Who stood out, who stood down, and who fell down? The Big Ten Rewind for November 7, 2015. All the conference’s teams were in action against one another Saturday.
Stud: Illinois’ running back Josh Ferguson
Returning after a five-week injury-related absence, Ferguson almost single-handedly changed his team’s fortunes for this season in. With Purdue seemingly riding high after its own win over the Huskers, and Illinois coming off last week’s shutout by Penn State, Ferguson paced the Illini offense in its 48-14 dismantling of the Boilers in West Lafayette. Ferguson finished with 133 yards on 12 carries and added 41 yards on 6 catches, but from the start, his presence opened everything up offensively; quarterback Wes Lunt threw three touchdown passes in the first half alone and the rushing attack finished with a whopping 382 yards on Ferguson’s efforts and freshman Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s 180 yards on 16 carries. Props also to Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock and Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong, whose strong performances led to their teams’ wins.
Dud: Michigan State’s defense
Formerly the backbone of the Spartans’ golden era success under Mark Dantonio, the “No Fly Zone” and the ultra-stout run defense of those teams seem to be distant and fond memories. In their startling loss to Nebraska, quarterback Tommy Armstrong was able to pass for 320 yards, including 91 in under a minute on the game’s final scoring drive, and the Huskers were collectively able to rack up 179 yards on the ground. The game will be remembered for Brandon Reilly’s controversial game-winning touchdown catch (on which the Football Gods finally showed Nebraska some love this season), but throughout the game, and on that last drive in particular, the softened defense thrown up by the Spartans all season long finally caught up with them.
Revelation: Wisconsin linebacker Jack Cichy
If folks are aware of the Badgers’ historically spectacular defense this season, they usually think of standout outside linebackers Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel, but against Maryland on Saturday, it was reserve redshirt sophomore Cichy that was the star. Starting just his second game in place of injured true freshman Chris Orr at inside linebacker, Cichy led the team in tackles (again) with 10, and recorded three tackles for loss, including two of Wisconsin’s three sacks. Cichy’s play right now should assuage most fears in 2016 as he’s slated to step in for All-American Schobert when the latter graduates after this season.
Back on Track: Northwestern
Although the Wildcats’ hopes for the West title were all but dashed by undefeated Iowa a few weeks ago, they bracketed their bye week with another one-possession win, this time over a Penn State team that’s having a pretty decent season themselves. When the Lions took a 21-20 early in the fourth quarter, it looked like two missed field goals and missed PAT would doom the often hard luck Cats. Playing behind back-up quarterback Zack Oliver, who filled after starter Clayton Thorson’s late first quarter injury, Northwestern was able to give kicker Jack Mitchell one more chance with nine seconds to play and he delivered. Running back Justin Jackson’s 186 yards on 28 carries was a standout performance as well, especially against Penn State’s stellar front line.
Same ‘Ol, Same ‘Ol: Ohio State
The reigning national champs weren’t the top team in the first College Football Playoff rankings and, after this week’s “close” win over what has to be an exhausted Minnesota team, now lost their season-long number one ranking in the AP poll. The Buckeyes keep winning, of course, and haven’t lost in 2015 (extending their regular season conference winning streak to an astounding 29 games), but they continue to do so less than impressively. To wit, presumably overmatched Minnesota had the game within a possession with two minutes left. They should roll Illinois this week, but far more capable teams in Michigan State and Michigan are still out there, spoiling for their chance to ruin the Bucks’ conference title and playoff hopes.
Ranked teams (AP):
#2 Ohio State, #8 Iowa, #14 Michigan State, #15 Michigan, #23 Wisconsin, #24 Northwestern; also receiving votes: none.