Big Ten: K.C. Lopata

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It doesn't take a recruiting guru to spot the biggest need for the Michigan Wolverines. Nothing against quarterbacks Steven Threet or Nick Sheridan, but neither man has the skill set to consistently operate Rich Rodriguez's spread offense.

Quarterback undoubtedly tops Rodriguez's wish list with his first full recruiting class, and the spotlight will immediately turn to Tate Forcier, one of seven players who enrolled early. Despite being a true freshman, Forcier likely will enter spring practice as the favorite to win the starting job.

Michigan's other major area of need is the defensive line after losing starters Terrance Taylor, Will Johnson and Tim Jamison. Star pass-rusher Brandon Graham will anchor the group in 2009, but there are opportunities for young players to step in right away. Defensive tackle signee William Campbell already is generating a lot of buzz, and Michigan certainly will add more depth up front.

With the team's new defensive coordinator likely using a three-man front, the Wolverines need some help in the back half of the defense, particularly the secondary. Gone are starters Morgan Trent and Brandon Harrison, and after finishing ninth in the Big Ten in pass defense, Michigan could use some new blood in coverage.

A surplus of running backs is never bad for Rodriguez's offense, and despite returning Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown, Kevin Grady and Michael Shaw this fall, Michigan needs to plan for 2010 and could add a few more ball carriers. The Wolverines also lose kicker K.C. Lopata and will look for a replacement in this class.

Rodriguez looks ahead to 2009 season

November, 25, 2008
11/25/08
11:19
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez held his post-mortem news conference Monday and addressed many of the issues on his growing to-do list for the 2009 season. He does expect more attrition on the roster but not a dramatic amount of departures. So far wide receiver Zion Babb, defensive tackle Jason Kates and safety Artis Chambers have left.

Still, he admitted not everyone has committed to the plan and the direction.

"As far as buying in, I think the majority of them have," Rodrgiuez said. "But there is a handful that still maybe question things themselves, maybe their confidence, their role, how they can contribute. And I think that's typical everywhere in a transition year. But it wasn't as much as maybe I thought. But, again, until it's a hundred percent, then you don't know what you have.

"Everybody, as we move forward, will be guys that play for Michigan first and foremost and believe in this program and this university, and if not, then they won't be playing for Michigan. It's as simple as that."

After his "get a life" comment was overblown in the days leading up to the Ohio State game, Rodriguez was asked whether he'd be more tight-lipped in the future. Thankfully, he doesn't plan to become Lloyd Carr Part II.

"It's a big boy world," he said. "So I understand that. I've been there for a little bit. It does make you I guess want to be a little more reserved at times. That's not my personality. I want to be open and honest and transparent I guess is the proper word. We'll be that. I'll continue to be that. Doesn't mean I don't get ticked off when somebody writes something that ain't true. That's what happens."

Hallelujah.

Other notable items from the news conference included:

(Read full post)

Big Ten official Players of the Week

November, 10, 2008
11/10/08
11:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The selections were announced by the conference office this morning.

CO-OFFENSE

Ohio State RB Chris "Beanie" Wells

Wells broke loose for 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns to lead Ohio State to a road triumph over Northwestern. The junior running back averaged 5.0 yards on 28 attempts and recorded 140 or more yards on the ground for the third time this season. Wells opened the scoring with a two-yard run to give the visitors a 7-0 lead. After the Wildcats tied the score, he put the visitors ahead for good by breaking multiple tackles on his way to a 55-yard scoring sprint. The Ohio native ranks third in Big Ten play with 117.2 yards per outing and needs one more yard to break the 3,000-yard mark for his career.

Wisconsin WR David Gilreath

Gilreath averaged an impressive 21 yards per carry to produce a career-best 168 rushing yards and two touchdowns to lead Wisconsin to a victory at Indiana. The sophomore wide receiver amassed 235 all-purpose yards on the day, including a 19-yard reception and 48 yards on kickoff and punt returns. He tallied his first career rushing touchdown with an eight-yard dash to give the Badgers a 21-13 lead in the second quarter. With the visitors clinging to a narrow 24-20 halftime advantage, Gilreath sparked a second-half offensive explosion by breaking loose for a 90-yard scoring sprint less than two minutes into the third quarter. Wisconsin would tack on 24 more points to run away with a 55-20 triumph. The Minnesota native's 90-yard score was the longest running play for the Badgers since 1963, when Tom Brigham went 91 yards against Western Michigan.

