Big Ten: Derek Day

Big Ten weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
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Backbackbackbackback ....

Team of the week: Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan State all notched big wins on Saturday. But a team that rarely sniffs this space gets the honor this week: Indiana. The Hoosiers deserve a nod after winning their first Big Ten game since 2010 with a two-touchdown triumph at Illinois. Sure, the Illini are pretty awful. But Indiana has been close all year long and finally got over the hump with a road win where its defense played well. And with Wisconsin losing, the Hoosiers are still very much alive for the Leaders Division title, as crazy as that might sound. The best news for head coach Kevin Wilson might be that his team wasn't overly exuberant about beating Illinois. “I think they expected it," he said. "They weren’t just jumping up and down. We talked about how you want to get used to that feeling. We’ve been doing a lot of things right and it’s nice to get a Saturday scoreboard to go our way, and we want a lot more of those.”

Game of the week: A much anticipated Saturday featuring many closely-matched teams did not actually produce any truly great games. The best of the bunch was Michigan State's 16-13 overtime win at Wisconsin, though the two offenses made that one hard to watch for long stretches. But at least there was a good finish, finally, by the Spartans, who drove the field for a tying touchdown with 1:08 left and then won in the first overtime. "We've been close, and we just kept coming," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "What I'd like to say is basically, 'Hey, we're not going to quit.'"

Biggest play: We go back to East Lansing for Andrew Maxwell's game-winning touchdown pass in overtime to Bennie Fowler on third-and-8. It was a great back-shoulder throw by Maxwell and an even better grab by Fowler, who had to adjust to the ball while falling backward. Both players had drawn heavy criticism this season for their play, so it was nice to see them both succeed in a key moment. “This could be the spark that we need to kind of carry us over and propel us the rest of the way,” Maxwell said.

[+] EnlargeMichigan State Spartans quarterback Andrew Maxwell
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireMichigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell came up big for the Spartans against Wisconsin.
Best play: The stat sheet just says it was a 1-yard touchdown run by Ohio State's Braxton Miller. But anyone who saw the play knows it was a piece of performance art. Miller stunned Penn State and his own teammates with his contortions after he and Carlos Hyde looked absolutely stuffed on a goal line option-read play. Miller's twisting, mid-air juke job even had his own coaches going "Oh, my god" on their headsets. We need some "The Matrix" style slow-motion camera work to truly appreciate the most outstanding 1-yard run of the season. Whoa, indeed.

Best call: The Nebraska defenders turned down an offer to have their blackshirts handed out after last week's win at Northwestern. They wanted to show consistency first, and they did so with a signature performance against Michigan. The Wolverines mustered only 188 yards and failed to score a touchdown (for the second straight week) in Nebraska's key 23-9. Yes, the injury to Denard Robinson was a huge factor, but it wasn't like Michigan was moving the ball at will before that, and the Huskers knocked him out of the game. Nebraska tortured Wolverines backup Russell Bellomy, who completed only 3-of-16 throws and had three interceptions. The blackshirts were well earned with this one.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): Northwestern QB Kain Colter. When you call out your own offense for lacking an identity, as Colter did last week to ESPN.com, you'd better back it up. Colter sure did, running the ball 26 times for 166 yards and three touchdowns and throwing for 80 yards and a score in the Wildcats' 28-17 win over Iowa.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Michigan State DE William Gholston. The highly-talented junior hasn't always lived up to sky high expectations, but he was all over the place against Wisconsin. Gholston had 4.5 tackles for loss and a sack and put the hit on quarterback Joel Stave that changed the game (and possibly both teams' season).

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Ohio State's Adam Griffin has been a special teams ace, and he made one huge play at Penn State. The Nittany Lions called for a fake punt on the Buckeyes' 43, and punter Alex Butterworth threw to Derek Day, who was open for the first-down reception. But Griffin hustled back to break up the pass, and Ohio State would then march in for a touchdown that made it 21-10. "I thought that was the turning point of the game," Urban Meyer said afterward. Griffin's dad, two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin, had to be proud.

Big (Fresh)man on Campus: Get ready to see a lot of Philip Nelson highlights over the next three or four years. Minnesota's precocious true freshman was tremendous in just his second college game, completing 11 of his first 12 passes and going 15-for-22 for 246 yards with three touchdowns, all in the first half, in a 44-28 win over Purdue. Nelson was so good that Gophers fans are asking what took so long for him to play.

