Big Ten: scrimmage042709

Northwestern spring game recap

April, 27, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Northwestern couldn't expect to solve all of its skill-position questions during 15 spring practices, but the Wildcats emerged from Saturday's scrimmage feeling a bit better about their ground game.

Three running backs combined for 207 rush yards and four touchdowns as the Wildcats offense scored 49 points against a banged-up defense.

The competition to replace four-year starter Tyrell Sutton will spill into preseason camp, but sophomore Jeravin Matthews stated a strong case this spring. The converted wide receiver, one of only two true freshmen to see the field last fall, racked up a game-high 90 rush yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Redshirt freshman Alex Daniel added 70 rush yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.

The 5-11, 170-pound Matthews might not have the size to be an every-down back in the Big Ten, but his speed has to be maximized this fall. Daniel brings a little more bulk and could emerge as more of a featured back. But Northwestern likely will use a combination of Matthews, Daniel, junior Stephen Simmons and possibly an incoming freshman.

The absence of All-Big Ten defenders Corey Wootton and Brad Phillips can't be ignored when evaluating Saturday's rushing attack, but head coach Pat Fitzgerald had to be pleased with Matthews' development.

Other items from Northwestern's spring game:

  • Senior quarterback Mike Kafka, the projected starter, had a decent day, completing only 12 of 21 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. There are still questions about Kafka's consistency as a passer, but his running ability, showcased on a limited basis in the spring game, will be big for Northwestern. Kafka still gets the nod for the starting job, but backup Dan Persa had arguably a better spring and completed 8 of 9 passes for 65 yards in the spring game.
  • Senior wide receiver Andrew Brewer accounted for the day's only big pass play, hauling in a 55-yard reception from Kafka. The outside receiver spot better suits Brewer, who struggled with injuries as a slot receiver.
  • It was a pretty dull day on defense. Redshirt freshman safety Jared Carpenter led the way with eight tackles (1 for loss), and linebacker Ben Johnson had two pass breakups.
  • Northwestern and Illinois announced their new rivalry trophy Saturday. The two teams will compete annually for the Land of Lincoln Trophy, which still must be designed but will coincide with the celebration of Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Before getting to the Green-White game, there was some exciting scheduling news Monday for Michigan State fans.

The school agreed to home-and-home series with both West Virginia (2014-15) and Alabama (2016-17) and extended its contract with longtime rival Notre Dame through the 2025 season. Kudos to athletic director Mark Hollis for making the type of moves most ADs avoid at all costs (pun intended), and giving his fan base some exciting games down the line. Notre Dame no longer provides a guaranteed marquee matchup for Michigan State, so adding these other teams ensures the Spartans will be tested almost every year.

Now back to Saturday's spring game ...

Michigan State's coaches talked all spring about how the competition between sophomore quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol was too close to call. They also expressed no panic or anxiety about having no clear-cut starter right now or for the immediate future.

The spring game showed why, as both Cousins and Nichol threw the ball brilliantly. Nichol and the White team prevailed 38-37 as safety Danny Fortener sealed the win by knocking down a Cousins pass on a two-point conversion attempt.

Both Cousins and Nichol threw for exactly 357 yards and four touchdowns, capitalizing on an improved group of wide receivers/tight ends and a banged-up secondary. Nichol showed impressive mobility and completed 20 of 28 passes, while Cousins maintained his efficiency in the pocket and completed 29 of 43 pass attempts.

"I think you saw why we look at our quarterbacks and say it's too close to call," head coach Mark Dantonio said. "Both guys responded when they were down and made big plays. And both guys had receivers make catches with guys draped all over them."

Nichol threw touchdowns to four different receivers, while Cousins twice found tight end Charlie Gantt for scores.

Other items from the Green-White game:

  • Whoever wins the quarterback competition will have plenty of capable targets this fall. Senior wide receiver Blair White recorded a game-high six receptions for 89 yards, and fellow wideouts Keshawn Martin, Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham also performed well. The tight ends will be spotlighted this season as Gantt hauled in two touchdown receptions and Clemson transfer Brian Linthicum led the White squad with six receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown.
  • It was a disappointing day for the four running backs vying to replace All-American Javon Ringer. Sophomore Andre Anderson had a game-high 30 rush yards on nine carries, while sophomore Ashton Leggett, who created some separation earlier this spring, finished with just seven yards and a touchdown on eight carries. The competition remains wide open here, and incoming freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper will be in the mix this summer.
  • Playing without four injured defensive backs, the Spartans' defense had a very disappointing day. Linebackers Greg Jones (10 tackles, 2.5 TFLs) and Eric Gordon (11 tackles, 1 TFL) led their respective teams.
  • Penalties were a problem for the Spartans, who got flagged 12 times for 117 yards in the scrimmage.

