Penn State soaring, Ohio State limping into big game: Who’s up, down across Big Ten

Though the levels of competition varied widely this week, the three teams atop the Big Ten East flexed their respective muscles in lopsided victories by a combined margin of 142 points. 

There was a 45-point win for Michigan, a 34-point win for Ohio State and a 63-point win for Penn State


On the other side of the conference, Iowa continued to defy the odds, notching its sixth win of the season despite quarterback Deacon Hill completing just six passes for 37 yards. In doing so, the Hawkeyes seized control of the Big Ten West. 

Let’s break down Week 7 with a new edition of the Stock Watch: 


Michigan’s offense: There isn’t much about the box score from Michigan’s 52-7 win over Indiana on Saturday that makes the Wolverines offense an obvious choice to lead the Stock Watch. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy threw for just 222 yards, fumbled twice and absorbed four sacks. Tailback Blake Corum ran for a season-low 52 yards on 13 carries. The team’s leading wide receiver was a tight end.

But everything head coach Jim Harbaugh’s team did against the Hoosiers dripped with efficiency in a performance that reiterated why Michigan remains the team to beat in the Big Ten. Third-down conversions? The Wolverines went 6-for-11 to keep their season-long success rate at 55.4%, which ranks fourth nationally. Fourth-down conversions? Michigan moved the chains both times Harbaugh rolled the dice to keep his offense on the field, including a 2-yard touchdown pass from McCarthy to wide receiver Roman Wilson. Passing efficiency? McCarthy connected on 19 of 22 passes to finish with the same number of touchdowns (3) as incompletions (3). As a team, the Wolverines shook off consecutive three-and-outs to begin the game by reeling off eight consecutive scoring drives from the start of the second quarter through the midway point of the fourth. Seven of those possessions resulted in touchdowns, leaving the Hoosiers chasing ghosts after the visitors built an early 7-0 lead.

What can Michigan take moving forward into the rest of the season?

Iowa’s defense: It’s borderline ridiculous that Iowa is 6-1 and controls its own destiny in the Big Ten West given the incompetence of an offense that ranks last among FBS schools in yards per game at 247.4, and third-to-last in passing offense at 116.6 yards per game. But defensive coordinator Phil Parker, who has been with the Hawkeyes since 1999 and has held his current role since 2012, continues to demonstrate why he’s one of the best assistant coaches in the country and, as of this moment, should be a shoo-in for the Broyles Award.

Consider some of the final notes from the Hawkeyes’ 15-6 road win over Wisconsin on Saturday: Iowa became just the fourth team in the last 20 years to hold the Badgers scoreless in the first half at Camp Randall Stadium; Iowa has now held seven teams without a touchdown since the start of the 2022 season; Iowa has allowed one touchdown or fewer in five of its first seven games to begin the 2023 campaign and 14 of its last 20 games overall; Iowa held its opponent below 400 yards of total offense for the 21st consecutive outing, which is the longest active streak in college football. In the gritty win over Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes forced three fumbles, intercepted a pass, recorded their second safety of the season, knocked the Badgers’ starting quarterback out of the game with an injury and limited their opponent to 2-for-17 on third-down conversion attempts.

Penn State’s edge rushers: Let’s start with the obvious caveat from Penn State’s 63-0 undressing of UMass on Saturday: Yes, the Minutemen are one of the worst FBS programs in the country with four wins over the last five seasons combined — and that is not a typo. But good teams are supposed to show their dominance against inferior opponents, and that’s exactly what the Nittany Lions did to ensure they’ll enter next week’s marquee matchup with Ohio State brimming with confidence.

No position put forth a better afternoon than Penn State’s collection of edge rushers, which combined for five of the team’s seven sacks and 6.5 of the team’s 14 tackles for loss in a swarming display. Adisa Isaac, who entered the weekend having recorded at least 0.5 sacks in each of his last three games, converted his four quarterback pressures into a career-high 2.5 sacks and enjoyed a career-best 3.5 tackles for loss overall. Chop Robinson, who had one sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovered in Penn State’s biggest game of the year against Iowa last month, tied his career high with two sacks against the Minutemen. And Dani Dennis-Sutton, who earned Freshman All-America honors from ESPN in 2022, continued his midseason uptick by contributing at least 0.5 sacks for the second consecutive game. Now the Nittany Lions will bring the No. 1 total defense in the country to Ohio Stadium for an undefeated showdown against the Buckeyes.

Rutgers: Here’s a quiz question: How many people predicted the Scarlet Knights would be one of six Big Ten teams to record at least five wins by mid-October? Sure, everyone had confidence that Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State would get there at the top of the Big Ten East. But did anybody see Rutgers as the team joining Maryland and Iowa to round out the group? Saturday’s pulsating 27-24 win over Michigan State will be remembered as one of Greg Schiano’s finest moments since returning to Rutgers for a second head-coaching stint in 2020. The Scarlet Knights trailed 24-6 at the start of the fourth quarter before reeling off 21 unanswered points in a span of 4:48 — including two touchdowns in nine seconds — thanks to huge plays on offense, defense and special teams.

It was the program’s largest comeback in Big Ten play since rallying from 25 points down against Indiana in 2015. It also matched the biggest comeback under Schiano, who helped Rutgers erase an 18-point hole against Vanderbilt in 2004. With the win, Rutgers improved to 5-0 at home for the first time since 2006 and is 5-2 overall for the first time since 2014. A trip to Indiana next week gives the Scarlet Knights a realistic chance of becoming bowl eligible with more than a month remaining in the regular season.  


