Big Ten: Demornay Pierson-El

Big Ten morning links

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
8:00
AM ET
video
Good morning. A few thoughts before we get to the links:

1. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is receiving loads of attention as Ohio State continues its incredible offensive surge. And rightly so, because Barrett's numbers (20 total touchdowns, five interceptions, 65.2 percent completion rate) are astounding. He has the highest ESPN QBR score in the country since Sept. 6, the date of the Buckeyes' loss to Virginia Tech.

But let's not forget the improvement of Ohio State's offensive line. The young group with four new starters looked like a liability in the first couple of games. Since then, it has become a source of strength. The Buckeyes allowed no sacks on Saturday against Rutgers, whose defense came into the game leading the Big Ten in that category. The Scarlet Knights only had two tackles for loss and just one quarterback hurry. Ed Warriner's group showed similar dominance against Maryland, whose defensive front caused Iowa's offensive line all kinds of problems on Saturday.

Urban Meyer had his players give the assistant coaches a standing ovation after the Rutgers win. It's hard to tell just how good the Buckeyes are right now, Bob Hunter writes. But they look pretty darn good.

2. As great as Ameer Abdullah is, I thought Nebraska needed one more weapon to take its offense to a truly elite level. The Huskers might have found that extra option on Saturday at Northwestern.

De'Mornay Pierson-El, who to this point had done most of his damage on punt returns, had three catches and even threw a touchdown pass to Tommy Armstrong Jr., evoking memories of a famous trick play from Nebraska's past. The speedy true freshman gives Armstrong another target along with Kenny Bell and Jordan Westerkamp. The Huskers were dominant offensively in the second half against a pretty good Northwestern defense, and Pierson-El was a big reason why.

"De’Mornay and Ameer and Kenny, when does it end?” offensive coordinator Tim Beck told the Omaha World-Herald. “You want those guys on the field, because now you've got to guard them all.”

3. Indiana just can't seem to sustain any kind of positive momentum. The Hoosiers were a trendy pick to make a bowl this season, especially after winning at Missouri on Sept. 20.

But since then, Kevin Wilson's team has gone just 1-3 (with the lone win over North Texas). And as IU showed in Saturday's 56-17 loss to Michigan State, it's highly doubtful that there is another win left on the schedule.

True freshman quarterback Zander Diamont clearly isn't ready, as his 5-for-15, 11-yard performance vs. the Spartans confirmed. He should be redshirting, but season-ending injuries to Nate Sudfeld and Chris Covington thrust him into action. Even with Tevin Coleman having a season for the ages, the Hoosiers don't have much of a chance without a passing attack and with a defense that can't win Big Ten games on its own. There's much to like about the young talent Wilson has brought to Bloomington, but Indiana continues to be stuck in program quicksand. The last five games will test the resolve of Wilson and his players.

West Division
East Division
And finally ...

Ohio State's band put on another amazing halftime show. Rock out to it. The Pinball Wizard part is my favorite.
Five observations from Saturday in the Big Ten:

1. Ohio State and Michigan State are widening the gap over the rest of the league. The Spartans and Buckeyes continued their march toward Nov. 8 in East Lansing with resounding wins by identical scores of 56-17 over Indiana and Rutgers, respectively. The Buckeyes topped 50 points in four consecutive games for the first time in school history and dealt the Scarlet Knights their worst loss in 12 years with an introduction to the big-time side of Big Ten football. MSU was slow at the start, as Indiana’s Shane Wynn and Tevin Coleman scored on long runs, but Michigan State blanked the Hoosiers in the second half. Just as importantly, both Big Ten powers climbed closer to consideration for the College Football Playoff as two top-10 unbeatens went down.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsJ.T. Barrett is playing at a high level as Ohio State's offense continues to roll.
2. J.T. Barrett is a Heisman Trophy darkhorse. No, we’re not kidding. The same redshirt freshman who struggled mightily in the Buckeyes’ loss to Virginia Tech the past month has played better than any quarterback in the country as of late. He ran for 107 yards and two scores and threw for 261 and three touchdowns against Rutgers. Under his guidance, Ohio State has averaged 614 yards over its past four games, albeit against suspect defensive competition, though Rutgers appeared set to pose a challenge. Barrett won’t be considered a serious candidate unless he can play like this, without a blip, for the rest of the season.

