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Conference Corner: Wisconsin all but clinches the Big Ten West…again

For once, the path seemed set towards parity in the Big Ten West.

Since the conferences diverged from the Leaders and Legends divisions and split teams in a East-West orientation in 2014, Wisconsin has dominated. The Badgers have won the West division title three out of four years.

Iowa is the only other program to represent the West in the Big Ten Championship, losing in agonizing fashion to Michigan State to miss the College Football Playoff. While the playoff was surely a distant dream, a return to Indianapolis was waving at the Hawkeyes.

They hosted the No. 18 Badgers late Saturday night, with the visitors fresh off a last-second upset to Brigham Young in Madison. Leading 17-14 with 5:40 left in the fourth quarter, a salty Iowa defense needed one more stop to leap ahead in the divisional race.

Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook entered the final drive a solid, but unspectacular, 11-of-16 for 138 yards and two touchdowns. He drove the offense 88 yards in 10 plays with a 6-for-6, 67-yard effort culminating in a 17-yard strike to A.J. Taylor to take a 21-17 lead.

An Iowa interception and 33-yard Alec Ingold touchdown run provided the final 28-17 margin.

Iowa (3-1) looked poised for the upset despite feigning the typical Kirk Ferentz script: Iowa turned the ball over twice on punt return fumbles, and a stout defensive front led by A.J. Epenesa and Anthony Nelson ceded 113 yards and over five yards a pop to Badger back Jonathan Taylor.

Instead, Hawkeye quarterback Nate Stanley channeled Chuck Long, compiling 254 yards through the air, forcing Badger defenders out of the box. This opened running lanes for Ivory Kelly-Martin, who spearheaded an attack that amassed 148 yards on 31 carries.

Wisconsin (3-1) prevailed the Kinnick Stadium magic, and it’s next biggest divisional challenge? 1-2 (1-0) Northwestern in Evanston Oct. 27. Despite road trips to Ann Arbor and Happy Valley, Wisconsin may have already punched their bus ticket to Indianapolis.

Both teams on byes next week.

RECAPS

NO. 10 PENN STATE 63, ILLINOIS 24 (Friday)

For three quarters, Lovie Smith (and his beard) earned that wry grin. The maligned Illini were engaged in a back-and-forth affair with the Nittany Lions, even taking a 24-21 lead with 10 minutes left in the third quarter. They trailed just 28-24 after three.

Almost immediately in the fourth quarter, the upset dream went the way of the Chief Illiniwek dance. Trace McSorley completed a 16-yard touchdown to Juwan Johnson on the first play of the quarter, and two plays later Jan Johnson intercepted an M.J. Rivers pass.

A single play later, McSorley found former Orchard Lake St. Mary’s product K.J. Hamler for a 21-yard score. Smith’s defense collapsed, allowing 21 more points before the bitter end.

Yes, the final score was what everyone expected. What wasn’t anticipated was Illinois (2-2) gashing the Penn State (4-0) defense to the tune of 245 yards on 45 carries. Reggie Corbin gained 87 yards on just 11 totes, while Mike Epstein continued to regain his stellar form with 73 more on 13 attempts.

For Penn State, they finally got running back Miles Sanders rolling. After a few weeks of merely decent performances, the junior ran roughshod for 200 yards, leading a 387-yard team effort on the night. Combining McSorley — 160 yards passing and three touchdowns —with a burgeoning running game makes James Franklin’s offense lethal.

They need all the pieces working as they host No. 4 Ohio State next weekend in a White Out. Seeing as TCU — losers Saturday at Texas — racked up over 500 yards on the Buckeyes, there’s confidence in State College.

Next game for Penn State: No. 4 Ohio State (7:30 p.m., ABC)

Illinois is on a bye next week.

NO. 4 OHIO STATE 49, TULANE 6

Urban Meyer faced his greatest punishment of his months-long ordeal: facing a 1-2 American Athletic Conference team in the Horseshoe with everyone giving him a standing ovation.

What courage he showed.

Dwayne Haskins threw for five more touchdowns in less than a half of action. His stats are just absurd, considering he’s only played about 11 quarters.