Worst hangover: Wisconsin. Just when it seemed like the Badgers had bounced back and were ready to shoot up the Top 25, their offense got completely shut down against Michigan State. Worse, reports say Stave is out for the year with a broken collarbone, and backup Danny O'Brien was once again wildly ineffective at quarterback. Wisconsin probably will still go to the Big Ten championship game, but that beeping you hear is the sound of the Badgers backing their way into Indy.

Strangest moment: Midway through the second quarter in the Michigan State-Wisconsin game, we saw one of the ugliest series you'll ever (hopefully) witness.

First, the Spartans blocked a punt after Drew Meyer took his eye off the snap and a Keystone Cops reenactment ensued. Michigan State ook over on the Badgers' 11-yard line, in great position to score. Except that the Spartans possession went like this: holding penalty, incomplete pass, false start, sack, incomplete pass, delay of game penalty. When it was all said and done, Michigan State had lost 23 yards and somehow winded up punting on fourth-and-33. That "drive" appeared to encapsulate all of the Spartans' problems this season in one horrific sequence, but at least they solved them late for the win.

Did you know? Big Ten Week 5

September, 28, 2012
9/28/12
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The games are almost here. But first, it's time to play a little game we like to call Did You Know? (Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information and league sports information directors for the nuggets).
  • Michigan State tight end Dion Sims leads all FBS tight ends in first-down receptions (17) and ranks second in receiving yards (277) this season. Sims is tied with Arizona State’s Chris Coyle for the most catches of any tight end in the FBS. Eighteen of Sims’ 22 receptions this season (82 percent) have gone for either a first down or a touchdown.
  • Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has rushed for 401 yards on designed running plays this season. Miller had 576 yards on such plays in 12 games last season. The only game in his career in which he did not gain positive yards on designed running plays was in the loss to Michigan State last season
  • Nebraska is 10-0 when quarterback Taylor Martinez completes at least half of his passes thrown 15 yards or more downfield. He was 3-for-11 on such passes in the loss at Wisconsin last season.
  • Wisconsin has 17 "three-and-outs" this season, which is tied for the second most in FBS. The Badgers have had at least three three-and-outs in all four games this season. They only had two such games all of last season. The Badgers have averaged fewer than four yards per play in two games this season. Prior to this season, the last time they averaged less than four yards per play in a game was in a loss to Iowa on Oct. 17, 2009.
  • Indiana is playing fast under new offensive coordinator Seth Littrell. The Hoosiers have six touchdown drives covering at least 70 yards in less than 1:30 and in six-or-fewer plays. IU also has a one-play, 50-yard touchdown run that took 10 seconds. Indiana is running one play every 21.4 seconds.
  • Venric Mark (123 rushing yards vs. Vanderbilt, 117 vs. South Dakota) and Mike Trumpy (106 vs. Boston College) have teamed up to give Northwestern a 100-yard rusher in three consecutive outings, a first for the Wildcats since it happened in the final game of the 2006 season and first two contests of 2007. Mark’s three rushing scores vs. South Dakota were the most by a Wildcat since Kain Colter against Eastern Illinois in 2011, while the five ground TDs were the most since Sept. 5, 2009 vs. Towson.
  • Illinois has controlled time of possession in all four games this season, owning a margin of more than eight minutes per game over its opponents. The Illini are ranked ninth nationally and second in the Big Ten in time of possession (34:17).
  • Penn State has had a different rushing leader in all four games, with injuries leading to five different running backs carrying the ball. Sophomore Bill Belton led the Nittany Lions with 53 yards on 13 carries in the opener vs. Ohio before spraining his ankle. Senior Derek Day earned his first career start at Virginia and gained 47 yards on 18 attempts before injuring his shoulder. Senior Michael Zordich gained a team-high 50 yards on 11 carries in the win over Navy but hurt his leg against Temple. In the Temple game, sophomore Zach Zwinak set career-highs with 18 carries for 94 yards.
  • Three of Iowa's first four games have been decided by three points or less. It's the first time that has ever happened in the first four games for the Hawkeyes. Don't expect that to change this week. The last two Iowa-Minnesota games have been decided by a total of four points. The Gophers won 22-21 last season and 27-24 in 2010. This is the first time the two rivals have ever met in September.
  • Twice this year, Minnesota has allowed only one touchdown (beat New Hampshire 44-7 and Syracuse 17-10). The last time the Gophers had at least two games during the same year where they allowed only one touchdown or less was 2009 (Air Force, South Dakota State, Iowa). This is the first year since 2006 that Minnesota has held two of its first four opponents to 10 points or fewer.
  • Purdue is a perfect 13-for-13 in the red zone (12 touchdowns, one field goal), is converting third downs on 60 percent of its tries and is 4-for-4 on fourth-down conversions. The Boilermakers are one of 11 FBS teams who are perfect inside the red zone. They rank fourth nationally on third downs and are one of only 10 teams to remain perfect on fourth down.

