The eyes of the nation were focused on the Big Ten this weekend. At noon eastern, the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes welcomed the No. 7 Michigan State Spartans into the Horseshoe for the only matchup of Top 10 teams in the nation. With two weeks remaining in the regular season, both teams needed to win to control their post-season destiny.
However, despite the gravity of the game, they weren’t the only teams that needed to win to keep their conference championship hopes alive. Before the No. 15 Wisconsin Badgers could book their hotel in Indianapolis, they needed to get past a Nebraska team that might be the best 3-win team in the history of college football. Also, the No. 6 Michigan Wolverines had one final hurdle to clear before “The Game” against Ohio State in the final week of the season.
No. 4 Buckeyes dominate the No. 7 Spartans 56-7
It looked like a head scratcher that Ohio State opened as a nearly 3-touchdown favorite over the Spartans. HC Mel Tucker had the Spartans’ offense playing as well as anyone in the nation, and while the pass defense has struggled, it seemed that Sparty would be able to score enough to keep pace.
As it turned out, Vegas was right. Ohio State scored on every meaningful drive in the 1st half en route to a 49-0 halftime score. OSU QB CJ Stroud was nearly flawless, completing 32-35 passes for over 400 yards. The secret sauce to his success was the Buckeyes’ ability to establish the run game early and keep a clean pocket the entire game. Without pressure, Stroud was able to carve a Spartan secondary that was injured and that has struggled all year.
The surprise of the day wasn’t Ohio State’s passing offense, but Michigan State’s inability to score. Ohio State has been racking up points most of the season, but the defense has lacked the same consistency. Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker III hasn’t been slowed down all season and seemed poised to enhance his Heisman résumé on a national stage, but the Ohio State front seven rose to the challenge. LBs Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers were everywhere and corralled Walker to his worst performance of the season — 6 carries for a paltry 25 yards.
Without the injured WR Jalen Nailor to pull the coverage off Jayden Reed, there was nowhere for QB Payton Thorne to go with the football. This led to a rough 5-16 on 3rd down conversions and an inability to sustain drives.
A month ago, this game might have looked different, but Ohio State is peaking at just the right time. Walker may also have injured himself on Saturday, and hopefully he will be good to go for Penn State next week.
No. 15 Wisconsin survives Nebraska 35-28
All Nebraska has done this season is lose one-score games. Every single game this season — including the one against Ohio State — has come down to the final few drives. Nebraska HC Scott Frost continues to prepare his team each week to have an opportunity to win. It comes down to players making the plays, or in the case of this week, the officials calling a blatant PI that would’ve given the Huskers one more shot to tie the game.
It’s another bitter pill for the Husker faithful to swallow, and without a potential postseason berth, Nebraska’s only motivation now is to play spoiler. They were so close to doing so on Saturday, only to fall short again. The silver lining for the Huskers is the play of QB Adrian Martinez. Despite two costly 2nd half interceptions, he played one of his best games of the season. He kept the game close with his arm, throwing for over 350 yards and putting the ball right where it needed to be on the 4th down no-call pass interference.
Wisconsin has played well for the last month, slowly clawing their way back to the top of the West Division race. With the head-to-head victory over Iowa, they control their own destiny, QB Graham Mertz was solid yet unspectacular against Nebraska, however he did a good job protecting the football. The story for the Badger offense is RB Braelon Allen. The Badgers were able to ride his 22 carries to the tune of 228 yards. It’s a formula that Wisconsin has used for years: a ground-and-pound running game, efficient QB play, and a dominant defense. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked again on Saturday.
No. 6 Michigan controls Maryland 59-18
It could’ve been the ultimate trap game for the Wolverines: a road game against Maryland smashed between Penn State and “The Game.” Thankfully for the Wolverine faithful, HC Jim Harbaugh had his team focused and ready to play. It was a slow opening quarter for the Wolverines. They started with a 3-and-out and then allowed Maryland to drive down field. However, despite the sluggish start, they built a 24-3 halftime lead over Maryland and never looked back. With RB Black Corum still on the shelf, RB Hassan Haskins had to carry the mail again. QB Cade McNamara also put together another terrific game, throwing for over 250 yards and tossing a pair of TD passes. He will be the key in the upcoming matchup against Ohio State. McNamara has steadily improved all season, but he will need to reach another level on Saturday.