No easy fix coming for Michigan offense

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22

The problems with Michigan’s offense are clear. The solutions, for a group that needs to get itself turned around in a hurry if coach Brady Hoke is going to keep his job after the 2014 season, are not.

The easiest symptom to diagnose for the Wolverines (2-2) through four games is their turnover margin, which is the worst in the nation at minus-10. Senior quarterback Devin Gardner has played at least some role in seven of the 12 times the offense has coughed up the ball. His second interception in Saturday’s 26-10 loss to Utah cost him a chance to finish the fourth quarter. It might end up costing him his starting job. Hoke said he’ll decide Tuesday whether Gardner or sophomore Shane Morris will start this weekend.

Cutting down on turnovers won’t be as simple as changing the quarterback, though. Morris has struggled in that department, too. He has been at the root of three turnovers in limited time as a backup this season. In his three drives of relief work against the Utes, he threw one interception, fumbled once and narrowly avoided a safety on the game's final series.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsProtecting quarterback Devin Gardner has been a major issue for Michigan this season.
“I think they both know what they need to do better, and they will,” Hoke said Monday. “I think both competed and made some good decisions, also.”

Gardner isn’t the only player in jeopardy of losing playing time Saturday when Michigan opens its Big Ten schedule at home vs. Minnesota. Hoke said all 11 starters on offense will be evaluated this week during practice, and the Wolverines might rethink the personnel groups they are using in order to get the best possible combinations on the field.

Inexperience throughout the offense, and particularly on the offensive line, has led to an inconsistent attack. Against Utah, Michigan’s offense moved the ball regularly on its own half of the field but appeared to run into a brick wall as soon as it crossed the 50-yard line.

The Wolverines reached Utah territory seven times. On four of those drives, the offense went backward the play after it crossed midfield. In all, Michigan ran 24 plays on Utah’s half of the field and gained 44 yards, 25 of which came on one passing play that was immediately followed by Gardner's first interception of the day.

“It’s been a reoccurring thing,” offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. “Consistency in performance is where we’ve got to improve. Coaches and players, we’re all in this together, and it’s all of us getting it corrected.”

Drive-killing plays -- turnovers, sacks and penalties -- kept Michigan from establishing an offensive rhythm Saturday and two weeks earlier in its 31-0 loss to Notre Dame. That doesn’t appear to be an easier fix than the turnover woes.

Hoke and Nussmeier talked about continuing to harp on technique and fundamentals. When asked what needed to change on offense, Nussmeier talked about the overall youth and needing a better look from the scout team. Hoke didn’t bend from his stance that Team 135 in Ann Arbor will be a good one. When he asked what evidence he has to support that claim, though, he could cite only hard work and faith in his players.

The team, to its credit, has battled. The offense charged forward under Morris after a two-hour, 24-minute rain delay Saturday night. Then the same old problems bit them again. Morris fumbled after scrambling for 3 yards on the drive’s first play in Utah territory -- a reminder that these aren’t issues that can be willed away with grit and determination.

Michigan center Jack Miller, the lone representative of the offense to speak to the media after Saturday’s loss, said, frankly, that he didn’t have an answer for how to fix their problems. Hoke and Nussmeier took a more circuitous route Monday afternoon, but after two days of watching film they didn’t have much to add.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
Well, it's been a while, folks. Did ya miss me?

Let's get to those Big Ten questions.

Adam Rittenberg: It's a fascinating question, Jesse, because Indiana hasn't had a win like this in a while. Coach Kevin Wilson has often talked about the challenge of handling success when you achieve it and how that's part of turning a corner as a program. Indiana can compete with just about anyone in the Big Ten, especially if its defense can build off the Missouri game.

This week's home game against Maryland is huge. Maryland has the playmakers to test the Hoosiers' defense, but Indiana comes in with confidence and a good chance to start Big Ten play at 1-0. If so, the Hoosiers have a chance to improve to 4-1 against North Texas. Then bowl eligibility, which has been so elusive for IU, is within sight.

Wilson and his staff have upgraded the talent. It's now about maturity and not getting too carried away with a great win. But I've always felt Indiana could win seven or eight games if things go right.

Coleman finally got overdue national attention after his performance at Missouri. It's hard to get hype in a league featuring two elite running backs (Ameer Abdullah and Melvin Gordon), but people are finally noticing what Coleman can do.

Every UMFan from Streamwood, Illinois, writes: On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being Lane Kiffin (USC or Tennessee, take your pick) 10 being Nick Saban at Alabama, what's Brady Hoke's job security? Is Michigan still a destination job?