3. Minnesota might never win pretty, but it almost always wins. The Golden Gophers beat Purdue 39-38 behind two interceptions of Austin Appleby by safety Cedric Thompson, including the game-clincher with 2:28 to play. Minnesota is 3-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1990. It was a typical Gopher effort, with 194 rushing yards from David Cobb and just nine completions from quarterback Mitch Leidner, who threw two touchdowns. Give credit to fast-improving Purdue, for sure, but this game deviated from Minnesota form only in that the Gophers trailed at halftime -- they earned the first win in 23 such occasions under Jerry Kill -- and needed a 52-yard field goal by Ryan Santoso for the decisive points with 4:59 left.

4. In spite of Minnesota’s start, Nebraska still looks like the best in the West. The Huskers beat Northwestern 38-17 at Ryan Field and outscored the Wildcats 24-0 in the second half to move to 6-1. Barring an upset win in Lincoln by Rutgers or Purdue over the next two weeks, Nebraska will be 8-1 on Nov. 15 when Bo Pelini’s team travels to Wisconsin for a final stretch that includes Minnesota and Iowa. In bouncing back from a loss to Michigan State, Nebraska displayed new depth at the line of scrimmage against Northwestern and found new ways to feature spark-plug freshman De'Mornay Pierson-El, who threw a touchdown pass to QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.

5. It might be November (if even then) before we understand Maryland and Iowa. The Terrapins overcame a slow start to beat the Hawkeyes 38-31. Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown returned from a back injury, suffered in the second half, and receiver Stefon Diggs and cornerback Will Likely contributed their usual big plays. But is Maryland really a threat to get to nine wins and a New Year’s Day bowl? Maybe, in the watered-down Big Ten. What about Iowa, still a player in the West Division with its favorable schedule but unable to break through in a winnable game Saturday? Just as the Hawkeyes’ offense appears to have gained speed, the defense took a step back in College Park.

ESPN's midseason All-Big Ten team

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
11:00
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The regular season is at its halfway point, so we're presenting our selections for the midseason All-Big Ten team.

Offense

QB: Connor Cook, Michigan State
RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
RB: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
RB: Tevin Coleman, Indiana
WR: Tony Lippett, Michigan State
WR: DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State
OT: Brandon Scherff, Iowa
OT: Jack Conklin, Michigan State
C: Jack Allen, Michigan State
G: Zac Epping, Minnesota
G: Pat Elflein, Ohio State

Defense

DE: Joey Bosa, Ohio State
DE: Marcus Rush, Michigan State
DT: Anthony Zettel, Penn State
DT: Carl Davis, Iowa
LB: Mike Hull, Penn State
LB: Damien Wilson, Minnesota
LB: Derek Landisch, Wisconsin
CB: Desmond King, Iowa
CB: Eric Murray, Minnesota
S: Frankie Williams, Purdue
S: Michael Caputo, Wisconsin

Special teams
PK: Brad Craddock, Maryland
P: Justin DuVernois, Illinois
KR: Stefon Diggs, Maryland
PR: De'Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska

Thoughts: The first thing you probably notice is an unconventional offense featuring three running backs and no tight ends. Sure, it's a little bit of a cheat, but how do you leave any of those three tailbacks off? Coleman, Gordon and Abdullah rank 1, 2 and 4 nationally in rushing yards. Though there are some excellent tight ends in the league -- Minnesota's Maxx Williams and Penn State's Jesse James come to mind -- we would rather reward the outstanding tailbacks. Heck, we probably could have gone four or five deep at that position, given how loaded it is right now. ... The toughest call came at cornerback, where you might be surprised by our choices. We love King's shutdown ability for the Hawkeyes, and Murray gets the slight nod over teammate Briean Boddy-Calhoun for the Gophers' excellent secondary. Michigan State's Trae Waynes might be the best player at the position in the league, but he has given up some big plays this season. Same goes for Maryland's Will Likely, who has been explosive at times and torched (see: West Virginia and Ohio State) at others. It's only midseason, remember; these choices could change by the end of the season. ... Speaking of surprised, the steady Rush makes the team over more heralded position mate Shilique Calhoun. It's a close call, but Rush has been consistently terrific so far this season. ... Some pretty fresh names at linebacker, especially after so many stars at the position departed after last season. Michigan's Jake Ryan just missed there. ... Two freshmen made the team in Hamilton and Pierson-El. Ohio State's J.T. Barrett is also pushing Cook for No. 1 status at quarterback.

The breakdown by team:

Michigan State: 5
Iowa: 3
Minnesota: 3
Penn State: 3
Wisconsin: 3
Maryland: 2
Nebraska: 2
Ohio State: 2
Illinois: 1
Indiana: 1
Purdue: 1
Michigan: 0
Northwestern: 0
Rutgers: 0

Big Ten morning links

October, 9, 2014
Oct 9
8:00
AM ET
Chaos or calmness this weekend?