Video: Penn State running back Derek Day

September, 26, 2012
9/26/12
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Josh Moyer interviews Penn State running back Derek Day about the Nittany Lions' ever-rotating offensive backfield. Penn State has had four different single-game rushing leaders through four games.

Big Ten Tuesday personnel roundup

September, 25, 2012
9/25/12
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Some news and notes about player comings and goings in the Big Ten:

Indiana

Quarterback Cameron Coffman, who suffered a hip pointer and left the Ball State game two weeks ago, will be ready to go this week against Northwestern, head coach Kevin Wilson said. True freshman Nate Sudfeld, who finished the game against Ball State and led a fourth-quarter rally, will be at the ready if needed.

Iowa

Running back Damon Bullock (concussion) is making progress and hopefully could be back this week versus Minnesota, head coach Kirk Ferentz said. Bullock started the first three games before the injury. Mark Weisman ran for more than 200 yards in his first career start last week vs. Central Michigan. Ferentz also expects freshman tailback Greg Garmon (elbow) to return this week.

Michigan State

Could cornerback Johnny Adams help the struggling receiving corps? Adams played receiver during the Spartans' spring game and had a big play. Head coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday "there has been a little thought of" moving Adams to offense for some snaps, though he didn't commit to it. Dantonio also said that defensive end William Gholston, who sat out last week's first half against Eastern Michigan, will be ready to start against Ohio State.

Minnesota

Receiver Andre McDonald, who was hospitalized last week for a reportedly minor heart problem, should be cleared to resume practicing either tomorrow or Thursday, head coach Jerry Kill said. Kill also said offensive lineman Tommy Olson (ankle) is "a big question mark" for Saturday's game at Iowa.

Ohio State

Head coach Urban Meyer said that all signs point to running back Carlos Hyde (knee sprain) playing at Michigan State. If so, this would be the first time all season that Hyde and Jordan Hall have been available in the backfield at the same time.

Penn State

Running back Bill Belton, who's been out since the opener against Ohio with an injured ankle, is listed as probable on the Nittany Lions' depth chart. Head coach Bill O'Brien said Belton practiced Monday and looked pretty good and should be able to play at Illinois. Belton was the starting running back to open the season, and fellow tailbacks Derek Day (shoulder) and Michael Zordich (leg) have battled injuries as well. Both are listed as probable for this weekend.

Purdue

Quarterback Robert Marve has looked good in practice and "doesn't look handcuffed at all" by his ACL injury, head coach Danny Hope said. While Marve still hasn't done much in the way of team drills, Hope is as optimistic as ever that Marve will play again this season, though he likely will sit out this week's game against Marshall. Defensive end Ryan Russell, who was lifted from the Eastern Michigan game with an injured knee, rested during the team's bye week and should be fully ready Saturday, Hope said. Hope also said running back Ralph Bolden, who tore his ACL in last year's regular-season finale, is getting closer to returning but probably won't be ready this week.

Wisconsin

Running back Montee Ball (concussion) had his status upgraded and will run and condition with the team on Tuesday, head coach Bret Bielema said. Ball will not return to contact drills until he passes more concussion tests. Bielema is hopeful that Ball will be cleared for full participation by Thursday and that he will play at Nebraska.
It's time for a quick look at the four Big Ten games kicking off at 3:30 p.m. ET ...

Temple (1-1) at Penn State (1-2): This should be by far the most interesting and competitive game of the afternoon four-pack. Temple has held second-half leads in each of the teams' past two meetings, and the Owls aim for their first-ever win at Beaver Stadium and their first against Penn State since 1941. Penn State looked impressive on both sides of the ball in last week's thrashing of Navy, and the Matt McGloin-Allen Robinson connection is heating up. Robinson leads the Big Ten in receptions (24) and is tied for the league lead in touchdown catches (4). Penn State is still looking for its first rushing touchdown and is dealing with some injuries at the position (Derek Day, Bill Belton).

