field goals that Michigan and Penn State combined to miss. Michigan’s Brendan Gibbons went 4-of-7; Penn State’s Sam Ficken went 3-of-5. Fittingly, the game was won with a touchdown.
512, combined passing yards the past two weeks for Michigan State QB Connor Cook. He has hit 47-of-75 passes (63 percent) with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
0, points in the second half for Northwestern at Wisconsin. And the Wildcats also had zero touchdowns vs. the Badgers, having to settle for two field goals.
1, player ejected for targeting this season for a Big Ten school. It happened today at Purdue, where Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste was ejected after leading with his helmet while going after Dalyn Dawkins.
Sneak Peak Ahead
This isn’t a great week, as there really isn’t a marquee matchup that jumps off the page. Iowa’s trip to Ohio State has some potential, as each team is coming off a bye. But while the Hawkeyes are coming off a loss; the Buckeyes have won 18 in a row. Tim Beckman is looking for his first Big Ten win, as Wisconsin comes to Champaign. Hmmm. Minnesota at Northwestern? Purdue at Michigan State? Indiana at Michigan?
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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