When this happens in the SEC, they call it a game of the century.


2011. LSU 9, Alabama 6.

It even gets the 10-year anniversary treatment.

And yes, I get it. That was a national championship game preview with a dizzying amount of NFL defensive talent on the field. So it’s a bit facile to compare that game to Illinois’ 9-6 win over Iowa on Saturday night. Perhaps even spurious.

But I’m doing it anyway. Because I find amusement in how one of those events is still celebrated while the other merits a sad chuckle. The collective reaction to the Illini-Hawkeyes anti-score fest was basically, “Oh, that Big Ten! What will they think of next?”

That attitude ignores that these were two very good defenses going at it. Maybe not at a Bama-LSU 2011 level, but certainly rock-solid for the 2022 college football landscape.

Illinois leads the nation in scoring defense. Iowa is third. Illinois leads the country with 3.73 yards allowed per play. Iowa is third with 3.83 yards allowed per play. The Illini and Hawkeyes sandwich Alabama in that category.

So it’s not as if this outcome was entirely about offensive ineptitude. Although there was plenty of that to be had.

Illinois at least had an excuse. The Illini lost starting quarterback Tommy DeVito and explosive receiver/returner Isaiah Williams to in-game injuries. Playing the Iowa defense with less than a full deck is a lot to ask of any offense. That’s especially true with a backup quarterback as limited as Art Sitkowski.

Sitkowski is definitely a guy who can win the huddle. At one point he lowered his shoulder into an Iowa tackler to plow for a first down. Teammates obviously revere him. But he averaged 4.8 yards per attempt last season, and had 3.9 yards per attempt against the Hawkeyes.

To get fewer yards per attempt from a quarterback than yards per carry from a running back is … most unusual.

But when Sitkowski makes decisions like these, you can understand why Bret Bielema takes a remarkably conservative approach when he’s in.

It also helps having Chase Brown to cover up your offensive blemishes. The workhorse Illini running back picked up 146 yards on 31 carries.

Brown is second in the country with 146.5 rushing yards per game — exactly the spot where Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III was a year ago during the Spartans’ surprise season.

Brown has the misfortune of playing in the same conference as CJ Stroud, so he’s got a tough path to win Big Ten Player of the Year. But it’s time to begin taking him seriously as a Heisman Trophy candidate. An Illinois player simply making it to New York City would be the biggest deal for the program since Jeff George was drafted No. 1 overall in 1990.

But even bigger, because people actually like Chase Brown. He’s an engaging personality who puts the Illinois program in the best possible light.

The Illini need to get him in the end zone more if that’s going to happen. Brown’s 5 combined touchdowns aren’t going to impress voters.

But the fact this conversation is being had — “Illinois just needs to feed their guy near the goal line to jumpstart his Heisman candidacy” — shows what an impressive job Bielema has done resurrecting this program in short order.

Meanwhile, his Iowa counterpart is mummifying his program.

Brian Ferentz: A national punchline

Iowa fans are getting a little stir crazy, and who can blame them?

You want stats?

Here’s a simple stat: Iowa is allowing 9.8 points per game. And is 3-3 this season.

The only other team in the country with multiple losses that’s allowing 14 or fewer points per game is Iowa State. The Cyclones, also 3-3, beat the Hawkeyes 10-7 in Week 2. What are y’all putting in the corn?

Want some more stats? How about this:

Naturally, there’s more.

That tweet gives Iowa a bit too much credit, as the Hawks have actually failed to score more than 7 points on 6 occasions.

Being tied with Rutgers in offensive ineptitude is particularly noteworthy. On Sunday, the Scarlet Knights replaced offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson. Greg Schiano saw that things weren’t going to get better and pulled the plug.

It helps being able to fire a guy named Sean Gleeson instead of Sean Schiano. And therein continues to lie the issue for Iowa.

Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa stubbornness makes it clear there will be no consequences for Brian Ferentz. Despite there being no indication things are going to change.

Though we keep thinking we’ve found the low point for Iowa’s offense, Brian keeps digging. The most telling drive of his tenure took place when the Hawkeyes began a possession on the Illinois 5-yard line after recovering a muffed punt.