Idaho State (1-1) at No. 25 Nebraska (2-1): The only intrigue at Memorial Stadium, besides how much Nebraska wins this game, is the return of Superman -- Huskers senior running back Rex Burkhead. After missing the past two games with a sprained knee, Burkhead gets back on the field for a tuneup before Big Ten play. It's unknown how many carries Burkhead will receive, although it doesn't make sense to overdo it in a game like this, especially with talented backs Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross waiting in the wings. Idaho State has dropped 33 consecutive road games and 45 of its past 51. Nebraska's second- and third-stringers figure to get plenty of work against the Bengals.

South Dakota (1-1) at Northwestern (3-0): After beating three teams from three major conferences, Northwestern takes a step down in class and hosts the FCS Coyotes, who knocked off Minnesota two years ago in Minneapolis. Pat Fitzgerald isn't taking any opponent lightly and this week brought up a 2007 loss to FCS New Hampshire -- "We didn’t lose. We got pounded by them," he said -- but the coach is keeping the focus on his team and getting better. Northwestern has played well up front on both sides of the ball but needs to do a better job of finishing drives and consistently throwing the ball. South Dakota ranks last in the Missouri Valley Conference in rush defense, creating big-game opportunities for Kain Colter, Venric Mark and Mike Trumpy. After two solid performances, Northwestern faces a different test with the Coyotes' option attack.

Eastern Michigan (0-3) at No. 21 Michigan State (2-1): The Spartans offense is reeling after failing to score a touchdown on their home field for the first time since the 1991 opener. Fortunately, Andrew Maxwell, Le'Veon Bell & Co. should get well against Eastern Michigan, which hasn't stopped anyone through the first three games, surrendering more than 500 yards and more than 40 points per game. Purdue's bevy of ball-carriers ran wild on the Eagles and Bell, who had surprisingly few opportunities in the second half of last week's loss against Notre Dame, is geared up for a big afternoon. It will be interesting to see if any of the "tough decisions" Spartans coach Mark Dantonio referenced after the Notre Dame loss translate into personnel shuffling against Eastern Michigan, particularly at the wide receiver position. Eastern Michigan running backs coach Mike Hart, the former Michigan star, returns to Spartan Stadium for the first time since uttering his infamous "little brother" quote in 2007.

Big Ten stock report: Week 4

September, 19, 2012
9/19/12
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Our weekly checkup on the bulls and bears of the Big Ten (and we don't mean those Chicago pro teams):

Stock up

A.J. Barker: When searching for playmakers among Minnesota receivers this offseason, we rarely mentioned Barker's name. Hard to blame us there, since the junior had one career catch coming into this season. But Barker now has a pair of 101-yard games and four touchdowns this season, ranking third in the Big Ten in receiving yards. "The biggest thing is he's healthy," head coach Jerry Kill said. "He's had a lot of hamstring problems. He's playing full speed and is a very gifted athlete. He runs very good routes and has good hands, and he's playing with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, which is a good thing."

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State coach Bill O'Brien, right, celebrates with quarterback Matt McGloin after a second-quarter touchdown during the Nittany Lions' win Saturday, O'Brien's first with the team.
Matt McGloin: Believe it or not, McGloin is developing into a very dependable quarterback. The Penn State senior still needs to improve his completion percentage (56.7), but he's fourth in the Big Ten in passing yards (688). Maybe most importantly, McGloin has an 8-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio after coming into this season with a 22-to-14 mark. "He's made a lot of progress," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. "Matt's done a good job in ... making good decisions when he throws the ball and making good decisions when he scrambles of taking care of the ball. It's something he just needs to continue to do."

Devin Gardner: After seeing Gardner work out as a receiver this spring, I thought the storyline of his move from quarterback was overblown. But Gardner has improved at his new position and surprisingly leads Michigan with eight catches for 155 yards and three touchdowns. He may have become too valuable at receiver to move back to quarterback.

Indiana's offense: Granted, the competition level hasn't been stiff. But the Hoosiers are showing increased firepower this year and currently lead the league in total yards and passing yards, while averaging 36 points. Those numbers are way up from last year, and they've done it while using three quarterbacks so far because of injuries.