Ohio State’s health: There were already injury concerns at running back (TreVeyon Henderson) and wide receiver (Emeka Egbuka) when Ohio State made its trip to West Lafayette, Indiana, for Saturday’s game against Purdue. And by the time the clock reached zero in a commanding 41-7 victory for the Buckeyes, those issues had only intensified ahead of next week’s massive home game against undefeated Penn State.

A few days before kickoff, head coach Ryan Day had said Henderson was on track to return against the Boilermakers after missing the previous week’s win over Maryland with an undisclosed midsection injury. But Henderson suffered some kind of minor setback during the week and was unavailable, as was No. 2 tailback Miyan Williams, who was ruled out on the pregame availability report. That left Chip Trayanum to shoulder most of the load in Saturday’s game until he, too, was felled by injury, leaving the game with what appeared to be a concussion. Trayanum staggered toward the sideline after absorbing a significant hit and was visibly woozy as the medical staff attended to him. Without its top three running backs, Ohio State turned to one of last year’s saviors, Dallan Hayden, who carried 11 times for 76 yards and a touchdown. Egbuka didn’t travel after tweaking a knee against Maryland, and his status for Saturday’s game against Penn State is unclear. The defense also suffered a significant blow when No. 1 cornerback Denzel Burke dropped out after suffering an undisclosed injury in the third quarter. He reportedly never returned to the sideline after heading to the Ohio State locker room.

Maryland’s rushing attack: After tailback Roman Hemby earned an honorable mention All-Big Ten nod and Freshman All-American honors in 2022, there was legitimate buzz that Maryland finally had a runner who could complement the passing exploits of star quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. Hemby had finished third nationally among freshmen with 1,287 scrimmage yards and scored 11 total touchdowns. But the Terrapins’ rushing attack hasn’t quite kicked into gear this season, and never was that more apparent than during Saturday’s dispiriting 27-24 loss to Illinois at home. 

Maryland managed just 93 rushing yards and one touchdown on 29 carries for an anemic average of 3.2 yards per attempt. The longest run of the day, which came from Hemby, was only 18 yards. It marked the fifth consecutive game in which Hemby was held to 70 yards or fewer and the sixth time in seven games overall — a stark contrast from his four 100-yard games last season. Backup tailback Antwain Littleton II has seen his yards per carry drop to 4.2 on 54 attempts after averaging 5 yards per carry on 76 attempts last season. As a team, the Terrapins have slipped to 85th nationally and seventh in the Big Ten with an average of 140.9 rushing yards per game. Saturday’s loss to the struggling Illini did little to suggest head coach Mike Locksley’s team has turned the corner.

Michigan State: Consecutive defeats to Washington, Maryland and Iowa prompted the much-maligned Spartans to change their quarterback ahead of Saturday’s date with Rutgers. Out with veteran Noah Kim, who’d tossed six interceptions in his last three games, and in with redshirt freshman Katin Houser, the No. 14 quarterback in the 247Sports Composite for the 2022 recruiting cycle. Houser completed 18 of 29 passes for 133 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions on an afternoon when the Spartans carried a 24-6 lead into the fourth quarter. But then disaster struck as Michigan State’s defense and special teams imploded. 

Punter Michael O’Shaughnessy mishandled a snap near his own goal line that resulted in a Rutgers touchdown when the ball squirted into the end zone for a Scarlet Knights’ recovery. Then the Spartans’ defense surrendered a 12-play, 73-yard touchdown drive in which Rutgers racked up four gains of at least 10 yards. And finally, after Rutgers quarterback Gavin Wimsatt connected with Isaiah Washington for a 4-yard score, Michigan State failed to field the ensuing kickoff and allowed the Scarlet Knights to take over just beyond the red zone. Tailback Kyle Monangai ripped off a 21-yard run on the first play from scrimmage for what proved to be the winning score in a game that ended 27-24. It was a stunning collapse for an already downtrodden Michigan State program.

Rutgers dashes to late lead vs. Michigan State

Wisconsin’s quarterbacks: An uneasy transition from the traditional Wisconsin offense to the Air Raid system employed by new offensive coordinator Phil Longo hit another bump on Saturday when starting quarterback Tanner Mordecai exited the game with a hand injury. Mordecai, who transferred in after throwing for more than 7,000 yards and 72 touchdowns at Southern Methodist from 2021-22, struck the helmet of Iowa linebacker Jay Higgins during his follow through and was seen mouthing the words “I can’t throw” to the Badgers’ sideline. He exited the game late in the second quarter and did not return. 

Without him, Longo turned to fellow transfer Braedyn Locke, who spent one year at Mississippi State in 2022 but never saw the field. Locke was a four-star prospect and the No. 22 quarterback in the ’22 recruiting cycle and committed to the Bulldogs over additional scholarship offers from Louisville, Miami and North Carolina, among others. He’d completed 16 of 31 passes for 131 yards, no touchdowns and one interception during spot duty across Wisconsin’s first five games. The numbers were nearly identical in his longest appearance of the year against Iowa’s vaunted defense: 15-of-30 for 122 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and two lost fumbles. 

Fickell didn’t sound terribly optimistic when describing Mordecai’s injury after the game. “It doesn’t look good for a little while,” Fickell said. “He couldn’t grip the ball, so we’ll have to make sure we find out what the deal is tomorrow and see how long that may last.”

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.

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