Minnesota scintillated Gopher Nation and the national landscape with a victory over Penn State. Wisconsin took home the Heartland Trophy and essentially eliminated Iowa from the division race. Illinois became bowl eligible in the most unlikely of ways. It was a bit of a wild weekend for most of the members of the Big Ten West.
With this in mind, let’s review what the teams in the Big Ten West did during Week 11.
(Overall record, conference record)
Illinois Fighting Illini (6-4, 4-3)
Buried among the excitement surrounding Minnesota (and to some extent, Indiana) has been the resurgence of Lovie Smith’s Fighting Illini team who defeated Michigan State 37-34 after trailing 31-10 entering the fourth quarter. In a game that could undoubtedly be another nail in Mark D’Antonio’s coffin, the Illini forced four Spartan turnovers, including two in the fourth quarter, to spark the epic comeback that made Illinois bowl eligible. Despite only rushing for 36 yards on 27 attempts, the Illinois offense was buoyed by the performance of wideout Josh Imatorbhebhe, who has 178 yards receiving and two touchdowns on only four receptions. Quarterback Brandon Peters completed five passes on the final Illini drive, including converting a fourth-and-17 with 1:57 left and the game-winning touchdown with five seconds remaining in the game. Illinois now has a four game winning streak, bowl eligibility, and sit at a stunning third in the division.
Next Up: The Fighting Illini have a well-deserved bye week
Iowa Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-3)
The Hawkeyes fell to hated rival Wisconsin in Madison this past weekend 24-22 due to a stagnant running game and poor third down efficiency. Iowa averaged only 3.8 yards per carry on 23 attempts and converted just one third down (out of nine) all game. With only 295 yards of total offense, they were unable to capitalize on a +1 margin in the turnover battle or a +38 in penalized yards stat line. While Iowa would have tied the game with 3:12 remaining if they had just converted a two-point conversion following a 75-yard passing touchdown from Nate Stanley to Tyrone Tracy Jr, the Hawkeyes furious fourth quarter rally fell short.
Next Up: Iowa hosts Minnesota in the Battle for the Floyd of Rosedale
Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-0, 6-0)
The Golden Gophers came up with perhaps the biggest victory in the program’s modern history on Saturday, defeating the 4th ranked Penn State Nittany Lions in a spectacular college football game, 31-26. Rashod Bateman (203 yards, one touchdown), Tanner Morgan (18-20, 339 yards, three touchdowns), and Antoine Winfield Jr (two interceptions) were all standouts as the Gophers gained fewer yards than Penn State but forced two more turnovers and passed for 10 more yards per attempt. The Gophers are now looking at needing only two more victories in their next three games to secure the division.
Next Up: Minnesota heads south to try to rescue Floyd from five years of Hawkeye captivity
Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-5, 2-4)
Nebraska was on bye this week
Next Up: The Cornhuskers host Wisconsin to squabble over the ugly Freedom Trophy
Northwestern Wildcats (1-8, 0-7)
Northwestern finally scored some points this weekend, but ultimately still fell short of victory, falling 24-22 to Purdue on a late 39-yard field goal. Surprisingly the Wildcats out gained the Boilermakers, rushing for 5.6 yards per carry, but Charlie Kuhbander missed a key 32-yard field goal with 2:30 remaining to set up the ensuing winning drive for Purdue. Running back Kyric McGowan had 146 yards and a touchdown on just 17 carries but the defense was unable to hold a 16-7 halftime lead.
Next Up: The Wildcats hosts UMass in a game likely to draw three TV viewers and even fewer in-person ones
Purdue Boilermakers (4-6, 3-4)
The Boilermakers defeated the hapless Northwestern Wildcats on a late field goal 24-22 in Evanston this past weekend. Third-string quarterback Aidan O’Connell attempted 50 passes, gaining 271 yards and throwing two touchdowns and two interceptions. WHile only averaging 3.5 yards per carry, the Boilermakers were able to capitalize on a fading Northwestern offense in the second half, forcing a interception, a missed field goal, and a turnover on downs. Wide receiver David Bell once again stood out on offense, catching 14 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown. He’ll get some attention for All-Big Ten at the end of the year.
Next Up: The Boilermakers are on bye this upcoming weekend
Wisconsin Badgers (6-2, 3-2)
The Badgers took home the beef, winning the Heartland Trophy by defeating hated rival Iowa 24-22 in Madison. Wisconsin went back to its tried and true method of pounding the running game and using a stingy defense to defeat opponents albeit in less than spectacular fashion. Jonathan Taylor had 250 yards rushing on 31 carries, and the team as a whole averaged 6.5 yards per rush. Despite losing the turnover battle and Jack Coan having another pedestrian game, the defense did enough to keep Iowa at bay, especially in the first half. They allowed only 3.8 yards per carry and forced Iowa to go 1-9 on third down while the Badger offense converted eight third downs on 14 tries.
Next Up: Wisconsin travels to Lincoln to take on the Cornhuskers and begrudgingly compete for the Freedom Trophy