Adam Rittenberg: It has dropped from about a 7 to begin the season to a 3 or 4 right now. Anyone who objectively watched the end of the Utah game sensed the hopelessness surrounding Hoke's program right now. Hoke needs a strong showing in Big Ten play, at least five wins and possibly more, to keep the hounds at bay. It starts this week against Minnesota, a team Michigan has beaten even when it's really down (see: 2008). If Michigan loses the Jug, the talk about Hoke losing his job will only intensify.

Is Michigan a destination job? There's great tradition. The facilities have recently become top-notch. The resources are there. The right coach can make Michigan great again. But I also think the culture needs to change. I'm tired of hearing about what Michigan was. Stop living in the past. Don't be afraid to bring in an outsider if that person can win. If so, embrace that person. Spend less time on legends jerseys and more time on how to appeal to the best recruits from around the country. It's not a turn-key job, but it remains an appealing one.

Adam Rittenberg: At some point, Lefty, we're going to look around and realize, "Hey, Penn State can really win this thing." It seems like people are still grasping that Penn State is, indeed, eligible for everything again. I still worry that the Lions are an injury or two away from being in big trouble, but they've remained relatively healthy so far and seem to be getting better each week. A 6-0 start is certainly possible as PSU plays two struggling teams (Northwestern and Michigan) and has two open weeks between now and the Ohio State game. But it will take a win against Ohio State for Penn State to be viewed as a serious contender in the East. From what I've seen, Michigan State is still a cut above everyone else.

Dave from Marietta, Ohio, writes: Yes, 12-1 was an excellent weekend for the Big Ten (BIG ups to Indiana from an OSU grad; no thanks to you, U-M). But, the hatred for the Big Ten will remain. 1-10 is burned into the memories of the media. For anyone from the Big Ten to get in, there has to be an even weaker sister champion from the other Power 5 conferences, and right now, I don't see one.

Adam Rittenberg: First impressions tend to stick, Dave, and the Big Ten made a very poor one during the first three weeks. The media doesn't make the selections and the committee has pledged to take into account the whole season, but the Big Ten didn't show much punch in nonleague play. A Clemson win against Florida State would have really helped because the ACC would have a tougher road to the playoff. The Big Ten would really benefit from Oklahoma losing (and Baylor, too) and the Pac-12 beating up on each other.

If Nebraska or Penn State runs the table, it's in. And I still think a Michigan State team that dominates Big Ten play would have a shot. But it will be tough.

Brady Hoke staying the course

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22

Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he isn't feeling the heat as questions arise about the future of the program or his role in shaping it after another disappointing loss this weekend, adding that the outside discussion about where the Wolverines are headed won't change the way he makes decisions moving forward.

"It won't affect the course that we want to go, I can tell you that," Hoke said at a news conference Monday afternoon.

Michigan's 26-10 loss to visiting Utah on Saturday dropped the team's record to 2-2 this season and 3-7 since November. The Wolverines have struggled offensively during that stretch. They have only one touchdown in their last three games against Power 5 opponents, a garbage-time score in the final minutes of a bowl loss to Kansas State.

Hoke said the coaching staff will decide Tuesday if it will replace senior Devin Gardner at starting quarterback. The staff is also considering other personnel changes to try to spark production.

Players and assistant coaches vehemently defended Hoke and the state of the locker room Monday. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who first shared a sideline with Hoke in 1984, said he would not have returned to Michigan to coach if not for Hoke taking over the team in 2011.

"Anybody can say anything they want. That man is why I'm here," Mattison said. "He's a tough, hard-nosed son of a gun. When a guy works as hard as he does and prepares the way he does, then there's not pressure. To me, pressure is when you haven't done your job or aren't doing your job. Pressure is when you don't prepare."

To read more about what Hoke said at his press conference, click here.

Take Two: B1G's best receiving tandem

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
Our crew of Big Ten reporters will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. They'll have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which one is right.

Today's Take Two topic: Who has the best receiving tandem in the Big Ten?

[+] EnlargeGeno Lewis
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsPSU's Geno Lewis has the stats and intangibles to make a case for one of the Big Ten's best WRs.
Take 1: Josh Moyer

Dan, Dan, Dan -- let's not overthink this. Michigan has the Big Ten's best receiver in Devin Funchess, but there's really no No. 2 there. Stefon Diggs is an elite talent, but Deon Long hasn't made a huge impact this season. So, let's not get cute with this pick. The answer is really simple: Penn State's Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton.

Now, before the season, I wouldn't have guessed this. Lewis was inconsistent last season, and Hamilton missed his true freshman season with an injury. But you can't argue with their production this season. Only four receivers in the Big Ten are averaging at least 100 yards a game, and Lewis and Hamilton are two of them. Lewis leads the conference in receiving yards (462) and is second in receptions (25); Hamilton leads the conference in receptions (30) and is second in receiving yards (402). How's that for complementary?

