While it would have been nice to have brought Floyd home to the Twin Cities and freed him from his 4-year captivity in the land to the south, the Gopher loss last Saturday does do one thing to make Big Ten West followers intrigued. It sets up a one-game winner-take-all Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Minneapolis on November 30th. Rarely does the schedule work out in such a fashion to have the top two teams in the division play each other on the last day of the regular season with the division on the line. And on top of that, the two teams facing each other are the two teams that participate in the most-played rivalry in FBS football.
But that is still 11 days from now. For the time being let’s examine what the teams in the Big Ten West did during Week 12.
(Overall record, conference record)
Illinois Fighting Illini (6-4, 4-3)
The Fighting Illini had a bye week
Next Up: Illinois travels to Iowa City to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa Hawkeyes (7-3, 4-3)
Iowa defeated Minnesota in the Battle for the Floyd of Rosedale, 23-19, with a spectacular 1st half offensive game plan and well-timed quarterback pressure on the defensive side of the ball. Quarterback Nate Stanley was comfortable and threw darts on the first three Hawkeye drives, all of which led to touchdowns. He ended the day 14-23 for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman running back Tyler Goodson was highly efficient on the ground, carrying the ball 13 times for 94 yards and a score. Defensive end A.J. Epenesa had 2.5 of the Hawkeye’s six sacks and they did just enough to hold off a second half Gopher rally.
Next Up: Iowa hosts a surging Illini squad in Iowa City
Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-1, 6-1)
The Golden Gophers fell from the ranks of the undefeated losing in Iowa City to the Hawkeyes 23-19 in a mistake-ridden effort. Despite Tanner Morgan throwing for 368 yards and a touchdown and outgaining the Hawkeyes by 141 total yards, the defense could not stop Iowa from getting out to large 20-6 halftime lead. Tyler Johnson had an overall spectacular day with 170 yards on nine receptions, including a touchdown. But a costly drop in the red zone on fourth down provide Iowa enough buffer to stave off a ferocious Gopher rally. The defense forced no turnovers and five penalties for 52 yards ultimately doomed Minnesota to its first defeat of the season.
Next Up: Minnesota heads to Evanston to take on the spiraling Wildcats
Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-6, 2-5)
Nebraska was defeated by inter-division rival Wisconsin 37-21 in Lincoln. The return of quarterback Adrian Martinez brought some energy to the Cornhusker offense, which compiled 493 yards, including 7.4 yards per rush. However, the Nebraska defense was no match for Jonathan Taylor who ripped off 204 yards on 25 rushes including two touchdowns. Despite averaging more yards per play, Nebraska allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown in the first quarter which allowed Wisconsin to get its footing and start the offensive onslaught of the second quarter. A missed field goal and inability to convert on fourth down in the red zone signaled the end of the Huskers attempted upset.
Next Up: The Cornhuskers host Wisconsin to squabble over the ugly Freedom Trophy
Northwestern Wildcats (2-8, 0-7)
Northwestern finally returned to the win column defeated one of FBS’s worst teams in UMass 45-6. Freshman running back Evan Hull ran buck wild on the Minutemen, going for 220 yards on 24 carries and scoring four touchdowns. According to SP+, UMass has the worst defense in the country (130th out of 130) so I don’t think anyone Evanston is throwing a parade for McCall just yet but at least the season didn’t go further down the rabbit hole and into oblivion.
Next Up: The Wildcats host Minnesota with both teams gearing up for big rivalry games afterwards
Purdue Boilermakers (4-6, 3-4)
The Boilermakers had a bye this week
Next Up: The Boilermakers travel to Madison to take on the Badgers
Wisconsin Badgers (6-2, 3-2)
The Badgers were victorious over the Nebraska Cornhuskers on the back of Jonathan Taylor by a final score of 37-21. In typical Wisconsin fashion, an explosive run game masked what otherwise could be considered a relatively mediocre effort. The Badgers averaged a pedestrian 7.7 yards per pass and were 3-9 on third downs. Premier special teams helped them widen the gap, including an Aron Cruickshank 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and Collin Larsh going three-for-three on field goals. Despite being out-gained per play and getting more heavily penalized, the game was never in question for the Badgers.
Next Up: Wisconsin hosts a banged up Purdue squad