Iowa lost 4 yards and kicked a field goal.

Around the B1G horn

Couldn’t watch every game? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

No. 3 Ohio State 49, Michigan State 20

Ohio State’s offense is more efficient than any vintage 20th century Detroit assembly line. It once again didn’t matter than the Buckeyes were again missing their top wide receiver or one of their two star running backs. Just a smooth 614 yards for Ohio State.

Nine of CJ Stroud’s 21 completions were for 15 yards or more, accounting for 278 of his 361 yards. That amounts to 30 yards per completion on those 9 throws.

Voters are taking notice, bumping the Buckeyes up from No. 3 to No. 2 in this week’s AP poll.

Meanwhile, Mel Tucker is enduring a bit of a cold snap.

No. 4 Michigan 31, Indiana 10

Michigan’s third straight appearance on FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff apparently backfired, because voters were unimpressed enough with a 10-10 first half that the Wolverines were knocked down to No. 5 in this week’s poll. (More likely, the softness of Michigan’s non-conference schedule is starting to rear its head.)

But Michigan should be encouraged that JJ McCarthy finally had to make some plays in order for the Wolverines to close out a game. He was 28-of-36 for 304 yards with 3 touchdowns. There was also a very bad end zone interception in that mix, but it didn’t end up being costly.

The performance of Indiana’s offensive line ended up being costly to Hoosiers O-line coach Darren Hiller. Hiller was fired Sunday after the Hoosiers allowed 7 sacks. Quarterback Connor Bazelak has been sacked 19 times this season. Former Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey will replace Hiller.

Nebraska 14, Rutgers 13

The Scarlet Knights squandered a 13-0 lead, which was the tipping point for Schiano to replace his offensive coordinator. Which is a thing a coach is allowed to do when his offense stinks.

Tight ends coach Nunzio Campanile, who has filled a variety of roles at Rutgers since 2018 — including interim head coach — will be interim offensive coordinator.

Speaking of interim coaches, Nebraska’s Mickey Joseph is now 2-0 in Big Ten play as the Huskers won back-to-back games for the first time since 2019. The culture in Lincoln is changing to one of belief. Now Joseph needs to keep piling up the wins to show he’s the right long-term solution.

Purdue 31, Maryland 29

The duel between Aidan O’Connell and Taulia Tagovailoa was almost everything we could have hoped for.

Both quarterbacks passed for more than 300 yards. They had near-identical passer ratings, with Tagovailoa’s 158.8 edging out O’Connell’s 158.1. But it was O’Connell and the Boilers who got the edge on the scoreboard with a pair of touchdowns in the final 4 minutes.

The only thing missing was overtime, which it appeared we would have had on a couple occasions.

Purdue blocked an extra point when Maryland took a 23-17 lead, though Terps fans are certain the Boilers were offside on the play. Maryland also appeared to tie the game on a 2-point conversion with 35 seconds left, but it was waved off due to an illegal man downfield.

But after losing heartbreakers to Penn State and Syracuse, Purdue surely has no sympathy for Maryland’s lament. The Boilermakers could very well be 6-0 right now. They’ll have to settle for a share of the West lead and a probable spot in the Top 25 with a win over Nebraska next week.

Wisconsin 42, Northwestern 7

Jim Leonhard’s coaching debut couldn’t have gone any better than this.

Much-maligned Graham Mertz tied the program record with 5 touchdown passes and averaged 15.3 yards per completion. A defense that was torched by Ohio State and Illinois forced 3 turnovers and allowed a single touchdown. Wisconsin won at Northwestern for only the second time since 1999.

As for the Wildcats, hope is fleeting. Northwestern has 6 straight home losses dating to last season. And if you count the game against Purdue at Wrigley Field, that total is 7.

Northwestern’s situation is not unlike Iowa’s. Loyalty to Pat Fitzgerald makes it unlikely anything will change soon. But Fitzgerald certainly needs to rearrange his coaching staff this offseason.

Illinois 9, Iowa 6

The final score isn’t the only thing reminiscent of 2011.

With the win, the Fighting Illini are ranked for the first time since that season. They’ve also defeated the Hawkeyes for the first time since 2008. Considering how well Iowa recruits the Chicagoland area, this is not an insignificant development.