Illinois spring game recap

April, 27, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Fighting Illini head coach Ron Zook divided up his team to create more balanced competition in Saturday's Orange and Blue Game, but the score ended up lopsided as the Blue squad shut out the Orange team 20-0 at Memorial Stadium. With first- and second-teamers playing alongside one another in the game, it was a bit hard to evaluate units, though several individuals stood out.

Senior quarterback Juice Williams directed two scoring drives for the Blue team, completing 13 of 26 passes for 150 yards with a 10-yard scoring strike to Chris Duvalt and an interception that freshman linebacker Evan Frierson tipped to himself. High winds hampered Williams a bit, and Zook said the senior threw "a couple of balls that have been his worst of the spring."

Still, Williams shouldn't be a major concern for Illini fans going forward.

The big questions with Illinois come on defense, and there were several bright spots, including the play of Martez Wilson, who likely will stay at middle linebacker after making the switch from the outside this spring. Wilson recorded 4.5 tackles and broke up a pass for the Blue team. According to The (Champaign) News-Gazette, Wilson has been getting advice from former teammates Brit Miller and J Leman on playing middle linebacker.

Other notable items from the Orange and Blue Game:

  • No one had a better day on the field than junior defensive end Jerry Brown, who recorded a game-high seven tackles, including six for loss and two sacks. Brown appeared in all 13 games last fall and could assume a greater role after Illinois lost ends Will Davis and Derek Walker. Zook isn't getting too excited about Brown, though, noting that the junior needs to clean up some academic issues for the fall.
  • Running backs Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford were undoubtedly the best stories of the spring for Illinois, which can feel much better about its ground attack heading into 2009. Both LeShoure and Ford averaged more than five yards a carry in the spring game, and both Ford and fellow back Daniel Dufrene scored touchdowns.
  • Don't be surprised if backup quarterback Eddie McGee sees more time at wide receiver this fall. Though Illinois is loaded at receiver, McGee led the Orange team with three receptions for 23 yards in the spring game. He completed 3 of 8 passes for 25 yards and was sacked twice. Redshirt freshman Jacob Charest got more work at quarterback behind Williams.
  • Illinois and Northwestern announced their new rivalry trophy Saturday. The two teams will compete annually for the Land of Lincoln Trophy, which still must be designed but will coincide with the celebration of Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday. The trophy replaces the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk, which was retired in November as part of Illinois' effort to remove all Native American imagery from its athletic teams. I personally was hoping for the Graham-Grange Trophy, but it didn't make the cut.
  • Cornerback Tavon Wilson led the Orange team with four tackles and two pass breakups. Wilson could enter the fall as the team's top cover corner. Defensive end Clay Nurse (hello, nurse) added a sack and two tackles for loss.

Minnesota spring game recap

April, 27, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

No matter what happened this spring, Minnesota knew it would enter the fall with a proven quarterback in Adam Weber and a dynamic wide receiver in Eric Decker. But with Decker playing baseball this spring and Weber limited following shoulder surgery, there were opportunities for those behind them to step up.

That's exactly what backup quarterback MarQueis Gray, wideout Brodrick Smith and do-it-all sophomore Troy Stoudermire did in Saturday's spring game at the University of St. Thomas. Minnesota began its migration to outdoor football with the spring game, in which the offense racked up 34 points.

Any questions that Gray will see the field this fall were put to rest after the freshman completed 8 of 10 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Smith caught both scoring strikes from Gray and had a game-high four receptions for 98 yards.

"I think this will help MarQueis really become a great player," head coach Tim Brewster told reporters. "We will have packages every game where he is involved."

The Gophers also will find more ways to get Stoudermire the ball. Listed as a cornerback, Stoudermire saw time in several spots during the spring game. He caught three passes for 31 yards, had two rushes for 63 yards and a touchdown and gained 180 yards on kickoff and punt returns.

It all added up to 274 all-purpose yards for Stoudermire, who was used mainly on returns last year. Despite a ton of changes on offense during the offseason, Minnesota could be more explosive in 2009. Weber also looked solid in the spring game, completing 9 of 12 passes for 77 yards.

