One-Horse Races: Big Ten Football Week 5 Review

Going into week 5 of the Big Ten football season it didn't look like a lot would be determined in terms of division supremacy with a slew of cross-divisional matchups while Michigan was on a bye week and Ohio State was on a faux bye week at Rutgers. What was abundantly clear by Saturday night was that Wisconsin has cleared its path to a third West division title in four years and that Saquon Barkley is REALLY good at football, posting another gaudy stat line against Indiana. Not the most exciting weekend of football, but the weekend of football we didn't think we'd get so early in the season.

On, Indianapolis!

Outside of Wisconsin, the Big Ten West was wide open for second place and the possibility to dethrone the Badgers off of their division-controlling perch. Northwestern was a popular pick by many (myself included) to, at least, have a chance of stealing a trip to the Big Ten Championship.

A major issue for the Wildcats in 2016 was offensive line play. Northwestern gave up 39 sacks in 2016 so it was no secret that with Justin Jackson at running back and Clayton Thorson at quarterback, the offense would move with the offensive line. Forward or backward.

Saturday, they went backwards. Northwestern's offensive line gave up eight sacks to a storming Wisconsin defense in a game straight out of West division type casting in a 33-24 Badger win that never felt that close in the second half.

Both teams combined for 134 yards rushing and the quarterbacks were limited in the air. A Cameron Green one-yard touchdown pass from Thorson with just 2:34 left in the first half was the only touchdown of the first half as Northwestern took a 10-7 lead into halftime.

From there, it was all Wisconsin. Running back Jonathan Taylor found the capped off a 79 yard drive with an 11 yard touchdown run. Four minutes later, Alex Hornibrook found Danny Davis III for a five yard touchdown pass. Five minutes into the final frame, Natrell Jamerson picked off Thorson to put Wisconsin up 31-10. Northwestern put together a mini comeback but was ended when Thorson took a safety with 58 seconds left in the game. It was like when you try to start a diet on Monday and someone brings donuts into the office. Why try when you know your efforts will fail miserably? Next thing you know, it's 9 a.m., you've had five donuts and Northwestern lost 33-24.

This was one of the three expected hurdles Wisconsin would be expected to get past en route to Indianapolis, but the road looks much easier now because...

Growing Pains

Optimism has been abound in the Twin Cities since PJ Fleck has taken over as head coach of the Gophers football team. Minnesota finished out the 2016 year at 8-4 so there was a foundation for Fleck to work with. He had just finished a 13-1 year with Western Michigan. The boat was ready to be rowed.

Coming into Saturday's showdown with Maryland, Minnesota had only given up two touchdowns through three non-conference games. On the flip side, the Terrapins had already lost two starting quarterbacks - Tyrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill - to ACL injuries. Max Bortenschlager, this is YOUR time. Maryland was giving up close to 400 yards of offense through three games so any momentum Maryland had garnered through a surprising 2-1 start appeared to be put on hold entering the home of (then) undefeated Minnesota.

However, Fleck got his first taste of Big Ten Football. The two-headed rushing attack of Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks was held to 74 yards rushing while quarterback Mitch Leidner was pedestrian on his was to 13 of 26 passing for 229 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

Though the largest lead of the game never exceeded seven points, Minnesota never led. Shannon Brooks tied the game with just under four minutes with a one yard touchdown run. Maryland responded by going 74 yards in just under three minutes that was capped off with a 34 yard Ty Johnson touchdown run where he was caught less than a hand on his way to a unfettered game-winner. What does this mean in the context of the West race? Minnesota now probably has to win at Michigan for a chance at the division before their season-ending battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe against Wisconsin.

Throwing Pains

The question coming into the Michigan State-Iowa Showdown Saturday afternoon in East Lansing? Would Iowa be able to emotionally recover from last week's heartbreaking walk-off loss to Penn State in Iowa City? It;s tough to blame a defense for wanting some sort of break after giving up 305 yards of total offense to Saquon Barkley a week ago. As Iowa fans have seen from the first four weeks, the defense will need to pick up the slack while sophomore quarterback Nathan Stanley gets more comfortable controlling a college offense.

The hangover was real. Michigan State's first play went for 31 yards as Spartan quarterback Brian Lererke found Felton Davis III. Six plays later, Lewerke would find Davis again for a 22 yard touchdown. 7-0 and Michigan State appeared to be on their way. After that, the game appeared to fall into a lull of stalling offenses. Michigan State would lead 17-7 at the half.

Iowa would receive coming out the half and decided it was going to spice up the game. And spice they did. On 4th and 8 from Michigan State's 23, Iowa ran a fake field goal pass to freshman defensive end AJ Epenesa for 15 yards. Pow! That'll show the Kirk Ferentz detractors. But on 3rd and goal from the Spartan five, Nathan Stanley would scramble away from pressure, unload to an open wide receiver in the endzone and cut the Spartan lead to three. One problem: he forgot the ball. The ball came lose just as Stanley went to throw, Michigan State recovered and both teams traded middling drives as Sparty would win 17-10. What does this mean for Iowa? They have to beat Wisconsin and Ohio State if they want a shot at the West. Yikes.

If You Want to Crown Him, Crown Him!

The aforementioned Saquon Barkley has had an astounding 2017 campaign. He's rushed for 574 yards and caught for 386. Saturday against Indiana, he took the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and from there there was no reason to watch this game as Penn State romped 45-14. With back to back meetings with Michigan and Ohio State looming, if he can do anything but implode against them, Saquon Barkley will be your 2017 Heisman winner.

Games That Happened But Nothing Really Mattered

  • Ohio State beat Rutgers 56-0. Ohio State scored 58 last year. Rutgers is still bad
  • Nebraska beat Illiniois 28-6, #MikeRileyWatch survives.

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