But you know what, Dan? Let's forget about the stats. You want a deep threat with great focus and athleticism? Lewis has made several highlight-worthy catches, including a tipped ball he pulled down for a 41-yard gain against UCF. You want consistency and a target on more underneath routes? Hamilton caught a pass in 13 of this season's first 14 quarters. You want clutch plays? Well, on PSU's game-winning drive against Rutgers, Lewis accounted for 76 yards on the Nittany Lions' 80-yard drive. You want a guy who has the potential to grow a lot more just this season? Hamilton was called "one of the biggest sleepers in the Big Ten" in the preseason by his receivers coach and, despite an 11-catch performance in Week 1, Hamilton said he didn't feel 100 percent.

This is a young tandem -- Hamilton is a redshirt freshman, Lewis a redshirt sophomore -- but their ability is not in doubt. We'll probably see these guys a few times on "SportsCenter"'s top 10 plays, and it certainly doesn't hurt that they have Christian Hackenberg throwing to them. So the answer here is an easy one: It has to be Penn State's tandem.

Take 2: Dan Murphy

[+] EnlargeTony Lippett
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesThrough three games this season, Spartans WR Tony Lippett has 18 receptions for 345 yards and 5 TDs.
Michigan State veteran Tony Lippett played less than a half on Saturday in Sparty's blowout 73-14 win against Eastern Michigan, but he still had time to add to his league-leading total of five receiving touchdowns. Getting to the end zone was the main thing missing from Lippett's game in past years. Now he's on track to contend for the conference's best receiver and a shot at the Biletnikoff Award short list.

To make this list, though, he'll need a partner. That's where junior MacGarrett Kings Jr. comes in. The 5-foot-10 speedster has only four catches through three games this season, but he has the physical skills to complement Lippett when he reaches his potential.

Kings missed the majority of spring practice after a DUI arrest and has been playing catch up ever since. Spartans coach Mark Dantonio made Kings scrape his way back toward the top of the depth chart during fall camp. His day against Eastern Michigan was short as well, but he did flash his big-play ability with a 43-yard punt return to set up the first of many scores.

Lippett is averaging six receptions and 115 yards per outing after three games, one of which came against a talented Oregon team that boasts one of the best cornerbacks in the country in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. He has reached the end zone in every game this season, more than doubling his career touchdowns after starting the year with only four to his name.

Penn State's Lewis owns the Big Ten passing play of the year so far with his 53-yard catch-and-run to help take down Rutgers two weeks, but we're only four weeks (and one league game) into the season. Lewis and Hamilton rank among the top three receivers in the conference in catches per game and yards per game, but small sample sizes make it hard to extrapolate in September.

Lippett and Kings should be able to pass Lewis and Hamilton as the conference's top receiving tandem once they get up to full speed.

The battle for wide receiver duo supremacy is likely to remain between these two programs this season for one main reason -- both pairs have the luxury of a quality quarterback. The league has other talented receivers such as Diggs, Funchess, and Kenny Bell and Jordan Westerkamp in Nebraska, but no one from that group has a proven consistent passer to feed them the ball.

B1G early look: Setting up Week 5

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
For the most part, the work outside of the Big Ten is done. And after an awful lot of lows, the league finally hit on some high notes before the fun really begins with a Saturday loaded with conference games.

The Big Ten's grace period to celebrate a successful Saturday is over, though. It's time to move on and set the table for what should be an entertaining weekend.

Five things to watch in Week 5

1. What's next for Michigan?: There was only one team in the league not celebrating Saturday night, and the driving rainstorm wasn't what cancelled the party for Michigan. The Wolverines are still a mess on offense, seemingly incapable of finding the red zone and strangely allergic to maintaining possession of the football, and those problems have left Brady Hoke in a tough spot heading into Saturday's Big Ten opener with Minnesota at the Big House. There doesn't appear to be an easy fix at this point, though a change at quarterback is probably where Hoke will start. But no matter who starts under center, the Wolverines are facing their first legitimate challenge for the Little Brown Jug since losing it in 2005 -- and watching the Gophers put their hands on it would only make life tougher for Hoke.

2. Heisman hype: The campaign has been steadily picking up steam for weeks for Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, but he might finally have company in the Big Ten now that his buddy Melvin Gordon has belatedly thrown his hat in the ring. The Wisconsin star definitively put his slow start behind him with a record-setting outing Saturday against Bowling Green that produced five touchdowns and 253 yards on just 13 carries, and he's got a chance to keep the momentum going as the Badgers wrap up nonconference action at home against South Florida. Meanwhile, Abdullah can try to maintain his position as the Big Ten's current top candidate as the Huskers play host to Illinois and its porous defense.

