Big Ten Week 8 Recap: Penn State’s Struggles

Saturday is the exact reason why the Big Ten can’t have nice things. Just as the conference was beginning to establish itself as the premier league of 2021, Penn State and Purdue fall to inferior opponents. The loss was especially disappointing for Penn State. They were slated to square off in a Top 10 matchup against Ohio State in Columbus on October 30th, but now that game has much of its luster. The game would’ve been a nightcap to a huge Saturday that will feature another Top 10 matchup with Michigan traveling to Michigan State at noon. Now Penn State is ranked 20th after failing to beat one of the conference’s worst college football programs of the last decade.

Meanwhile, Ohio State looks like a completely different team than the one who struggled early in the season, Minnesota is quietly making a case to challenge Iowa in the West, and Purdue can’t seem to string together consecutive wins. 

OSU dominated Indiana 54-7

The last time the Ohio State offense was forced to punt while a game was still in doubt seems almost pre-COVID. The struggles from Oregon and Tulsa have disappeared like the warm summer sun. Apparently, the Buckeyes do their best work under the Midwest’s autumn grey skies. QB CJ Stroud threw for only 268 yards on Saturday, but his performance was seemingly effortless. Ohio State spread the ball around through the air to 11 different players and carved up the Indiana secondary in the process. The Hoosiers couldn’t get any meaningful pressure on Stroud, which spelled a long night from the start.

The most impressive story out of the Buckeyes camp has been the performance of true freshman RB TreVeyon Henderson. He has 693 rushing yards through 7 games, but it’s the 8.8 yards per rush that turns heads. Saturday night, he rolled up 81 yards on 9 carries and seemed to weave through the defense as if they were standing still. 

The Silver Bullets have made a resurgence, holding the Hoosiers to a mere 7 points. The Buckeye linebackers have been steadily improving each week, but it was the defensive line who applied the pressure on Indiana QB Jack Tuttle. The D Line accounted for all five Ohio State sacks, which is a welcome development for a group that struggled to generate pressure earlier this year. Ohio State now looks like they can play with anyone in the nation.

Illinois stuns Penn State 20-18

After a full 60 minutes of regulation followed by nine abbreviated overtimes, the Penn State Nittany Lions managed to squander their chances of winning the Big Ten and making the College Football Playoff once again this year. Even with QB Sean Clifford making an unexpected start, the Penn State offense was never able to get on track. Converting a paltry 4 of 17 3rd down conversions prohibited any cohesion on offense and made way for Illinois to rush the ball over 60 times in regulation and control the clock by possessing the football for over 36 minutes. The performance was so putrid that the Nittany Lions fell 13 spots in the AP poll, all the way to 20th.

Watching the overtime periods was almost painful, as both teams struggled to convert the few yards needs for each possession. HC James Franklin has often been criticized for his late-game coaching decisions, and many of play calls in OT left something to be desired. The game should never have been close. Despite several injuries to key players, Penn State is still significantly more talented than Illinois. Factoring in home field advantage and the fact that they were favored by 23 points, this has to be one of the most disappointing losses in the Franklin tenure.

Illinois came out playing hard for their head coach. Bret Bielema made some questionable comments about his team during a midweek presser, but the Illini must have believed his explanation. They lost the turnover margin 3 to 0, threw the ball for just 38 yards, and still found a way to drive 70 yards in the 4th quarter for a game-tying field goal. Nine overtimes later, they pulled off the biggest upset in the Big Ten this season. 

Wisconsin stuns Purdue 30-13

Penn State couldn’t hold it together, and neither could Purdue. After a road upset of the No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes earned the Boilermakers an appearance in the Top 25, they failed to back it up at home. Losing to Wisconsin at Camp Randall happens. Losing to Wisconsin at home when they pass for only 52 yards should never happen. Purdue lacked any semblance of a running game, and HC Jeff Brohm failed to recreate an explosive performance from WR David Bell.

Wisconsin was an embarrassing 1-11 on 3rd down, but that still didn’t slow down the Badgers’ running game. Rushing for 290 yards on 51 attempts set the tempo for the game, and Purdue couldn’t find an answer. Unlike the week prior, Purdue was never able to get a lead and force their opponent to abandon the running game, and the Badgers were content to simply pound the Boilermakers into submission. Purdue is a better team than they displayed on Saturday, but they will need to solve the run defense to have any shot at winning the West. 

Written by Bobby Carpenter

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