The fall weather finally blew in this weekend, and with it comes the home stretch of the college football season. The Big Ten divisional races are finally coming into focus, and this week helped clarify the situation. With victories on Saturday, No. 4 Ohio State, No. 6 Michigan, and No. 7 Michigan State were all able to keep their post-season dreams alive. At the start of the season, it was assumed that Michigan would have the featured game of Week 11. Playing in Happy Valley is never an easy task, and the healthy and motivated Nittany Lions gave the Wolverines all they could handle.
Ohio State faced off with Purdue in what would’ve typically been considered a trap game for the Buckeyes. However, Purdue had already slayed a pair of top Top 5 teams this season, and their victory last week against Michigan State had the Buckeyes’ full attention. Finally, Iowa was able to outlast Minnesota. The game wasn’t particularly pretty... or pretty at all, but it needed a winner and that happened to be the Hawkeyes.
No. 4 Ohio State routes No. 19 Purdue 59-31
After a month of offensive domination, the Buckeye offense had two lackluster weeks. Not that 33 and 26 point performances are something to be ashamed of, but they had established themselves as one of the most dominate offenses in the entire nation. Saturday afternoon in Columbus, that offense returned. Aided by Purdue turnovers and offensive miscues, the Buckeye offense built a 35-7 lead early in the 2nd quarter. Five drives for five touchdowns, all scored in a variety of ways. Head Coach Ryan Day solved the red zone issues that had plagued his team the previous few weeks. Part of the solution was the return of RB Miyan Williams, who added a power element to the rushing attack as the Buckeyes approached the end zone.
The headlines for the Buckeyes will feature QB CJ Stroud passing for 361 yards, the running backs totaling 261 yards, and possible even Ohio State’s three top WRs having career days for receptions, Olave (9), Smith-Ngigba (9), Wilson (10). However, the real story was how the offensive line was able to handle Purdue up front. The last few weeks, the running game has struggled due to the lack of line push and available running lanes. The Buckeye offensive line made a solid Purdue front look pedestrian, and that was the real difference in the game.
Purdue Head Coach Jeff Brohm did a great job in the 2nd half creating mismatches for his skill players against the Ohio State defense. Once his team settled in, they were able to dive deep into their playbook and pull out some formations and plays that will leave any defensive coaching staff scratching their heads. For the most part, OSU did a good job of containing star WR David Bell. While he did have over 100 yards, he didn’t change the game the way he did in the Iowa and Michigan State upsets. The most concerning issue for the Bucks was the lack of pressure on QB Aiden O’Connell. The OSU defensive front had done a great job of pressuring QBs the last month, but they didn't do so well on Saturday afternoon. Pro Football Focus says OSU had just one pressure on O’Connell’s 52 passing attempts, and that needs to be much better.
No. 6 Michigan escapes Penn State 21-17
At the start of the season, this game was circled as critical for both teams in the race for the Big Ten East crown. Unfortunate losses changed that paradigm for Penn State, but it didn’t take any of the passion out of the game. Sitting at 6-3, this could have been a season-changer for the Nittany Lions and would’ve provided a nice footnote on a season that might have been. Sadly for them, it was not to be.
QB Sean Clifford was battered in the pocket all day but continued to rise off the turf each time to lead his team. It wasn’t his best statistical day, but he was a warrior and the team followed his lead. The Wolverine defense held star WR Jahan Dotson in check most of the day and were great at applying quarterback pressure. They sacked Clifford seven times and hit him countless others. Michigan did yield the go-ahead TD and 2-point conversion late in the 4th quarter, and that should concern HC Jim Harbaugh with OSU looming in two weeks.
Michigan has made a living all season pounding the football with their 2-headed monster, RBs Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins, who have been nearly unstoppable with the ball in their hands. However, Blake Corum will be sidelined for the next few weeks, so half of that load now falls on QB Cade McNamara. While he didn't have a spectacular day based on numbers, McNamara completed big passes in critical moments to keep the chains moving. No completion was bigger than the go-ahead score to TE Erik All. The 47 yard TD catch and run gave the Wolverines the lead for good. While Haskins had 156 yards on the ground, the Wolverines will have to hope Corum makes his return for OSU, or UM will need to find another explosive offensive threat to make up the difference.
No. 20 Iowa survives Minnesota 27-22
It was a game that would help define the battle for the Big Ten West. With a logjam of teams sitting at 4-2, both Iowa and Minnesota were looking to separate themselves from the pack. The situation was less than ideal for the Hawkeyes who started redshirt sophomore QB Alex Padilla in place of injured starter Spencer Petras. The game wasn't pretty by any measure, but Padilla was able to do enough to pick up the slack for a stagnant Iowa rushing attack. Rushing for less than 100 yards with a backup QB wasn’t the recipe for an Iowa win, but Padilla did a great job tossing a pair of touchdown passes and didn't commit a single turnover.
The Minnesota offense started fast, scoring points on three of their five first half possessions. Unfortunately, those field goals would come back to bite them in the 2nd half. They rolled up over 400 yards of total offense and nearly 190 of them came on the ground. QB Tanner Morgan played an efficient game without turning over the football, but his failure to keep drives alive in the 2nd half ultimately led to the Gophers’ demise.