There’s nothing quite like the road to really show the identity of a team. The best teams know how to turn it all internal, block out the distractions and silence the crowd with a win.
Unfortunately for the Big Ten, that’s not really happening.
Of the four conference games this weekend, the only team to pick up a road win was Nebraska, over Purdue. Michigan State and Wisconsin manhandled Indiana and Northwestern, respectively. And Penn State took Michigan into four overtimes before sending the Wolverines out of Beaver Stadium with their tail between their legs.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he was disappointed with the loss but happy with how his guys responded on the road. He said his team needed to “make the punches count a little more."
The Wolverines -- like every other team in the Big Ten -- are going to need to figure out how to make those punches count more on the road. In their only other road trip this season, Michigan snuck by UConn, and it still has upcoming trips to Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa.
Indiana gets no break as it goes to Michigan Stadium, where Hoke is undefeated. And after its trip to Ann Arbor, the Hoosiers hit the road for Wisconsin and Ohio State.
The Wildcats will still travel to Iowa, Nebraska and Illinois, which at one point seemed like a favorable road to the Big Ten title game, but currently Northwestern is sharing last place with Minnesota in the Legends Division.
Take that and rewind.
Team of the week: Northwestern entered Saturday’s game against Wisconsin having scored at least 30 points in the previous seven games. Enter the Badger defense, highly motivated and ready to play. Not only did the Badgers hold the Wildcats to zero touchdowns, they also held Northwestern scoreless in the second half, en route to a 35-6 win. Melvin Gordon carried the ball 22 times for 172 yards, including one huge 71-yard TD run, continuing his argument for best RB in the Big Ten. And Jared Abbrederis picked up another big play for the Badgers, a 63-yard touchdown pass.
Worst hangover: Northwestern seems to be on the opposite trend of the Spartans. A week after Northwestern put up a great showing against Ohio State, the Wildcats managed to look like the Northwestern of the past against Wisconsin. The Wildcats' offense couldn’t get its run game going and accounted for its fewest rushing yards since 2007 when NU rushed for 0 yards against Ohio State. Defensively, a week after making Braxton Miller look very human, the Northwestern defense gave up three passing touchdowns and 241 passing yards to Joel Stave.
Big man on campus (offense): Langford accounted for four touchdowns (three rushing, one receiving) in the Spartans’ win over Indiana on Saturday. It was the first 100-yard rushing game of his career and the first time since 2010 that a Spartan has accounted for four touchdowns in one game. His performance spurred the offensive attack as his rushing threat opened up passing lanes for Cook.
Big man on campus (defense): In a 35-6 dismantling of Northwestern, Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland set the tone for the Badgers during a pregame speech. He had 10 tackles and one sack and proved himself as the crucial emotional leader for a Wisconsin defense that held Northwestern to just 44 rushing yards and 10 first downs.
Big man on campus (special teams): Michigan State punter Mike Sadler averaged 59.3 yards with his four punts against Indiana. His longest of the day (which also is his longest this season) came on a second chance after IU chose to accept an illegal formation penalty. Sadler responded with a 69-yarder.
Best play: With just under a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, Penn State’s defense came up with a huge stop, forcing the Wolverines to punt. And when Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg walked on to the field with 50 seconds remaining, chances looked bleak as the Nittany Lions trailed 34-27. But in just four plays the freshman signal-caller had marched Penn State 80 yards into the end zone. There are two plays in this drive that will be co-winners of this week’s best play and both were completions from Hackenberg to Michigan native and PSU wide receiver Allen Robinson. The first was a 14-yard pass that Robinson caught while flying out of bounds, but somehow he managed to get a foot in to give the Nittany Lions some momentum. And the second came just two plays later, when Hackenberg hoisted a 36-yard prayer to the corner and found Robinson, who elevated over Michigan defensive back Channing Stribling and came down just 1 yard from the end zone.
A spot of bother: The lows of the lows were quite apparent for Michigan and Northwestern this weekend, two teams that -- at their bests -- could/could've contended for the Big Ten title. But this weekend the Wolverines showed relapses to their Akron/UConn former selves and the Wildcats, who are now 0-2 in conference play, couldn’t seem to get anything going in a huge loss to Wisconsin on the road. For teams like Michigan State, this is good news, as it means the hunt for the Big Ten title is wide open. But as far as conference perceptions go, it does nothing to have two teams that have recently been ranked in the top 25 look as disjointed as Michigan and Northwestern did at times.