Nebraska's backfield stable: It's notable that Nebraska hasn't missed a beat in the running game with Rex Burkhead out since the first half of the opener. The Huskers rank eighth nationally in rushing at 295 yards per game thanks to excellent work by Ameer Abdullah and others. Burkhead is scheduled to return this week against Idaho State, and now Nebraska knows it doesn't have to burden him with a huge workload. Abdullah, who had 30 carries last week, plus Braylon Heard and Imani Cross give Bo Pelini all kinds of options to choose from.

Stock down

Ohio State's tackling: The Buckeyes' defense is loaded with former stud recruits and future pros. So why isn't it dominating? Missed tackles have been a huge problem, an issue Urban Meyer called "terrible" after his team gave up several big plays to Cal last week. Meyer plans on having the Buckeyes tackle more in practice this week, and the linebackers and safeties in particular need to do a better job of wrapping up.

Roy Roundtree: The Michigan senior was supposed to regain his 2010 form this year as he took over the No. 1 receiver spot from Junior Hemingway. But Roundtree has only five catches for 42 yards in three games. He did have his knee scoped in fall camp, which may be limiting his effectiveness. Still, when a converted quarterback is your leading receiver, that says a lot about the state of your receiving corps. Perhaps playing Notre Dame, against whom he made the game-winning catch a year ago, will get Roundtree going this week.

Illinois attendance: We understand that the opener was played in poor weather conditions, and last week's opponent (Charleston Southern) wouldn't get anybody excited. Yet the Illini are officially averaging just over 44,000 fans in their two home games, which is below such football factories as Indiana and Kansas. Reports say that actual attendance last week was closer to 30,000. No weather or opponent factors would create those types of poor numbers at football-crazy schools across the Big Ten or the country. Is Louisiana Tech enough to get the Illinois faithful invested this week?

Penn State's running game: Silas Redd's transfer and injuries have taken their toll on the Nittany Lions' ground game. The team is only averaging 107.7 yards per game, which is last in the Big Ten and 102nd nationally. Penn State is one of only four teams in the country without a rushing touchdown this season. Derek Day could return this week and Bill Belton may be back soon. Not soon enough for what is an anemic rushing attack right now.

Wisconsin's turnover margin: The Badgers have been one of the best teams in the country at winning turnover margin. They were plus-14 in 2010 and plus-16 last year, both of which ranked in the top five of the FBS. This season, however, Wisconsin is at minus-three. And though the defense has kept the team in games, it has yet to create a single turnover. No wonder Bret Bielema was quick to pull quarterback Danny O'Brien after some carelessness with ball security last week against Utah State.

Big Ten Tuesday personnel roundup

September, 18, 2012
9/18/12
3:10
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Some key personnel notes and nuggets from around the Big Ten ...

IOWA
  • Running back Damon Bullock (head) is doubtful and running back Greg Garmon (elbow) is questionable for Saturday's game against Central Michigan. Although Garmon's injury looked pretty gruesome against Northern Iowa, he has a better chance of playing, head coach Kirk Ferentz said. Mark Weisman will start for Iowa following his three-touchdown performance, while fellow walk-on Michael Malloy will be the backup.
  • The good news at running back is that Jordan Canzeri, who suffered a torn ACL in March during spring practice, has been medically cleared and should play at some point this season, Ferentz said. It's amazing how quickly some players come back from ACL tears these days.
MINNESOTA
  • Quarterback MarQueis Gray is clearly a very fast healer. How fast? Gophers coach Jerry Kill said Tuesday that there's a chance Gray is available as a backup Saturday night against Syracuse despite suffering a high ankle sprain last week. Gray is still sore, Kill said. It would be a pretty big surprise to see him return so soon from an injury that can take up to six weeks to heal, but the senior seems to be ahead of schedule. Kill said Minnesota has a plan if Max Shortell struggles or gets hurt -- whether it includes using true freshman Philip Nelson remains to be seen.
  • Cornerback Martez Shabazz will miss at least another week with a dislocated toe.
PENN STATE
  • Senior defensive end Pete Massaro (shoulder) and linebacker Nyeem Wartman (knee) have been ruled out for Saturday's game against Temple. Massaro, who has dealt with injuries throughout his career, missed last week's contest with Navy. Standout redshirt freshman Deion Barnes will start in his spot.
  • Running backs Derek Day (shoulder) and Bill Belton (ankle) are both day-to-day for the Temple game, with Day having a better chance to return than Belton, coach Bill O'Brien said. "They're running backs," O'Brien said. "That's the nature of the position, so the next guy has got to be ready to go." That next guy would be junior Curtis Dukes.
  • Left tackle Donovan Smith (ankle) also is day-to-day after missing the Navy game. Smith's chances to play this week depend largely on how he moves around in practice Tuesday and Wednesday. "If he comes out today and he's gimpy, then [he] probably won't play," O'Brien said. Mike Farrell started in Smith's place against Navy.
INDIANA
  • The Hoosiers are off this week, but starting quarterback Cameron Coffman possibly could play if there was a game. Coffman left last week's loss to Ball State with a hip pointer, and Nate Sudfeld entered the game and performed well. Coach Kevin Wilson said Coffman remains the starter, at least right now, for next week's Big Ten opener at Northwestern. "He's just not full tilt pushing off yet," Wilson said. "We'll see. We'll get him checked out here later today. ... We'll decide tomorrow and Thursday how much he needs to do. It will be our trainer's call. Will it be best to take the whole week on the low key or does he need the reps?"
  • Sophomore quarterback Tre Roberson, who suffered a season-ending broken leg Sept. 8, said Tuesday that he "should be back" by spring practice. He said he can throw and put a bit of pressure on his surgically repaired leg.
ILLINOIS