3. Bucks back to work: After a rocky training camp and some continued bad news mixed in with an early loss, Urban Meyer hasn't exactly had the best month. The Ohio State coach isn't getting Braxton Miller back this season and it seems unlikely he'll ever have star defensive end back with the program either, but that hasn't done much to change his outlook with a team that can still compete for a Big Ten title and a potential spot in the College Football Playoff. Beating up on Kent State won't do much to impress the selection committee, but it gave the Buckeyes and a young roster a jolt of confidence heading into their first off date last weekend. They're facing a dangerous Cincinnati passing attack Saturday, and how Ohio State's rebuilt secondary handles that challenge could reveal just how realistic the odds of contending in the conference really are at this point.

4. Welcome party: Maybe it's still taking some getting used to, but Maryland's first chance to dive into conference play might help in making it seem more real that it's really a member. After all, what's more Big Ten then a trip to Indiana? In some ways, both the Hoosiers and Terrapins qualify as pleasant surprises for the league at this point, even though both come into a matchup that has the makings of a wildly enjoyable affair with losses on their resumes. Maryland's defeat makes a bit more sense given the way West Virginia has battled with Alabama and Oklahoma already this season, while Indiana's shootout loss at Bowling Green might remain a head-scratcher for a while. Kevin Wilson's club did bounce back in a major way with its upset win at Missouri, but with home-field advantage this week against the newcomers, count this as another win that Indiana likely needs if it's planning on heading to a bowl game.

5. Wild or mild?: If Northwestern was looking to once again establish itself as a threat in the Big Ten after its disastrous 0-2 start before a bye week, grinding its way to a 24-7 win over Western Illinois wasn't the best way to do it. Going on the road and knocking off unbeaten Penn State? Now that would certainly send a message. It's a tall order for Pat Fitzgerald's club given the various issues that have plagued the Wildcats dating back to the middle of last season, and the Nittany Lions seem to be enjoying the opportunity to play without NCAA sanctions having over their heads lately. The home crowd is likely going to be rocking on Saturday, and Penn State can jump out to an early lead in the East Division thanks to a schedule that already allowed them to play a league game this month. Both teams still have something to prove, but it's the Wildcats who have their backs pressed to the wall even though it's still September.

Recruits react to Michigan's woes 

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
Michigan’s loss to Utah has started to create uncomfortable feelings in Ann Arbor. The season is not looking bright for the Wolverines, and the product on the field typically impacts recruiting directly.

The Wolverines have played only four games, but recruits have noticed the heat from the media and outside voices creeping in. Michigan has had success recruiting in recent years under Brady Hoke, but it seems as if this season might be where the pendulum starts to swing the other way if it doesn’t get turned around.

Nebraska could be Big Ten's best shot

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Think of Nebraska as a football program that fell into a 15-foot hole, shallow enough to see the light from above but too deep to climb out easily.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s say the Cornhuskers disappeared from ground level -- the plane on which championships are contested -- on a January night in 2002, courtesy of a swift uppercut from the Miami Hurricanes.

Several times, this program has scaled the slippery walls, seemingly ready to leap out before Texas or Oklahoma or Wisconsin shoved it back into the darkness. With each fall, the likelihood of another fast climb diminished.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesAmeer Abdullah rushed for 229 yards and two touchdowns as the Huskers pounded Miami.
On Saturday night, as most of the nation focused elsewhere, the Huskers reached a collective hand over the edge of that hole and grabbed hold of flat ground.

Nebraska is 4-0, its first unbeaten nonconference finish since 2011, after a 41-31 win over its postseason rival from the glory years in Lincoln. The Huskers churned for 343 rushing yards and generally pummeled Miami, save for the first and last five minutes at Memorial Stadium.

Now, this was not vintage Miami. And Nebraska still needed a last-minute escape this month to beat McNeese State.

But the Huskers, who open Big Ten play on Saturday at home against Illinois, look set to head to Michigan State as an underdog next week with a chance to make a major statement.

It’s too soon, yes, to declare that Nebraska gives the Big Ten its best chance at the College Football Playoff. Nebraska hovers on the far edge of the national radar. But a win in East Lansing would distinguish it as a contender.

Are the Huskers ready to carry the torch for the Big Ten at the end of the league's dispiriting month?

“Our goal is to win them all,” defensive tackle Maliek Collins said. “We’re just going to take the momentum and keep going with this.”

ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Nebraska a 1.1 percent chance to win out. The Huskers’ probability to win the Big Ten, according to the FPI, is 9.3 percent. By comparison, Wisconsin sits at 40.1 percent, which makes the Badgers a huge favorite in the West. And Nebraska must visit Madison in November.

“We’ve got four tough road games in the conference,” defensive coordinator John Papuchis said on Saturday night. “Hopefully, the resolve that we showed [against Miami] will translate when we go on the road. It’s going to be a battle all the way through, but I think our offense is good enough to score points on anyone. And I think we’re good enough to stop anyone that we play.”

The Huskers showed that resolve twice in the second half on Saturday as fights erupted following interceptions of Miami QB Brad Kaaya.

The first pick was overturned by a roughing-the-passer penalty. Nebraska stiffened defensively to force a field goal. After the second scuffle, Nebraska marched 40 yards for a touchdown to go up 17 with less than five minutes to play, icing the win.

“We just played as Nebraska plays,” left tackle Alex Lewis said. “We didn’t care about Miami.”

The Huskers remain deficient at spots on defense. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. has performed spectacularly at moments, but his consistency must improve.

Still, reasons exist to believe Nebraska will respond differently to adversity this season. The Huskers have broken even in the turnover category after forcing three against Miami, a huge improvement. Special teams look solid, another important change over last year.

Primarily, though, Nebraska has Ameer Abdullah, who offers an answer in most every situation. He ran for 229 yards against Miami, “a man possessed,” according to coach Bo Pelini.

“Our running game is what won this football game for us,” Pelini said. “That’s what Nebraska football is all about.”

Abdullah, a two-year captain, provides a strong voice in the locker room. His message to the Huskers as the Miami game approached figures to apply for as long as the Huskers continue to play well.

“Don’t believe the hype,” Abdullah said. “Don’t buy into anything that you hear.”

Miami poked the bear and paid for it on Saturday, said Papuchis, the defensive coordinator. We’ll learn soon if that bear is ready to crawl out of his hole.

Weekend Rewind: Big Ten

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
Is the Big Ten finally on the rise?

It was a good weekend for the conference -- the best it’s had so far this season -- as it went 12-1 Saturday, with its lone loss coming in the Michigan-Utah contest. Indiana rallied to upset No. 18 Mizzou, Iowa came back to surprise Pitt, and Rutgers overcame an early deficit to beat Navy.

It might be premature to say the Big Ten has bounced back since its record against Power 5 opponents is still pretty dismal. But it’s on the right track, and Saturday’s performance allowed the conference to gain back some respect.

The Big Ten might be down but, after this weekend, it’s certainly not out.

[+] EnlargeNate Sudfeld
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SportsNate Sudfeld led Indiana to its first win against a ranked team since 2006; it had lost its previous 18.
Team of the week: There’s really no controversy at all to this pick -- Indiana. The Hoosiers entered the game against No. 18 Missouri as two-touchdown underdogs, and no one gave them much of a chance. But Indiana’s defense recorded 11 tackles-for-loss and stepped up in key times, and Tevin Coleman and the offense turned in another solid performance. If Indiana’s defense can keep this up, it could surprise in the East. This was the best non-conference win of the season for the Big Ten.

Game of the week: The answer could just as easily be Indiana again, but let's look elsewhere. For 53 minutes, the Hawkeyes couldn’t manage to gain a lead in their game against Pitt. But all that changed in the final minutes. Backup quarterback (at least for now) C.J. Beathard helped Iowa orchestrate a key fourth-quarter touchdown drive by making two critical third-down passes and converting a fourth-down run. The Hawkeyes ate up nearly eight minutes on the drive, and the defense held firm on the next drive when Pitt reached the 29-yard line. It was a great game to watch, a great win on the road and some great play-calling by Greg Davis.

Biggest play: It wasn’t the most exciting play Saturday, and it wasn’t the best highlight. But no big play came at a more critical time than Coleman taking a short Indiana swing pass and parlaying it into a 44-yard gain. With a little more than a minute left in regulation, Coleman broke two tackles and marched to the Missouri 7-yard line after a facemask penalty was tacked on to the end of the pass. Indiana scored the game-winning touchdown two plays later. Without Coleman’s play, maybe this comeback comes up short.

Big Man on Campus (offense): No, the opponent wasn’t a tough one. But when you put up crazy numbers like Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, the choice is still an easy one. In case you don’t know these numbers by now -- and, really, you should feel embarrassed if this is news to you -- Gordon rushed for 253 yards and five touchdowns on just 13 carries. You won’t find a more dominating rushing performance this season, unless you fire up your console and slide the difficulty settings to "Freshman." As we said earlier, Gordon ran like Bo Jackson straight out of Tecmo Bowl.

