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Bouncing Around the Big Ten: Two of nation's top running backs meet this week

A look at the Big Ten with focus on Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska

NCAA Football: Colorado at Minnesota
Minnesota Golden Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim (24) runs the ball against the Colorado Buffaloes on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, at Huntington Bank Stadium.
Matt Blewett / USA Today Sports
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This week in the Big Ten, Minnesota gets tasked with a top-25 Illinois squad, while Nebraska looks to nab its third win in a row and Iowa takes its bye.

Here’s a look around the Big Ten conference with a key in on Minnesota and Nebraska’s games.

Top running backs clash as Minnesota goes to Illinois

If it weren’t for one other running back, Illinois’ Chase Brown would have the longest streak in the nation of consecutive games with at least 100 rushing yards.

That other running back happens to be Mohamed Ibrahim, who will be on the opposite sideline on Saturday when the No. 24 Fighting Illini clash with Minnesota in a Big Ten game in Champaign, Illinois.

Brown has been a workhorse for Illinois (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten), eclipsing the 100-yard mark on the ground in seven straight games dating to last season.

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With 879 yards, Brown is the nation’s leading rusher and averages the second-most rushing yards per game (146.5) in the FBS. He ran for 146 yards on 31 carries in the Illini’s 9-6 win over Iowa last Saturday, which extended their win streak to four games and propelled them into the Top 25 for the first time since 2011.

“When (the ranking) came through (Sunday), just sat there for a moment, kind of digested it and thought about. I thought it was a good thing,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said. “It’s a product of what they’ve built and what they’ve tried to accomplish, but it’s definitely not our ending point. It’s hopefully just a catalyst in our future.”

However, Ibrahim is one step ahead of Brown — or six — considering he’s rushed for more than 100 yards in 13 straight games.

The Golden Gophers (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) were without Ibrahim in their game against Purdue, and they paid the price for it. Offense was hard to come by, as Minnesota fell 20-10 in its first loss of the season.

Although it wasn’t the result Minnesota was looking for, coach P.J. Fleck was still able to take some positives from the outcome.

“Anything that could have went wrong in that game went wrong. But again, that’s college football,” Fleck said. “This football team got a chance to see that you’re human, you’re going to keep fighting human nature, but that’s the hard part about college football is you’ve got to find a way to overcome the human nature piece of that.”

Fleck realizes facing the Illini won’t be easy, though.

“They do what they do extremely well,” he said. “They’re all on the same page. … They want to just beat you up, and they’ve done that to a lot of people this year.”

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Illinois has outscored opponents 156-48 this season and has allowed more than 10 points just once. Its defense also has given up just one touchdown during its winning streak.

A look at Nebraska and Iowa's upcoming contests. A glimpse at the rest of the Big Ten. And a few games that might fly under the radar from around college football in the latest edition of Bouncing around the Big Ten.

Defense will be all the more important on Saturday because it looks as if Illinois starting quarterback Tommy DeVito won’t play.

DeVito exited the game against Iowa with an ankle injury, and Bielema said Monday it isn’t realistic to factor him into this week’s game plan. The game will get underway at 11 a.m. from Champaign.

Nebraska and Purdue put winning streaks to test in Big Ten west matchup

Purdue enters Saturday’s visit from Big Ten Conference opponent Nebraska on a three-game winning streak.

If securing those victories by a combined 14 points has left the Boilermakers exasperated, they aren’t showing it.

In fact, Purdue coach Jeff Brohm seems to view the distinction as a badge of honor as the Boilermakers (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) aim to create more distance from their foes.

“It’s been by the hair of our teeth,” Brohm said. “We’ve had to scratch and claw to get (the wins). So that’s just how it’s going to be. We got to be willing to work for perfection and better execution, but you got to have the grit and toughness to be able to hang in to the very end.”

The Boilermakers’ latest show of mettle came last week at Maryland. While Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell had a strong game — 30-for-41 passing for 360 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception — the team had to exhale just the same.

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A 31-29 victory was cemented only after Maryland was penalized for an ineligible man downfield on a would-be, game-tying, two-point conversion with 35 seconds remaining.

Nebraska (3-3, 2-1 Big Ten) presents the next test for Purdue on Saturday night in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Despite a tumultuous start to the season that included the firing of coach Scott Frost, the Cornhuskers are tied with Purdue and No. 24 Illinois for the lead in the Big Ten West.

Nebraska has rebounded from a 1-3 start with successive conference victories against Indiana and Rutgers.

The Cornhuskers didn’t allow a point in the second half of their win over Rutgers last week, but they figure to face a tall order in stopping the connection between O’Connell and Payne Durham, who had seven receptions for 109 yards and a score for Purdue last week.

Nebraska’s Casey Thompson threw for a pair of second-half scores vs. Rutgers as the program continues to rally around interim coach Mickey Joseph.

“We want to build a culture of winning around here,” Thompson said, “but we have to focus on the process and winning on a daily basis.”

Saturday's game marks the second time in FCS history that the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in the country meet during the regular season

In the news

  • Rutgers fired offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson on Sunday. Tight ends coach Nunzio Campanile will serve as the interim offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
  • Michigan running backs coach Mike Hart suffered a seizure on the sideline against Indiana on Saturday. He released a statement saying he was back in Ann Arbor and “trending in the right direction.”

Last week’s Big Ten scores

Friday, Oct. 7

Nebraska 14, Rutgers 13

Saturday, Oct. 8

Illinois 9, Iowa 6
Ohio State 49, Michigan State 20
Michigan 31, Indiana 10
Purdue 31, Maryland 29
Wisconsin 42, Northwestern 7

This week’s games

Minnesota at No. 24 Illinois, 11 a.m.
No. 10 Penn State at No. 5 Michigan, 11 a.m.
Maryland at Indiana, 2:30 p.m.
Wisconsin at Michigan State, 3 p.m.
Nebraska at Purdue, 6:30 p.m.

In the AP Poll

  • Ohio State jumped Alabama and moved up one spot to No. 2 and is receiving 20 first-place votes, which is second to Georgia’s 32.
  • Michigan fell one spot to No. 5, getting jumped by Michigan.
  • Penn State remained at No. 10.
  • Illinois joined the top 25 for the first time this season, sitting at No. 24.
  • Purdue, Minnesota and Maryland are all receiving votes.

Clear your schedule

Three FBS games you should tune into this weekend:

No. 10 Penn State at No. 5 Michigan — 11 a.m. Saturday — One of the marquee matchups in the Big Ten East, Michigan will be hosting its “Maize Out” when the two unbeaten teams do battle.

No. 8 Oklahoma State at No. 13 TCU — 2:30 p.m. Saturday — TCU just took down one undefeated team when the Horned Frogs went on the road to Kansas. Now they have their toughest task to date with a share of the lead in the Big 12 on the line when Spencer Sanders and Oklahoma State come to town.

No. 3 Alabama at No. 6 Tennessee — 3:30 p.m. Saturday — This game may be perhaps the biggest game of the regular season in college football. A team on the rise all year, Tennessee is hosting an Alabama squad that’s played in two close games this season.

Note: This report was compiled in part through previews from Field Level Media.

Zech Lambert is a sports reporter for the Mitchell Republic. He graduated from Penn State University in May 2022 and began at the Mitchell Republic in July 2022. He can be reached at zlambert@mitchellrepublic.com or on Twitter @Zech_Lambert.
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