Fortunately we only have to wait two more days to find out. Until then, let's pass the time with some hot topics and the best links around for the Big Ten.

1. Undercover contender?: Maybe it's among the longest of long shots. Maybe the passing game is too weak, the schedule too hard and the rebuilding project too incomplete at this point. But if a one-loss Big Ten champion is likely to make it into the College Football Playoff field as I believe it is, why not Minnesota? Don't laugh. The Gophers will be favored in the next three games before taking the first Saturday in November off with a bye, and winning all those matchups would not only put them in the driver's seat in the West Division, it would potentially put them in position for an unlikely bid into the four-team field at the end of the season. Obviously the hard part will come next month when the Gophers host Ohio State and follow that up with an extremely difficult two-game road trip against Nebraska and Wisconsin. But if Minnesota can somehow find a way to run the table in the Big Ten, its only loss would be on the road against a TCU -- a defeat that looks better every week. Are the Gophers likely to pull it off? Of course not. But in a few weeks, the spotlight might be shining brightly on Jerry Kill's program.

2. Monitoring Michigan: The heat of Brady Hoke's seat hasn't cooled any, but at least for a week it seems like the attention has been more about on-field issues than what's going on in the Michigan athletic department or how the coach feels about his job security. Perhaps it's because there's really nothing Hoke can add to the conversation at this point or because it seems like his exit is inevitable at this point. Having a prime-time game with another storied opponent helps steer the conversation away from Hoke and embattled athletic director Dave Brandon as well, but expect that to just be a momentary reprieve if the Wolverines can't right the ship under the lights against Penn State. If Michigan falls to 2-5 heading into an off date with Michigan State looming, the scrutiny will return -- and probably reach record-setting levels.

3. Double-bye blues: Urban Meyer has made it pretty well known that he's not enjoying the extra weekend off this season, particularly with Ohio State building momentum with its young offense and eager to keep the ball rolling after blowing out Maryland on the road. It surely doesn't help that the Buckeyes just had an off date two weeks ago, which in some ways has disrupted the normal in-season practice routine and forced Meyer to get a bit more creative with how he handles reps and when to return to the field before next week's game against Rutgers. The double-bye season also contributes to a relatively light schedule in the league for Week 7, with Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska all resting on Saturday as well. In fact, the next three weekends all feature four teams kicking up their feet. With two fewer Big Ten football games to watch, count me with Meyer as no fan of the scheduling model this season either.

East Division
  • Michigan is still comfortable with the depth it has on hand at running back despite losing Derrick Green to injury.
  • Michigan State has another weapon emerging at wide receiver.
  • Penn State has attacked practice with a greater sense of urgency after losing handily to Northwestern.
  • Rutgers wrapped up its 2016 schedule by inking a deal with New Mexico.
  • Even after losing its first Big Ten home game, Maryland can still see the benefits of joining the league.
  • Urban Meyer wasn't quite sure who he voted No. 1 after a wild weekend in college football, but he thinks it was Florida State.
  • A look at what makes at the Indiana job so difficult.
West Division
  • Some Nebraska legends like what they see from De'Mornay Pierson-El.
  • Another scheduling tweak for 2016: Iowa's visit to Rutgers was moved up. The Hawkeyes will open Big Ten play on the road five years in a row.
  • Can Northwestern continue to improve on offense?
  • Minnesota will likely be without starting cornerback Derrick Wells on Saturday.
  • Statistics don't paint a pretty picture for the Illinois defense.
  • Is there more that Melvin Gordon could possibly do to help Wisconsin? Evidently he thinks there is.
  • The Purdue secondary is preparing for a big test against Michigan State.

Weekend Rewind: Big Ten

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
10:00
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There they go again.

Just when it looked like it was safe to start kicking around some other leagues, the Big Ten tripped all over itself and bumbled away its handful of chances to claim wins over teams from Power 5 conferences.

Minnesota and Illinois were blown out. Purdue fought hard but was ultimately overmatched. A shootout slipped away from Maryland. It’s probably best not to mention what happened to Iowa at all.

The conference obviously has nobody else it can blame for the lack of respect nationally when it keeps coming up short in its biggest opportunities to earn it around the nation. There may still be a College Football Playoff contender or two at the top of the league, but if there’s a logjam for the third and fourth spots in December, the Big Ten’s best may look back at September games it wasn’t even involved in as the reason it gets left out of the playoff field.

There were a few bright spots Saturday scattered among the wreckage. Reflect on those and start turning the page to Week 4.