Instant analysis: Penn State 34, Navy 7

September, 15, 2012
9/15/12
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State rebounded from an 0-2 start behind a strong offensive effort and opportunistic defense Saturday.

The Nittany Lions (1-2) forced three turnovers and finished with 341 total yards in a 34-7 victory over Navy. The Midshipmen's secondary couldn't adjust to Matt McGloin, who found eight different receivers and threw for 231 yards.

The win comes at a critical time for Penn State, which hasn't started 0-3 since 2001. Navy drops to 0-2 with the loss.

It was over when: McGloin connected with Allen Robinson on a 45-yard touchdown strike in the first quarter. McGloin threw the pass about 20 yards, but Robinson faked a defender, cut inside and sprinted another 25 yards for the score. That put Penn State ahead 14-0 and set the tone with PSU's passing game. Navy never recovered.

The game ball goes to: Robinson. He made three big plays, all three of which occurred on touchdown drives, and helped PSU threaten with the deep ball -- something it hadn't yet done entering this game. He finished with five catches for 136 yards and three touchdowns.

Stat of the game: Two, the number of turnovers that Penn State turned into touchdowns. The Nittany Lions couldn't capitalize last week off four turnovers but did better with three turnovers against Navy -- including a 74-yard fumble return by linebacker Mike Hull.

Unsung heroes: Curtis Dukes and Michael Zordich. They weren't flashy, they didn't have a lot of stats, but they made the most out of each of their 22 combined carries. The bruising duo helped fill the void of Penn State's top two tailbacks, Bill Belton and Derek Day, who were both out with injuries. Dukes ran for 47 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry, and Zordich had 11 carries for 50 yards.

What it means: Finishing around .500 remains a possibility. A loss here would have shut the door on Penn State finishing 6-6. It drove downfield against Virginia but couldn't find the end zone. Here, it finally put everything together and looked good against an overmatched Navy squad. Penn State showed it can impress offensively; the only question left is whether it can do that consistently.

Quick previews for B1G noon games

September, 8, 2012
9/08/12
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Let's take a quick look at what's on tap in the Big ten in the three noon ET kickoffs ...

Penn State (0-1) at Virginia (1-0): The Nittany Lions hit the road in search of Bill O'Brien's first victory as coach and hope to avoid their first 0-2 start since 2001. Former walk-on Derek Day gets the start at running back for Penn State in place of the hobbled Bill Belton (ankle). The prognosis is a bit better for Penn State starting cornerback Stephon Morris (ankle). Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco, who grew up a Penn State fan, faces a Nittany Lions defense that has struggled in its past three games, stretching back to last season.

Central Florida (1-0) at No. 14 Ohio State (1-0): After racking up 56 points in a stress-free opener, Ohio State should face a much tougher test from Central Florida, which has had a top-15 defense in each of the past two seasons. The Knights also boast a talented young quarterback in Blake Bortles, who tossed three touchdown passes in a season-opening rout of Akron on the road. New Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer expects the game to be a "war," and it'll provide a good barometer for his squad's revamped offense. It's the teams' first meeting, and Ohio State tries to continue its streak of 58 consecutive home wins against unranked non-league foes.

