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Sunday Debriefing: Feeling Elite, Feeling Great, and Feeling Good

Ohio State stays unbeaten, while Michigan gets a big win at the Big House. Oh, and Penn State lost to Michigan State.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Ladies and gentlemen; boys and girls; elite, great, and good football programs, I have an announcement to make: Chaos has arrived.

Week 7 of the college football season brought home the biggest harvest of chaos (so far) for the Big Ten Conference. Ohio State, arguably the most elite team in the conference, had all sorts of issues getting away from Minnesota on Saturday. Even though the Buckeyes won, 30-14, there are now even more questions about the issues on defense as well as offense.

Dwayne Haskins did the unthinkable and threw for another 400-yard game. His 412-yard performance against the Golden Gophers is now third in the OSU single-game record books for passing. Just last week, Haskins threw for 455 yards to take the No. 2 spot for most passing yards in a contest. If he can keep this up for a few more weeks, then he’ll have his ticket punched to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation.

While Haskins is the darling of this season’s Buckeye squad, the defense still likes to give up big plays, and the offensive line hasn’t blocked well for the running backs. Both J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber failed to combine for 100 yards of rushing— they ended with 86 yards on 23 carries. For a team’s national title aspirations, not exceeding in both will make things incredibly challenging.

However, through all of that, Ohio State is still the elite team in the conference. In fact, they are even THE team to beat in the conference. The Buckeyes are the last overall unbeaten team in the Big Ten, and have the inside track to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game. That road to Indy got a little clearer after the chaos in the afternoon and evening slate of games in Week 7.

Two weeks after James Franklin played the laughably insane semantics exercise over what makes his program “great” and not “elite,” the Nittany Lions may have relegated themselves into the “good” category of football teams, as they fell— at home— to Michigan State. It was the most Penn State way to lose. It was also the most Michigan State way to win.

Sparty won the game, 21-17, and only led for the final 19 seconds. Mark Dantonio, who now has my vote to receive an honorary Ph.D. in emotional distress of college football fans, nearly executed a fake field goal in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter for the go-ahead score. The fake failed, and it seemed like PSU was going to survive with a win.

In the most Penn State way possible, they pulled a defeat right out of the jaws of victory. Given the ball back with 1:46 remaining, the Nittany Lions just had to run out the clock (i.e. get a first down). Even though MSU had two timeouts left, keeping the ball in the field of play would burn both of Dantonio’s timeouts and runoff about 30 more seconds. That seemed easy to do— apparently it wasn’t.

PSU had third-and-8 after two rush plays. Sparty used both timeouts, and only allowed the Nittany Lions to run off 10 seconds worth of time. Even if the play didn’t get the first down, MSU would get the ball back with a little less than a minute left. Having to go nearly 34 of the field with an offense that hadn’t really done much all game, MSU seemed doomed. And then on the third down play, Nittany Lions QB Trace McSorley took off down the sideline for the yards and, in the process, was tackled out of bounds. Clock stops, and MSU would get the ball back with 1:19 remaining in regulation.

In a bizarre way that only makes sense in the world of Dantonio, Spartans QB Brian Lewerke alternated for seven plays between incompletion and completion, with the first three completions moving the chains. In those seven plays, Michigan State moved from their own 24 to the PSU33. Then on the eighth play, Lewerke threw a sideline pass to Felton Davis. The pass was underthrown, however, Felton pulled up to catch the ball, and the PSU defender drifted off a couple steps before doing the same. By the time the correction was made, Felton had the ball and side-stepped his way into the end zone.

With the win, Michigan State improves to 4-2, with a marquee victory— and two questionable losses to Northwestern and Arizona State. Penn State is also 4-2, with both losses being of the heartbreaking, ugly-crying-as-the-clock-strikes-all-zeros variety at home. Neither team controls their own destiny in the Big Ten East. And both teams have to play Michigan in the coming weeks.

Speaking of Michigan, they may have finally found their groove at the expense of the Wisconsin Badgers. The Wolverines picked apart the Badgers, 38-13, under the lights at The Big House. QB Shea Patterson went 14-of-21 in the air for the Jim Harbaugh program, while also scoring a TD on the ground behind a 9-carry, 90-yard effort. Patterson picked up 81 of those yards on the first play of the second quarter.

This is the kind of rush that may have Urban Meyer hugging photos of Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. Patterson may not be the fastest guy, but that play busted open the game. Karan Higdon and Dylan McCaffrey scored on the ground, too, and contributed to the 320-yard ground attack.

Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook had two interceptions, with one of them being a Pick-6. The loss puts the Badgers out of the College Football Playoff race; it was the wilderness critters (Cougars and Wolverines) that ended their journey.

Wilderness critters also extended a journey, too. But this journey is not a good one. The Northwestern Wildcats came back from being down 10 with 5:41 remaining, and defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers in overtime, 34-31. Scott Frost’s program is still in search of their first win of the season, and reached 0-6 for the first time in school history.

I admit, I’ve been a little overly critical of Frost at Nebraska. The cupboard wasn’t well-stocked when he got there, and he’s making do with what he has. I respect that.

This game was winnable for the Huskers, but the Wildcats made plays down the stretch. An overtime interception killed Nebraska’s chances of winning the game, or at least forcing a second overtime frame. Next week could be the week that they get their win, though, as Minnesota travels to Lincoln. And I think they’ll get the win not by the talent on the field, but by outcoaching the Gophers.

Minnesota had chances to take control of the game against Ohio State. However, coach P.J. Fleck burned through both halves of timeouts; didn’t challenge a fourth down call that appeared to show OSU’s Mike Weber not getting first down distance on a fourth down attempt; trusting his kicker, who isn’t a long-range guy to begin with, after missing a chip-shot with the game in reach; and, along with a rash of turnovers, general Tressel-like game strategy was a big reason why Ohio State pulled away. The Buckeyes could’ve easily been the fifth top-10 team to fall on Saturday, but Minnesota wouldn’t let that happen.

Because of that, I think Nebraska will get its first win of the season next week, and, I think, Fleck will be on the lowkey hot seat.

The final trio of Big Ten games that happened proved uneventful.

Rutgers somehow failed to field a regular, non-onside kickoff, leading to a Maryland recovery. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that UMD won, 34-7.

Purdue went into Champaign, Ill., and dispatched Illinois, 46-7. The Boilermakers get the Buckeyes next Saturday at home in primetime. They weren’t looking ahead this week— and I like to believe that OSU was looking ahead to them; that’s the only plausible reason I came up with in my reality for why they played so underwhelmingly.

And Iowa had no problem defeating Indiana, 42-16. Iowa is a sneaky 5-1 right now, and is in the thick of things in the Big Ten West, though they’ve already lost to Wisconsin. Maryland and Penn State are the next two opponents for the Hawkeyes. If they can get wins in both, Kirk Ferentz may very well be awoken on a Sunday morning to the sound of a Brinks truck backing up his driveway and the athletic director pounding on his door with another unfathomably large contract extension.