Illinois didn't play on Saturday, but there was plenty of excitement throughout Big Ten this weekend. Here's a recap of everything that happened:
The day started off with the Iowa Hawkeyes traveling to Evanston to face off against the Northwestern Wildcats in a battle of ranked teams. Iowa came out swinging and established an early 16-0 lead in the second quarter. With the game about to blow open, Iowa running back Jordan Canzeri injured his leg. Northwestern took advantage and lowered the deficit to make it 16-10 at half. It was obvious that Iowa was in control though -- it was just a matter of time until they pulled away. The Hawkeyes did just that, scoring 24 unanswered points in the second half to prevail with a 40-10 victory; Northwestern's "elite" defense was shattered by Iowa's 3rd and 4th string running back. Fitzy couldn't get the Wildcats prepared for a game that had major Big Ten West implications, and was Northwestern's homecoming.
Also at 11:00 was Purdue at Wisconsin. The Badgers got out to a 7-0 first quarter lead, and were in front for the rest of the game. Wisconsin never really pulled away, though. Purdue hung around and cut the deficit to 10-7 by halftime. Wisconsin would go on to score two second half touchdowns, but never put Purdue out of reach until very late in the contest. Even with running back Corey Clement back, Wisconsin's offense didn't manage many points on a shaky Boilermaker defense that gave up nearly 50 points to Minnesota last week.
Later in the afternoon was the Battle for the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy. Nebraska would not be heartbroken on this day. The Cornhusker offense came out hot and took a 14-7 lead over Minnesota in the first quarter. Mike Riley's squad never looked back as the offense stayed hot all day, pushing the lead to 24 at the start of the fourth quarter -- it was Mike Riley's first Big Ten win at Nebraska.
And then the real craziness began.
Rutgers and Indiana didn't look like an interesting game going in, but these two teams changed that in a hurry. Rutgers entered halftime with a 27-24 lead, but Indiana immediately scored 28 points after the break to go up 52-27 with just over 17 minutes remaining. And then the Scarlet Knights came storming back with 28 points of their own, unanswered for the 55-52 win. It was a truly terrible display of football by Indiana. They turned the ball over three times, and their defense wouldn't have been able to stop a high school team.
Next was the biggest game of the day in the Big Ten, and perhaps the country. No. 12 Michigan, winners of five straight, vs. No. 7 Michigan State, winners of 6 straight. It was an old school B1G battle, as both Michigan and Michigan State's fullbacks both scored touchdowns, and the defenses were stellar. Neither team was able to establish a running game, so they both resorted to the passing game relatively early. Connor Cook connected with Aaron Burbridge 9 times for 132 yards.
After some questionable decisions by the refs Michigan held a 23-21 lead. With the game on the line, the Wolverine defense came up with a big stop, and forced the Spartans to turn the ball over on downs. Mark Dantonio had peculiarly used his second timeout to go over a 4th-and-19 play, so Michigan only had to get one first down. And like Nebraska, they couldn't. But there was still only 10 seconds left on the clock -- all they had to do was punt the ball and the game was over.
They couldn't do that, either. Michigan's punter, who had been amazing all day, [literally] dropped the ball. He then tried to turn around and punt it out of bounds before being hit from behind, jarring the ball loose right into the waiting arms of a Michigan State defender. Justin Watts-Jackson ran the ball into the end zone for the 27-23 Michigan State victory as time expired. It was one of the craziest finishes I've ever seen. MSU had a 0.2% chance to win with 10 seconds to go; to put that into perspective, the closest figure to that this season was the 0.5% chance the Illini had against Nebraska. Unfortunately, Watts-Jackson broke his hip while celebrating with his teammates.
The rest of the night saw nothing special: Ohio State kept an opponent around for the first half before putting the game out of reach, and Christian Hackenburg got sacked. I would say it was a pretty good day even with out the Illini playing.
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