Big Ten Week 9 Recap: Spartans King of the Hill

It was the Big Ten’s biggest weekend of games, and the top 2 conference matchups did not disappoint. The Battle for Paul Bunyan was a riveting emotional roller coaster, and Penn State looked more like the team that beat Auburn than the team that wilted against Illinois. It was a great showing for a conference that needed to confirm to the country that it has more than just one horse this season. While Ohio State is still the favorite to win the Big Ten, the AP voters took notice of the Spartans and catapulted them past OSU to a top 5 ranking.

The best news for the conference is that the losers of both games didn’t fall considerably. No. 9 Michigan is still sitting in the top 10, and even with three losses, Penn State fell only two spots to No. 22. With the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season to be released Tuesday night, it is imperative that the Big Ten anchors as many teams near the top of the rankings as possible. 

No. 6 Ohio State downs No. 22 Penn State 33-24

Ohio State has been steamrolling opponents for the last month. They entered this game as a nearly three touchdown favorite, which did little to change those expectations. However, Penn State would be the most talented team the Buckeyes have squared off against, and despite the Nittany Lions’ recent missteps, they tend to play well against Ohio State.

The Buckeyes struggled to develop any offensive rhythm early in the game. It wasn’t until a 38-yard touchdown pass to WR Chris Olave that Buckeye fans could finally exhale. DT Jerron Cage then followed that up with a scoop and score, and it appeared as though the Buckeyes would be on their way to a 2nd half route. However, the Buckeyes were up just 3 at the end of the 3rd quarter, though they ultimately won 33-24. 

For Ohio State moving forward, it’s going to be all about TreVeyon Henderson. His 152 yards on the ground were the steadying force for Ohio State in the 2nd half, and he looks to be gaining strength and confidence as the season progresses. The offensive line opened holes for him, but it was far from their best performance of the season. Penalties and unblocked defenders plagued the Buckeye offense all evening. Penn State did a good job with their front seven creating penetration in the running game and affecting QB CJ Stroud. While the Buckeye defense fared well, the defensive line was being held all night. Unfortunately, DT Tyleik Williams was a noticeable absence for the Silver Bullets. He has been force in the middle and was sorely missed.

Penn State QB Sean Clifford pieced together a gutty performance that kept his team in the game. Since the PSU rushing attack mustered only 33 yards, the game rested all on the right arm of Clifford. His favorite target WR Jahan Dotson had another remarkable game, but they are going to need more from the running game for the Nittany Lions to get to get to 9 wins.

No. 5 Michigan State outduels No. 9 Michigan 37-34

The eyes of the nation were on Sparty and the Wolverines with both Fox and ESPN sending their pregame shows to East Lansing, MI to cover the 114th meeting for the Paul Bunyan trophy. The game did not disappoint.

Both teams knew this battle would favor the bold, and both Mel Tucker and Jim Harbaugh made some aggressive play calls in critical situations that had tremendous success. The Spartans dialed up a deep ball from QB Payton Thorne to WR Jalen Nailor on a 4th and 1, and the Wolverines let QB Cade McNamara flip a pass to freshman WR Andrel Anthony on the opening 3rdand 7 from their own 7 yard line, which resulted in 7 points.

Staring down a 16-point deficit in the 2nd half, Mel Tucker and the Spartans went to work. They patiently assembled a 75-yard drive that blended their three best offensive weapons: Kenneth Walker III, Jayden Reed and Nailor. Capping the drive off with a 2-point conversion squarely placed the pressure back on the Wolverines. For much of the afternoon, Harbaugh had all the answers, but he went to freshman QB JJ McCarthy one time too many. The last time, McCarthy immediately fumbled a handoff and turned the ball back over to the Spartans in Wolverine territory at a critical point in the game. 

Despite the explosive plays through the air, this game was decided on the ground and in the trenches. All week, it appeared that Michigan would have the advantage on the ground with RBs Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum. They played well and helped UM roll up 146 yards on the ground, but MSU and RB Kenneth Walker III proved their toughness. Walker racked up 197 yards on the ground, including the final two TDs of the game. Whenever a play needed to be made, Walker was there to make it. He had five TDs total, and “Little Brother” prevailed over Michigan, 37-33.

The Spartans celebrate their 10th victory over Michigan in the last 14 games and keep Paul Bunyan around for another year. However, the apparent loss of WR Jalen Nailor is a blow. Nailor was seen on the sideline with a cast on his hand and didn’t re-enter the game.

Wisconsin steam rolls No. 19 Iowa 27-7

At the beginning of the season, this game was circled to determine the Big Ten West Champ. Now it appears that the West is Minnesota’s to lose. 

After starting the season on fire, the Hawkeyes have cooled off considerably. They have lost their last two games to unranked teams and failed to crack double digits in both outings. HC Kirk Ferentz must be scratching his head. Coming off a bye week and playing a Wisconsin Badgers team that has underperformed all season long seemed like the perfect remedy to the Purdue loss. Instead, they just sunk themselves deeper.

Iowa failed to manufacture any semblance of a running game and their usually stout offensive line was a porous sieve. Badger DC Jim Leonard had his front seven living in the Hawkeyes’ backfield, so the Hawkeyes could muster only 24 yards on the ground.

Wisconsin LB Leo Chenal is starting to peak, much like the rest of Badger team. Unfortunately, it may be too little too late, as their chances to win the West are remote. This is the worst-case scenario for the Big Ten. With both Iowa and Wisconsin faltering, Minnesota now controls their destiny and they are unranked due to a bad loss to Bowling Green. 

Written by Bobby Carpenter

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