Big Man on Campus (defense): Lead the team in tackles? Check. Make a stop in the backfield? Check. Record an interception? Check. Maryland defensive back William Likely came up big Saturday as, not only did he force a turnover, but he also returned the interception 88 yards for a touchdown. It wasn’t a garbage-time play, either. Likely’s play came just as Syracuse was about to pull within a score. Instead, Likely’s score basically put the game away.

Big Man on Campus (special teams): There are a few good candidates here -- such as Kenzel Doe and his 165 returning yards or Iowa’s Marshall Koehn and his 52-yard field goal -- but let’s go outside the box a little bit. Know who else deserves some props? Northwestern punter Chris Gradone. He averaged 44.1 yards a punt, but the real reason he’s on this list? Six of his seven punts landed inside the 20, and none bounced into the back of the end zone. The Wildcats were outgained by nearly 100 yards on the day, so field position was a big friend of Northwestern. After Gradone’s first punt, which wasn’t great, Western Illinois managed just six total return yards on the next six punts. Western Illinois was forced to start within its own 10-yard line three times and didn’t get past the 17 the other three times. And, for Gradone’s grand finale, he booted a 45-yard punt out of bounds on the 1-yard line. Doe was good, but Wisconsin would have won anyway. Koehn was good, but it was just one play. Gradone was solid throughout the game.

Biggest face plant: Really, there’s only one choice here, so it’s an obvious one. Michigan fell to Utah in the Big House, and there really wasn’t a lot to build on. Michigan’s special teams allowed a punt return for a touchdown, the offense turned the ball over four times, and quarterback Devin Gardner once again looked lost. Backup quarterback Shane Morris didn’t look much better and, right now, this team looks like one of the worst in the conference. The Wolverines need to regroup, but Brady Hoke’s time in Michigan might already be up.

Numbers and facts to know: Wisconsin rushed for 644 yards, the most in school history and the fourth-most in Big Ten history ... Hoke started off his U-M career 19-0 in Michigan Stadium but has since gone 2-3 -- with an 0-3 record against Power 5 teams ... Michigan State’s 73-14 win was the school’s largest since 1989, when it defeated Northwestern 76-14 ... Purdue’s 22-point win against Southern Illinois was its largest victory since the 2012 season, against Eastern Michigan (54-16) ... Indiana won its first game against a ranked opponent since 2006; it had lost its previous 18 ... The Hoosiers did not turn the ball over against Missouri, the first time in 47 straight games that Mizzou did not force at least one turnover ... James Franklin is the first Penn State coach to start 4-0 since Dick Harlow went 5-0 in 1915.

B1G game day tweets: Week Four

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
The Big Ten rallied back from a rough couple weeks with a Saturday that earned a bit of redemption, albeit with one pretty notable exception in Michigan.

In our new weekly feature, we're again taking a look back at game day as we lived it on Twitter. If you're not enjoying the ride with us already, follow along with @ESPNRittenberg,@BennettESPN, @ESPNJoshMoyer, @DanMurphyESPN, @MitchSherman and @AWardESPN.

Big Ten morning links

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
A 12-1 week in nonconference play left a good taste in the mouths of most of the Big Ten this weekend. League games start in earnest this weekend with a fresh set of narratives.
  • The Big Ten found its stride this weekend by returning to the ground game that was its calling card in better days. The old three yards and a cloud of dust, though, was closer to 30 yards and cloud of dust for Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. He ran for a career-high 253 yards (19.5 per carry) and five touchdowns to lead a record-setting day for the Badgers offense. Gordon was one of three Big Ten backs to run for more than 200 yards. Gordon, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah (229 yards Saturday), Minnesota’s David Cobb (207 yards) and Indiana’s Tevin Coleman (132 yards) are all now among the top 10 rushers in the nation in 2014. No other conference has more than one runner in the top 10.
  • A few teams will prepare for the start of league play this week with a decision to make at quarterback. Iowa backup C.J. Beathard may have Wally Pipped his way into a starting job Saturday while leading a 24-20 comeback win at Pittsburgh. Beathard provided a jolt to a Hawkeye offense that had been otherwise lifeless through the first three and a half games of the year. Michigan’s Devin Gardner, on the other hand, may have played himself out of a job after throwing two interceptions (bringing his season total to six) in a 26-10 loss to Utah. Sophomore Shane Morris replaced him in the fourth quarter and promptly added another interception and a fumble. Head coach Brady Hoke said Saturday night he didn’t know who his starter would be this upcoming weekend against Minnesota. The Gophers had their backup, redshirt freshman Chris Streveler, play the whole game against San Jose State. He led the team to a win despite completing only one pass for seven yards.
  • Indiana and Maryland both bring a burst of momentum into their matchup this weekend, the Big Ten debut for the Terps. Maryland’s definitive win over Syracuse last week came at a cost, though. The team announced Sunday that tight end Andrew Isaacs (dislocated knee) and defensive end Quinton Jefferson (right knee) will miss the remainder of the season.