Meyer and Ohio State (4-0) got his warmup before visiting Penn State. He definitely has the offense to hang, but his defense has already allowed 31 points to lowly Oregon State and the aforementioned blitzing by TCU in Dallas.

Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano has had a mixed history. Consistently top-10 defenses per S&P, but the occasional collapses — 31 points to both Clemson and Oklahoma, 38 points to Penn State and most embarrassingly, 55 points to Iowa. Which defense shows up this Saturday?

Next game for Ohio State: at No. 10 Penn State (7:30 p.m., ABC)

PURDUE 30, NO. 23 BOSTON COLLEGE 13

Jeff Brohm and the Boilermakers took out their collective anger on Boston College, shutting down superstar back A.J. Dillon to just 59 yards on 19 carries.

After three losses by a total of eight points, Purdue (1-3) built a 30-7 lead until the final minute of the fourth quarter.

In addition to the defense clamping down on Dillon, Brohm likely knows his quarterback for the rest of the year. David Blough, after bombing Missouri last weekend for 524 yards, threw for 296 more and three scores.

They get a trip to Lincoln to face a potentially demoralized Nebraska team. With a win, Jeff Brohm can start angling for a second-straight bowl game. Also, I’m smrt.

Next game for Purdue: at Nebraska (3:30 p.m., BTN)

NO. 24 MICHIGAN STATE 35, INDIANA 21

While Michigan State (3-1) got back on track after it lost two weeks ago to Arizona State, the win over the Hoosiers (3-1) was a mixed bag.

On the plus side, the rush defense stifled the previously productive Stevie Scott to 18 yards on 11 carries. Indiana sputtered to just 29 yards rushing as a team.

The defense also picked off Peyton Ramsey twice, including a pick-six by Shakur Brown to stake the Spartans to a 14-0 first quarter lead.

On the negative end of the spectrum, Brian Lewerke threw two picks of his own, and until a 75-yard run by receiver Jalen Nailor for the final touchdown, the running game produced just 56 yards on the 39 other attempts.

This is officially a problem. After a okay performance on the ground in the Utah State opener, Mark Dantonio’s backs gained only 63 yards against the Sun Devils.

Brian Lewerke and a strong defense — one that still let Hoosier slot demon Whop Pilyor rack up 148 yards receiving — can only take Michigan State, so far. They get one more game against woeful Central Michigan to work out the kinks before returning to conference play.

Next game for Michigan State: Central Michigan (12 p.m., FS1)

Next game for Indiana: at Rutgers (12 p.m., BTN)

BUFFALO 42, RUTGERS 13

It’s incredibly unprofessional to use Rutgers (1-3) as an excuse to write less. Lazy and unprofessional.

Next game for Rutgers: Indiana (TBD)

MARYLAND 42, MINNESOTA 13

This game bucked trends. Maryland’s (3-1) wheels looked to fall off again a la 2017, while P.J. Fleck’s Gophers (3-1) surprised the entire Midwest with a 3-0 start, including a triumph over an underrated Fresno State squad.

The Terrapins resembled the team from the Texas win, and not the curious outfit that crumbled at home to Temple last weekend.

Head coach Matt Canada leaned on his ground game, plowing Minnesota for 315 yards. Quarterback Kasim Hill managed 117 yards on just 14 throws.

Minnesota’s youth finally caught up to them, as freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad connected on just 14-of-32 tosses and two interceptions. Fleck missed his veteran running back Rodney Smith, who’s missing the rest of the season with a knee injury.

Both teams get a week off before escalating in play. The Gophers play for the Floyd of Rosedale against Iowa, while the Terrapins visit Ann Arbor — a team they’ve scored a total of 13 points against the last three seasons.

NORTHWESTERN 7, BYE 0

After the loss to Akron, Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats got a week to lick their wounds before a home tilt against Jim Harbaugh’s burgeoning Wolverines.

Northwestern hasn’t topped Michigan since 2008 — Rich Rodriguez’s first season — and lost 38-0 in the last meeting in the Mitten.

Next game: Michigan (4:30 p.m., FOX)



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