Team of the week: Struggling mightily to find the end zone for 58 minutes, Penn State didn’t look much like the program about to pick up the most valuable win of the weekend. But Christian Hackenberg again delivered when it mattered most, calmly leading the game-winning drive in the closing minutes and staking the Nittany Lions to an early lead in the East Division with a rivalry win over Rutgers.

Game of the week: The game tape won’t be sent to the Hall of Fame and the outcome didn’t go the Big Ten’s way, but the battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy was still an entertaining affair -- though certainly not because of the offenses. The emotions were high, the score was close from start to finish and the closing minutes leading up to Iowa State’s go-ahead field goal also provided a seemingly endless amount of opportunities to question the clock-management skills of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. There were high-scoring, competitive games elsewhere, but this was pretty solid theater that will still be worth dissecting all week.

Biggest play: After the Nittany Lions beat their heads against the wall for more than three quarters, Hackenberg had one final shot at a breakthrough as he took a snap with three minutes left on the clock. His strike to Geno Lewis on first down went for 53 yards, instantly flipping the field position and setting the stage for Penn State’s breakthrough. Lewis would also grab another 23-yarder on the drive, but it was the initial hookup that generated the momentum that finally carried the Nittany Lions to the end zone.

Big Man on Campus (offense): The opponent clearly didn’t provide much of a challenge, and looking back now, Ohio State surely wishes it could have shuffled around its schedule to get J.T. Barrett a chance to tune up against a team like Kent State instead of throwing him into the fire against Navy and Virginia Tech. Who knows if it would have changed anything, but the redshirt freshman quarterback certainly left Saturday’s blowout with more confidence after tying a school record with six touchdown passes and throwing for more than 300 yards -- two things Braxton Miller has never done with the Buckeyes.

Big Man on Campus (defense): The Nittany Lions might need to split this award up after that impressive second-half shutout and only allowing one touchdown total on the way to their road win. Anthony Zettel was again a fixture in the backfield with three tackles for loss, C.J. Olaniyan forced a fumble and tallied a sack, and four different defenders intercepted Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova. But Trevor Williams doubled down with a pair of picks and finished second on the team with five tackles, giving him the slight nod.

Big Man on Campus (special teams): The Huskers might have finally found the solution for the problem that has been plaguing them over the last couple seasons on special teams. De'Mornay Pierson-El provided a jolt of energy to Nebraska’s punt return unit, dazzling with an 86-yard scamper for a touchdown and following that up with a 51-yarder as an encore shortly after to set up another score in the rout of Fresno State.

Biggest face plant: The Hawkeyes are tempting, but Indiana’s loss at Bowling Green figures to be far more damaging to Kevin Wilson’s club and its bid to get back to a bowl game. The defense is still a weakness that no amount of production from running back Tevin Coleman can consistently overcome, and the Hoosiers will probably be kicking themselves over this loss in November.

Numbers and facts to know: Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah moved up to No. 5 on the school’s all-time rushing list, posting his 19th 100-yard rushing performance to move his career total up to 3,373. ... Officially, Barrett’s 300-yard outing through the air was Ohio State’s first since Troy Smith in 2006. Terrelle Pryor threw for 334 yards against Indiana in 2010, but those statistics were vacated. ... Michigan held Miami (Ohio) to 33 rushing yards, its lowest rushing total allowed since 2010.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
9:00
AM ET
Recognizing the best and brightest from Week 3 in the Big Ten:
  • Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: A week after Barrett's tough night against Virginia Tech, the redshirt freshman bounced back in a big way. He completed 23 of 30 passes for 312 yards and a school-record tying six touchdowns (with one interception, off a tipped ball) in the Buckeyes' 66-0 laugher over Kent State.
  • Michigan RB Derrick Green: The Wolverines struggled with Miami (Ohio) for more than two quarters, but Green's hard running helped salt the game away. The sophomore finished with 22 carries for 137 yards and two touchdowns in Michigan's 34-10 victory.
  • Penn State DT Anthony Zettel: Perhaps the early frontrunner for Big Ten defensive player of the year, Zettel was terrific yet again in the Nittany Lions' 13-10 win over Rutgers. He led the defensive charge with three tackles for loss and a sack while helping control the line of scrimmage. "We couldn't handle him in the second half," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said.
  • Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: It wasn't easy most of the night for the Nittany Lions' sophomore signal caller. He was harassed under a heavy pass rush, and Penn State didn't score a touchdown for the first 58:47. But Hackenberg proved he's the king of clutch among current Big Ten quarterbacks by leading a two-minute drill that led to Bill Belton's game-winning touchdown. Hackenberg finished 25-of-44 for 309 yards and an interception.
  • Nebraska WR De'Mornay Pierson-El: The true freshman accumulated 136 yards on a pair of punt returns in the first half of the Huskers' 55-19 road win over Fresno State. Included was an 86-yarder for a touchdown, the longest ever by a Nebraska freshman. Pierson-El fills a key area of need for Nebraska, which amassed 70 yards all of last season on punt returns, averaging 3.04 yards on 23 returns to rank 121st nationally.
Nebraska signed a class of 24 prospects on Wednesday that ranked 39th nationally and sixth in the Big Ten. We caught up with coach Bo Pelini on Thursday to discuss his thoughts on the group and a few issues related to recruiting:

Was there a group of positions that you considered most important to bolster with this class?

BP: Probably where we needed some depth and we needed some numbers were offensive line and wide receiver. I feel good about the kids we got at those sports, starting with the four offensive linemen -- depending on exactly what happens with (Mick) Stoltenberg. I think he can do a number of different things for us. At wide receiver, we lost (Tre'vell) Dixon a year ago, and we just wanted to make sure our numbers were right there.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsBo Pelini believes this recruiting class addressed some depth issues.
What kind of momentum were you able to build from the Nebraska high school prospects, Stoltenberg, D.J. Foster and Luke Gifford, who committed early in the process?

BP: They're quality kids. They're good football players, guys who we think are going to be very good for our program. Having been here and having a relationship with the guys, I thought they did a really good job of helping us in the recruiting class. Some of the other early guys like (Demornay) Pierson-El and Peyton Newell, were out on the social media, helping us recruit -- things that they weren't necessarily asked to do, but things that they just did on their own because they know it was important. Zack Darlington could be thrown in that group.

Is it a reflection on your staff's strengths in recruiting that you signed four players from Texas, nine from the Southeast but none from California, traditionally an important area for Nebraska?

BP: It's different recruiting in California. They go about it a lot slower. Kids don't make as many early decisions. I think we'll still have a presence out there. How much, I don't know. When you look at the numbers, you wonder if the move into the Big Ten out of the Big 12 changes the perception a little bit of Nebraska. But we're going to continue to evaluate that.

You signed two junior-college defenders and were involved with several others at the juco level. How, in six years at Nebraska, have your feelings changed about the importance of recruiting the junior colleges?

BP: Nothing's really changed as far as my philosophy. For us, there's been a pretty specific purpose behind recruiting a junior-college kid -- maybe to fill a spot in a class, or your lose somebody and you want a more mature, older kid to give you more balance on your roster. We're very selective on who we go after. That won't change. We're not going to be, any time soon, recruiting wholesale through the junior colleges. That's just not my philosophy. I'd rather develop them. I'd rather have four-, five-year kids than two-, three-year kids.

You added a coach last month with ties in Georgia. What have you seen already that Charlton Warren can add to your lineup of recruiters?

BP: He has some ties. He has some built-up relationships, because he's been in there a lot. We're just going to have to play it by ear a little bit to see exactly how that works out, how that changes our reception down in Georgia. There are a lot of kids, just by sheer population, who come out of there. I'm sure he'll help us, but you've just got to constantly look at different areas and places where you have relationships.

Like just about every school, you were involved with recruits who flipped commitments, to and from Nebraska. How do you feel about the prevalence of flipping and does it affect the way you have go about recruiting?

BP: Yeah. No. 1, you've got to recruit them and then recruit them again. With some kids, let's face it, a commitment doesn't mean much. You know until they sign on the dotted line that you're going to have to fight tooth and nail for them, regardless of what that guy has come out said publicly. There's all kinds of commitment types. It's crazy. There's something that could be done with the rules to help with that problem. Maybe an early signing date; maybe not having any signing date. When a kid commits, if he's ready, let's sign them up. I think there would be a lot of merit to that. I think it would solve a lot of issues on both sides, with coaches and players. Whether that ever happens, I don't know. As long as the rules are what they are, we'll have to continue to look for better ways to operate within them.

You generated a lot of laughs with cat tweets. But in all seriousness, how much do you recognize the importance of being a head coach, as you deal with kids in recruiting, who is somewhat in touch with social media?

BP: Well, I think it's a reality. That's part of the deal. These kids are into it. They're aware of it, so you can't ignore that. We use it. We'll continue to use it as I get better at it. Social media is a big part of everything, so you can't just ignore it. You better embrace it and get on board.

So did you actually wrestle Tanner Farmer?

BP: No, I didn't, but I offered to. He thought he'd break my back.

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