Now for a look around the rest of the conference:

East Division

Penn State’s success with stopping the run this season has been a full team effort.

Bulletin board material helped Maryland prepare for a big win over Syracuse this weekend.

Was Indiana's upset of reigning SEC East champion Missouri a program-changing victory?

Michigan State’s football past could have been a lot different if coaching legend Barry Switzer had a better interview in East Lansing.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer told HBO he felt like he was dying during the 2009 season at Florida.

A lot of little problems are turning into one very big problem for Michigan.

Rutgers’ offense received a big blow this weekend when star running back Paul James tore his ACL.

West Division

Nebraska’s Heisman candidate projects a much different image than the reigning Heisman winner at Florida State.

The Illini haven’t been world-beaters on offense, but quarterback Wes Lunt is doing as well as any of his fellow former Big 12 transfer players under center.

Iowa showed some needed resolve in its come-from-behind win against Pittsburgh.

Minnesota decided it didn’t need a passing game to get past San Jose State this weekend .

Melvin Gordon wasn’t the only Badger to have a big day Saturday. Quarterback Tanner McEvoy put up big numbers as well.

Purdue defensive tackle Ryan Watson already has more sacks this season than any Boilermaker did a year ago.

Northwestern leaned on a pair of freshman running backs to provide its offense against Western Illinois.

Big Ten bowl projections: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
Those in Ann Arbor will understandably disagree, but Week 4 was a very good one for the Big Ten. The league went 12-1 and won several games in impressive fashion. When almost every team handles its bid-ness, there's not much shuffling in the bowl projections.

The big development this week is Indiana's return. Seven days after an all-too-typical, potentially bowl-crushing loss at Bowling Green, Indiana recorded its biggest win in years, shocking No. 18 Missouri on the road. The Hoosiers are back in the projections and could rise higher in the coming weeks if they can build on the Missouri win. For now, we have them receiving an at-large bowl invitation.

Michigan moves down after its loss to Utah. The Michigan brand still carries weight in the bowl pecking order, but this Wolverines team could have a tough time reaching the six-win mark if its offense doesn't dramatically improve. The Wolverines are last nationally in turnover margin at minus-10 through four games. Yuck.

For now, we have Michigan essentially staying home for bowl season in Detroit.

New Big Tenners Maryland and Rutgers, meanwhile, move up after impressive starts.

Expect more shuffling next week as Big Ten play begins in full force. Several matchups could affect the order, namely Minnesota visiting Michigan and Indiana visiting Maryland.

To the projections ...

Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton/Fiesta/Orange: Michigan State
Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton/Fiesta/Orange: Ohio State
Capital One: Penn State
Outback: Nebraska
National University Holiday: Wisconsin
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Iowa
San Francisco: Maryland
New Era Pinstripe: Rutgers
Quick Lane: Michigan
Heart of Dallas: Minnesota
At-large: Indiana
Rutgers’ path to a bowl game just got a little harder, as it now has to find a way to win without its best offensive player: running back Paul James.

[+] EnlargeRutgers RB Paul James
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenPaul James recorded seven TDs this season before suffering a season-ending knee injury on Saturday.
James suffered a season-ending torn ACL on Saturday during the Scarlet Knights’ critical 31-24 win over Navy. With the win -- and the fact Rutgers plays Tulane next week -- Rutgers should need just two conference victories to become bowl eligible. But that's no guarantee, as no injury could've proved more costly to the Knights.

Ask Northwestern how much it misses Venric Mark. Because to Rutgers, James was just as valuable. Maybe even a little more so, if some of the numbers are any indication.

Last season, James averaged 5.6 yards a carry before suffering an injury. The rest of Rutgers' backs averaged 4.2 yards a carry. In 2012, Mark averaged 6 yards a carry. In 2013, the rest of Northwestern’s backs averaged 4.7 yards a carry. In other words, the drop-off without James was a bit more drastic than for Northwestern minus Mark.

James was Rutgers’ workhorse, the most consistent part about the Knights’ offense, and he belonged just below the elite backs of the Big Ten in terms of talent. In James’ first three games this season, he accounted for more than 60 percent of the team’s rushing yards. And, in those first two games, he accounted for six TDs and 316 rushing/receiving yards.

The former walk-on struggled against a stout Penn State defense, but he was nearly perfect otherwise. Even against Navy, before his second-quarter injury, James carried the ball seven times for 96 yards. Take away his longest run, and he still averaged nearly 10 yards a carry.