DEFENSE

Iowa S Tyler Sash

Sash registered eight tackles and a crucial interception to set up Iowa 's final drive for a game-winning field goal to hand nationally ranked Penn State its first loss. The freshman safety, who had four solo stops, was part of a Hawkeyes defense that held the Nittany Lions attack to only 23 points and 289 total yards. PSU entered the game leading the Big Ten in both categories, ranking eighth in the country with 41.8 points per contest and 11th nationally with 459.8 yards per outing. Penn State drove inside Iowa 's 20-yard line on five occasions but was limited to field goals on three of those trips. After the hosts pulled within 23-21 in the fourth quarter, PSU drove to the Hawkeyes' 37-yard line before Sash picked off a pass at the 15-yard line and returned it 14 yards. Iowa then drove down the field to set up the game-winning field goal with only one second on the clock.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Michigan K K.C. Lopata

Lopata set a career high and equaled a school record with five field goals to lead Michigan to a road victory against Minnesota. The senior kicker scored a career-best 17 points, connecting on all five of his field goal attempts from 44, 34, 26, 48 and 23 yards while adding two extra points in the 29-6 win. His five field goals are the most by a conference kicker this season and matched the program record set by Mike Gillette against Minnesota in 1988 and equaled by J.D. Carlson versus Illinois in 1990.

Big Ten Players of the Week

November, 9, 2008
11/09/08
6:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It was kind of a strange week in the Big Ten. A lot of solid performances, but not too many mind-blowing ones.

OFFENSE

Ohio State RB Chris "Beanie" Wells -- After getting shut down against Penn State, Wells returned to form at Northwestern, rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries (5 ypc). You can bet the NFL scouts took notice of a 55-yard scoring run early in the second quarter, when Wells appeared to be stopped behind the line of scrimmage, only to break free to the end zone.

DEFENSE

Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn -- The sophomore defensive end was a beast against Penn State, racking up two tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble in the upset victory. Clayborn and his fellow line mates flustered Nittany Lions quarterback Daryll Clark and forced enough mistakes to win the game.

CO-SPECIAL TEAMS

Michigan K K.C. Lopata -- The fifth-year senior tied a school record and set a career high with five field goals on as many attempts at Minnesota. Lopata converted attempts of 23, 26, 34, 44 and 48 yards as Michigan pounded the Gophers at the Metrodome.

Iowa K Daniel Murray -- He hadn't attempted a field goal since Sept. 20 and hadn't made one since the season opener against Maine. But when Iowa needed a huge kick to beat Penn State, the coaches called on Murray. He connected from 31 yards out to give the Hawkeyes the biggest win in recent program history.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 9, 2008
11/09/08
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

By no measure was it a good Saturday for the Big Ten. But it was for these guys.

Wisconsin WR David Gilreath and RB P.J. Hill -- Gilreath is listed as a wide receiver, but he did most of his damage as a ball-carrier against Indiana. The sophomore had a 90-yard touchdown run -- the team's second longest-run in the modern era -- and finished with eight carries for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Hill, the real running back, had 126 rushing yards and three touchdowns on only 19 carries.

Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor -- Pryor provided the perfect response to the Penn State loss, which he took especially hard. The freshman showcased his special skills against Northwestern, throwing three touchdown passes, keeping plays alive with his feet and converting several third-and-long situations. Pryor completed 9 of 14 passes for 197 yards.

Michigan defense -- After a surprising drop-off, this group regained its edge against Minnesota, holding the Golden Gophers to 46 total yards and one first down in the opening half. Minnesota finished with a measly 188 total yards and eight first downs at home. Defensive end Tim Jamison had a sack and a forced fumble, and safety Brandon Harrison had two tackles for a loss.

Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn -- Clayborn registered two tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble that was nearly recovered in the end zone as Iowa stunned No. 3 Penn State. The sophomore is one of the Big Ten's top young defensive linemen and was among the pass-rushers who bothered Daryll Clark all game long.

Michigan K K.C. Lopata -- Lopata went 5-for-5 on field goals against Minnesota, twice connecting from beyond 40 yards. The five field goals tied a school record and marked a career high for Lopata, who hadn't attempted a field goal since Oct. 18.

Michigan State defense -- One of the league's unsung units punished Purdue quarterback Justin Siller, dropping the redshirt freshman for five sacks. Seven players were involved in tackles for losses and freshman cornerback Johnny Adams had a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

All the fantastic finishes must have been used up last week. A surprise at the Metrodome.

OHIO STATE 45, NORTHWESTERN 10

The big questions for the Buckeyes surrounded Terrelle Pryor and an offense that didn't have a clear identity through the first nine games. Pryor had an emphatic response today at Ryan Field, and the Buckeyes matched their season high with 45 points. Although he was facing inferior athletes, Pryor showed why he's so special, keeping plays alive and hitting shots down the field. He threw three touchdowns and no interceptions, and running back Chris Wells had a big day, keyed by a 55-yard scoring run in the second quarter. It's amazing to think this game was tied at 7-7 after a quarter.