New Hampshire (1-0) at Minnesota (1-0): The Gophers aim for their first 2-0 start since 2009 and try to end a two-game losing streak against FCS teams (lost to North Dakota State last year and South Dakota in 2010). Senior quarterback MarQueis Gray came alive in overtime against UNLV, but he'll need more efficient performances going forward, beginning today against the Wildcats. Minnesota's defense recorded three interceptions against UNLV and can match its total from all of last season with a pick against New Hampshire redshirt freshman Sean Goldrich, who threw for 193 yards and two touchdowns in last week's win against Holy Cross.

Big Ten lunchtime links

September, 7, 2012
9/07/12
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I was dreaming when I wrote this. Forgive me if it goes astray.

Day to start over injured Belton at PSU

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
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Tailback Derek Day will start over an injured Bill Belton against Virginia, Bill O'Brien said Thursday night on his weekly radio show.

O'Brien said Belton remained "day-to-day," but Day will now get the nod even if the sophomore's ankle improves. Belton was sidelined in the third quarter against Ohio, and an ice pack was wrapped around that left ankle.

Belton did not practice Wednesday when the media arrived during an open 30-minute session, and Day took reps with the first team.

Day, a fifth-year senior, has just 15 career carries and was listed as the No. 3 tailback in the spring. With Silas Redd's departure and Belton's injury, he now climbs to No. 1.

"He always gives his best effort and I'm real excited to watch him play and for him to get that opportunity," linebacker Michael Mauti said earlier this week. "I know he's going to make the most of it."

Big Ten lunch links

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
12:00
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Two days till Big Ten football, three days till Bearmageddon in Chicago.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 2

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
10:15
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Ten items to track Saturday as Week 2 of Big Ten action gets under way.

1. West Coast swing: The Big Ten-Pac-12 scheduling alliance fell apart this summer, but three matchups between the leagues are on tap Saturday. All three take place at Pac-12 stadiums, where Big Ten teams have struggled mightily, failing to win a game since 2007 and recording only three wins since 2001 (Nebraska was a member of the Big 12 when it spanked Washington in Seattle in 2010). Wisconsin, Nebraska and Illinois must handle long trips, time changes and tricky opponents to end the trend. Fortunately for Nebraska, quarterback Taylor Martinez and a group of his teammates will feel right at home at the Rose Bowl.

2. TerBush's turn: Despite being suspended for Purdue's season opener, quarterback Caleb TerBush earned the nod as the Boilers' starter for Saturday's game at No. 22 Notre Dame. Coach Danny Hope thinks TerBush gives the Boilers the best chance for a strong and steady start and pointed to the senior's ability to outplay both Robert Marve and Rob Henry in camp. Most Purdue fans didn't seem too thrilled with the decision, but TerBush, who started all 13 games last season, has a chance to prove them wrong and record a huge win for the program.

[+] EnlargeJames Vandenberg
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesIowa needs a more consistent performance Saturday from quarterback James Vandenberg.
3. Toussaint's return: Michigan needs to get off of the mat after being embarrassed in its opener against Alabama. The Wolverines will get a boost from running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who returns from suspension to make his season debut against Air Force. Toussaint said he let the team and his family down following his drunken driving arrest and should have no shortage of motivation when he gets back on the field. Coach Brady Hoke likely will start Toussaint, who rushed for 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns last season, against the Falcons.

4. Hawks eye Cy: A huge empty trophy case greeted Iowa players in the middle of their locker room this week, as coach Kirk Ferentz reminded his team of what's at stake Saturday. Iowa has struggled in its trophy games of late, but it can regain one Saturday against in-state rival Iowa State. The Hawkeyes look for a stronger performance from senior quarterback James Vandenberg and a stingier defensive effort against Iowa State signal-caller Steele Jantz, who went nuts in last year's game.

5. Lions seek balance: After an emotion-charged opener in State College, Penn State hits the road Saturday against Virginia in search of its first win under coach Bill O'Brien. A key objective for Penn State is greater offensive balance after it had more than twice as many passes (48) as rushes (22) in last week's loss to Ohio. Only four FBS teams attempted fewer runs than the Lions, who likely will feature several backs at Virginia, possibly including true freshman Akeel Lynch, as top back Bill Belton deals with an ankle injury.