James is impossible to replace, but Rutgers will have to turn somewhere. Expect to see plenty of Justin Goodwin and Desmon Peoples, although, coach Kyle Flood added, freshmen Josh Hicks and Robert Martin also will take on larger roles.

Rutgers won’t be the same team without James, so it also needs QB Gary Nova to step up. Rutgers can’t continue to run the ball on 80 percent of its plays, like it did against Navy, so Nova needs to show he’s totally over his five-interception performance against Penn State. This entire offense needs to adapt, and it's not going to be easy.

Rutgers surprised a lot of people with a 3-1 start. But now it’s time to surprise them all again by bouncing back without James on the field.

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21

Best of the visits: Big Ten

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
It was a great weekend for the Big Ten, going 12-1 with the only loss coming from Utah’s defeat of Michigan. A few of the games turned out to be exciting matches, including Indiana’s win over Missouri and eventually Nebraska’s win over Miami.

It was a great opportunity for visiting recruits to see some big games and the prospects took to social media to document those trips. Here is a look at some of the best posts from the weekend.

Nebraska vs. Miami:

This game lived up to the hype and the Cornhuskers put on a show for the visiting recruits. There were some big targets on hand, so this was an important game.

Wide receiver Tavin Richardson made the trip from South Carolina and tweeted his approval of the game.

Turnt is good. The fans were in full force and as loud as ever, something defensive back Kahlil Haughton took notice of. It's not hard to see why after seeing offensive coordinator Tim Beck's picture of the raucous crowd. Beating Miami in the fashion it did, this was a big win for Nebraska on the field and on the recruiting trail as well.

Penn State vs. UMass:

On paper this doesn't look like a huge game for Penn State, but there were some big visitors in town to watch the Nittany Lions.

A few of the commitments got a chance to bond, and that might be a help for the future as defensive end Jonathan Holland has been talking about taking other visits. He and offensive line commit Sterling Jenkins spent some time together on the visit and seemed to enjoy themselves.

Outside of the commitments, Penn State had a few important uncommitted prospects checking out campus as well. The No. 29-ranked prospect in 2016, quarterback Brandon McIlwain took in the game and got the chance to speak with the coaches during the trip. Fellow ESPN Jr. 300 prospect Rahshaun Smith, the No. 99-ranked recruit in 2016, was also on campus. Penn State has made the East Coast a big priority, and since Smith hails from Maryland and happens to be a top prospect, he will be a main target for the coaches going forward. Eastern Michigan vs. Michigan State:

It was a walk in the park for the Spartans on Saturday as they rolled past Eastern Michigan. That means it was a relaxed time for the recruits after the game once they spent time with the coaches.

Brandon Wildman, a 2016 quarterback, made the trip in from Illinois and got his money's worth on the unofficial visit.

Michigan vs. Utah:

Michigan had the only loss for the conference on Saturday after losing to Utah at home. The Wolverines didn't have a huge visitor list, but there were plenty of prospects watching to see the outcome right from the comfort of their own home.

Todd Sibley, a 2017 Ohio running back, tweeted that he had his eyes on the game and was curious to see what would take place.

Sibley was watching because he's interested in Michigan, but the outcome wasn't what he was hoping for. The Wolverines have now lost two games in convincing fashion, which could start to impact prospects and their perception of the program.

It might not have been the best game to have prospects on campus because of the loss, but also because of the terrible weather. The game was eventually delayed due to rain and lightning and resumed over two hours later.

In-state running back Matt Falcon was one of the visitors on hand, though, and because he lives relatively close, this likely won't be Michigan's last chance to impress the talented back.

Meyer: 'I thought I was dying' in '09

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer told HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" he was depressed while coaching at Florida in 2009, lost 37 pounds and was "mentally broke."

Meyer was suffering from chest pains and self-medicating for his stress.

"Now I'm taking two Ambiens," Meyer told the HBO show. "I would drink a beer on top of it, just to get some sleep. Not many people know that.

"And I go from 217 pounds to 180 pounds. I lose 37 pounds."

That all occurred when the Gators were undefeated in 2009 -- until losing to Alabama in the SEC title game.

After the loss to the Crimson Tide, Meyer was admitted into a hospital with chest pains.

"They said, 'We don't believe it was a heart attack.' " Meyer said. "So, OK, 'Well, what is it?' 'We don't know.'

"And then you start thinking, 'There's something wrong with me mentally, you know? What is going on here?' "

Meyer said he was depressed.

"I thought I was dying," Meyer said. "Mentally, I was broke."

To continue reading about what Meyer told the show, click here.