Northwestern should be glad it doesn't have to face Ohio State for the next two years. Ever since upsetting the Buckeyes in 2004, the Wildcats look utterly overmatched in this series. The defense was uncharacteristically bad on third-and-long situations, allowing Pryor to keep drives alive. If Northwestern had done a better job getting off the field, this could have been closer. Northwestern went too conservative on offense with Mike Kafka and will need to open things up the next two weeks, whether or not C.J. Bacher returns at starting quarterback.

MICHIGAN 29, MINNESOTA 6

A bowl game is out of the picture for the Wolverines, but they took a nice step today on the road. People forget that Michigan's defense carried this team through its first four games before falling off significantly. Today, the Wolverines regained their edge on the defensive side and shut down a Minnesota offense that looked lost after star wide receiver Eric Decker reinjured his ankle. Quarterback Nick Sheridan avoided a major mistake, the run game got going and kicker K.C. Lopata had a big day (five field goals). Michigan has never lost a game at the Metrodome, which won't be Minnesota's home the next time the teams meet in Minneapolis.

Despite all the good Tim Brewster has done this season, Minnesota is still an emotionally fragile team. The Gophers couldn't avoid a hangover from last week's last-minute loss to Northwestern and put up only 116 total yards today. Brewster is right. This won't be a rivalry until Minnesota proves it can win more often. If Decker is out for any length of time, things could turn ugly.

PURDUE 7, MICHIGAN STATE 21

This was a Michigan State win in every sense of the world. The Spartans rarely get style points, but they continue to get the job done, especially on the defensive side. Purdue quarterback Justin Siller couldn't get much going, averaging just 2.8 yards per completion and throwing an interception that Johnny Adams returned for a touchdown. The anxiety level about Brian Hoyer likely will increase after two interceptions, but Michigan State is 9-2 and likely headed to a New Year's Day bowl game.

For the second time in coach Joe Tiller's 12-year tenure, Purdue won't be heading to a bowl game. Tiller's offense spun its wheels, as it has for much of the season. Siller couldn't beat the Spartans with his feet or find holes in the secondary.

ILLINOIS-WESTERN MICHIGAN

The Big Ten's least consistent team continued its troubling win-one, lose-one pattern, falling to Western Michigan in Detroit. The circumstances around this game created some uneasiness, and Illinois once again didn't play to its potential. Quarterback Juice Williams had a dreadful day, and the offense did nothing in the first half. An Illinois team that opened the season in the top 20 nationally will need to do some work to reach a minor bowl game.

WISCONSIN 55, INDIANA 20

The Wisconsin rushing attack that many of us thought would show up much earlier this fall finally did some major damage. Wide receiver David Gilreath got in the mix, rushing for 168 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries. Junior P.J. Hill had a big day and Wisconsin overpowered a Hoosiers defense that continues to underachieve.

Indiana kept things close for a half, but once again, big plays proved to be the problem. Gilreath's 90-yard touchdown run opened things up and Wisconsin exploded for 31 second-half points. The Hoosiers had five different players attempt a pass. That looks like a team with very little identity on offense. The loss eliminates Indiana from bowl contention.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan is winning the game, but don't read into it too much. The Wolverines generated just 35 yards in the quarter and would be trailing if not for several Utah mistakes.

Despite having an All-American kicker/punter in Louie Sakoda, Utah's special teams have been downright awful. After Michigan went three-and-out on the game's first possession, Utes return man Jereme Brooks fumbled a punt, setting up a Wolverines touchdown. Then Sakoda had a game-tying extra-point try blocked by Michigan's Terrance Taylor. A personal foul penalty on a Michigan kickoff return set up great field position and the other Wolverines' score, a 50-yard field goal by K.C. Lopata.

Wolverines starting quarterback Nick Sheridan has taken advantage of Utah's miscues, but he had an interception called back on a penalty and had another one slip through the fingers of a Utes defensive back. The good news for Michigan is both freshman running backs, Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw, look explosive. Steven Threet has yet to enter the game.

As expected, Michigan's playcalling has been fairly conservative, mostly short, safe passes. Sheridan hasn't looked good on the deep passes but seems comfortable with short routes.

Utah quarterback Brian Johnson looks like a senior, consistently finding holes in the Wolverines secondary. He hit Brooks for a 55-yard gain to set up a touchdown.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MADISON, Wis. -- Greetings from one of my favorite college towns. I'll be heading over to Wisconsin's scrimmage later this morning, but here's a look at what's happening around the conference.

''I can't walk away from the fact that we had some kids that were [in trouble] and that maybe I didn't do the best job I could have."

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