6. Wildcats' QB rotation: Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald says Kain Colter is his starting quarterback, but backup Trevor Siemian remains very much in the mix after leading the game-winning scoring drive last week at Syracuse. Colter, who gave way to Siemian on the decisive drive, has recovered from a left shoulder injury that slowed him late in the Syracuse game. But it will be interesting to see how Northwestern uses him and Siemian on Saturday night against Vanderbilt. Given Northwestern's defensive woes, it likely needs all the help it can get on offense to beat a talented Commodores team.

7. Maxwell, Gray look to rebound: Michigan State and Minnesota both recorded hard-fought wins in Week 1, but both need to see improvement from their quarterbacks on Saturday. Andrew Maxwell had three interceptions and no touchdowns in his first career start for the Spartans, who boast a championship-level defense and a championship-level running back in Le'Veon Bell but might not get there without solid quarterback play. Gray had a misleading stat line against UNLV and needs to show better accuracy on his passes, beginning this week against FCS New Hampshire.

8. Buckeyes battle test: Ohio State coach Urban Meyer expects Saturday's game against Central Florida to "be a war." While the Buckeyes are heavily favored, UCF should provide a much better test than Miami (Ohio) did last week, especially for the Buckeyes' defense. UCF is the preseason favorite in Conference USA's East Division and boasts a talented quarterback, sophomore Blake Bortles. Both squads are ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA violations, but they should provide an entertaining game in C-Bus.

9. Backups in spotlight: The injury bug took a toll on the Big Ten in Week 1, and several key players will or should be sidelined Saturday. We know Michigan cornerback Courtney Avery will step in for Blake Countess, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear against Alabama. Illinois quarterbacks Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei took most of the snaps this week in practice as the team could play without starter Nathan Scheelhaase at Arizona State. Derek Day will get the first shot at running back for Penn State if Belton can't go, and a host of Nebraska backs, led by Ameer Abdullah, will carry the load if Rex Burkhead (knee) isn't ready for UCLA.

10. Hoosiers seek milestone: It's all about baby steps for Indiana's program, which can take another one Saturday at UMass. The Hoosiers are still seeking their first win against an FBS opponent under coach Kevin Wilson and can record one against the Minutemen, who are in their first season as an FBS member. An Indiana victory also would eclipse its victory total from all of last season. Expect Wilson to open up the offensive playbook a little more with quarterback Tre Roberson, who played well in the opener.
According to coach Bill O'Brien, Penn State's offensive line graded out as the best unit on the team in Saturday's opener against Ohio.

It's up to O'Brien, the team's offensive play-caller, to put the line to full use in the weeks ahead.

Although the front five protected quarterback Matt McGloin well in the team's 24-14 loss, allowing no sacks and only one tackle for loss, the line probably earned an incomplete for its run-blocking efforts. That's because Penn State rushed the ball only 22 times, while passing it 48 times against the Bobcats.

Only four FBS teams -- Tulane, Miami (Ohio), Washington State and Western Michigan -- attempted fewer rushes in their season opener than the Nittany Lions.

Although O'Brien orchestrated the NFL's No. 2 pass offense last season with the New England Patriots and had one of the game's top quarterbacks at his disposal in Tom Brady, he knows Penn State will need better offensive balance going forward, beginning Saturday at Virginia.

"Would you like to have a 50-50 run-pass ratio? Sure," O'Brien said Tuesday. "But at the end of the day, you're trying to do whatever it takes to win the game. In the Ohio game, I need to do a better job there of calling some more runs, that's for sure."

The challenge is who will handle those runs for Penn State in Charlottesville. Top running back Bill Belton is questionable for the game after leaving the Ohio contest with an ankle injury in the third quarter.

Belton, who was on crutches after the game, doesn't have a long-term injury but likely will need to practice by Thursday to have a chance of playing against Virginia. The sophomore recorded 53 rush yards on 13 carries against Ohio.

If Belton can't go, Derek Day likely would get the start. True freshman Akeel Lynch, who somewhat surprisingly didn't play in the opener, also will be in the mix, O'Brien said, along with Curtis Dukes, Zach Zwinak and Michael Zordich.

"We have a lot of guys at the running back position that are good players," O'Brien said. "If Billy can't go, somebody else will step up. We have confidence in those guys."

O'Brien singled out center Matt Stankiewitch for his play up front in leading a line including mostly unproven players. Although Penn State had some success in the short-passing game, it struggled to finish drives and needs to show defenses both a vertical passing threat and a more formidable run threat.

"We've got to be more balanced," O'Brien said, "and that starts with me."

Big Ten lunchtime links

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