Illinois needs DeVito to recover from his injury if it’s going to stay in contention for the Big Ten championship game. Brown as a one-man gang at running back won’t be enough. But the fact Illinois survived a game in which it handed Iowa 3 takeaways says something about this team’s mettle.

The moment is not too big for the Illini.

Week 6 MVPs

1. WR Marvin Harrison Jr. (Ohio State)

Harrison has appeared in 7 career games. He has 3 touchdown receptions in 3 of those games. No other receiver in Ohio State history has 3 career 3-TD games. And NFL rosters are overflowing with former Ohio State receivers.

Harrison finished with 7 receptions for 131 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Spartans, including the most preposterous grab of the Big Ten season.

2. QB Graham Mertz (Wisconsin)

There haven’t been many bouquets thrown in Mertz’s direction from this space. And had there been, they probably would have been inter — sorry. I won’t even finish the thought. No more Mertz jokes.

This was the Mertz that Badgers fans expected to see after he began his career with a 5-touchdown performance against Illinois in 2020. By again matching that number, he’s the only quarterback in Wisconsin history with a pair of 5-TD games.

Can it be sustained? If so, the pairing of Jim Leonhard and OC Bobby Engram will be formidable for Wisconsin moving forward.

3. TE Payne Durham (Purdue)

Maryland did a heck of a job neutralizing Purdue receiver Charlie Jones on Saturday. Jones was limited to 3 catches for 15 yards and only 4 yards after the catch. Outstanding work by coordinator Brian Williams and his Terrapins defense.

But the Terps had no answer for bruising Boilermakers tight end Payne Durham. Durham had 7 receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown.

If not for Harrison’s catch from outer space, Durham’s 56-yard reception in which he dragged four Maryland tacklers would be the play of the week.

Evidently Durham was running angry. The former high school lacrosse star is still miffed he never got a scholarship offer from Maryland’s powerhouse program.

4. WR Chimere Dike (Wisconsin)

The last time a Wisconsin quarterback and receiver looked this good in the same game, it was probably Russell Wilson and Jared Abbrederis.

Dike had 10 catches for 185 yards and 3 touchdowns, which is the eighth-best game for a receiver in program history. Dike’s previous career best was 106 yards.

5. TE Corey Dyches (Maryland)

Another reason this game should have gone to overtime: the possibility of a never-ending sequence of overtimes where each team completed passes to its tight end for 2-point conversions. Kind of like the Illinois-Penn State 9OT game, but with the offense winning instead of the defense.

Dyches and the Terps didn’t get that opportunity, but he made the most of his 4 catches for 106 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Honorable mention

CJ Stroud for completing 81% of his passes and throwing 6 touchdowns against Michigan State. He only missed the Top 5 on account of his 7th touchdown pass — an absolutely dreadful pick-6 to Michigan State’s Charles Brantley. … Brantley, whose aforementioned touchdown was Michigan State’s lone defensive highlight. … Illinois linebacker Seth Coleman, who had 5 tackles, 4 QB hurries and 2 sacks against Iowa. … Illini backup kicker Fabrizio Pinton, who was a perfect 3-for-3 kicking 3s in the 9-6 win. They were his first college field goal attempts. … Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell, who led that hard-hitting game with 13 tackles. No one else had more than 9. … Michigan receiver Ronnie Bell, who caught 11 JJ McCarthy passes for 121 yards. … Purdue QB Aidan O’Connell and Maryland QB Taulia Tagovailoa for living up to the hype in the game of the week. … Ohio State receiver Emeka Egbuka for gaining 143 yards on just 5 receptions. … Nebraska outside linebacker Garrett Nelson for dominating Rutgers with 11 tackles, including 2 TFL and 1.5 sacks.

Play of the week

It’s Harrison’s first touchdown catch against Michigan State, which the poor Spartans actually defended perfectly.

But check out Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen finding fellow running back Chez Mellusi on a sweet 23-yard touchdown pass.

Who knew Wisconsin’s offense could be this fun?

Blooper of the week

Brian Ferentz caught on camera looking anything but miserable has not gone over well with Iowa fans.