Other items from Minnesota's spring game:

  • The game didn't provide a comprehensive look at the Gophers' rushing attack, as both Duane Bennett (knee) and Shady Salamon (concussion) sat out. Redshirt freshman Kevin Whaley ran very well, racking up 63 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, and Stoudermire broke off two big runs, but the offensive line allowed six sacks. It will take some time for the line to totally click with the new offensive scheme, and the group will remain in the spotlight this summer.
  • Minnesota might have identified its primary pass rusher in senior defensive end Cedric McKinley, who recorded three sacks and four tackles for loss in the game. The Gophers tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks last fall (34) but lose All-Big Ten end Willie VanDeSteeg.
  • For the second straight year, Minnesota's defense should benefit from some new arrivals. Safety Kim Royston, a transfer from Wisconsin, recorded four tackles in the spring game. Sophomore safety Tim Dandridge had four tackles and two pass breakups.
  • Minnesota loses both starting specialists from last year's squad, but kicker Eric Ellestad connected on field goals of 48 and 21 yards, while punter Blake Haudan averaged 40.6 yards per punt.

Ohio State spring game recap

April, 27, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

It's rare when the crowd in the stands eclipses the action on the field, but when 95,722 people show up to watch a souped-up scrimmage somewhere outside SEC territory, I'd say it's a pretty big deal. Ohio State set a record for spring game attendance Saturday, as gorgeous weather and the chance to watch Terrelle Pryor practice "live" brought fans to Ohio Stadium. As for the game itself? The Gray squad beat the Scarlet team 23-3.

The weather certainly had something to do with the huge turnout. So did Pryor and the number of new players taking on key roles. Jim Tressel's Hawaiian shirt definitely wasn't the reason (I hope).

Buckeye Nation had to be thrilled with what it saw from Pryor, who eased some concerns about his passing ability by completing 13 of 18 pass attempts for 191 yards and touchdown strikes of 44 and 42 yards. The sophomore didn't even need to play in the final quarter, as originally planned, after engineering three scoring drives, including one just before halftime.

"You saw today, and the world saw, that I can throw the ball," Pryor told reporters. "I think I played exceptionally well. [I'm] getting better at those little things -- footwork, throwing the ball in there and learning the offense."

Backup quarterback Joe Bauserman struggled a bit, completing just 10 of 21 passes with an interception, but Pryor's obvious progress stole the show. He found Taurian Washington and Ray Small for long touchdown passes. Although projected starter Dane Sanzenbacher sat out with an injury and DeVier Posey played for the other team, Pryor still clicked with his wideouts.

Other items from Ohio State's spring game:

  • Junior Brandon Saine is very much in the mix for the starting running back spot after a strong spring game in which he had 55 rush yards on only six carries. Saine, a heralded recruit who has been limited by injuries, gained 10 or more yards on three consecutive carries in the third quarter. Dan "Boom" Herron had 43 yards on 10 carries, including an 18-yarder. Reserve Marcus Williams led all players with 98 rush yards on seven carries.
  • Ohio State has two pretty big holes at linebacker, but both Brian Rolle and Tyler Moeller showed a lot of potential in the spring game. Rolle recorded a game-high 11 tackles with a sack, and Moeller led the Scarlet team with eight tackles (two for loss), a sack and a pass breakup. Expect both men to see a lot of playing time this season.
  • Michigan transfer Justin Boren finished a very impressive spring on a strong note. Boren will start at guard for the Buckeyes this fall, but he filled in at left tackle for the Gray team and performed well.
  • Ohio State's starting left tackle spot remains a bit of a mystery, and either Mike Adams or Andy Miller needs to grab hold of the position in preseason camp.
  • Pryor should be more consistent on the high-percentage throws this fall, but the big play should remain a big part of Ohio State's playbook. With Small, Washington and Posey, the Buckeyes will be able to stretch the field this fall. Small and Washington had a combined eight catches for 166 yards in the spring game, while Posey led the Scarlet team with five catches for 46 yards.

Penn State spring game recap

April, 27, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State head coach Joe Paterno sounded a bit more optimistic about his team's spring progress before the annual Blue-White Game, and the Nittany Lions turned in a solid effort before a record crowd of 76,500 at Beaver Stadium. The White team edged the Blue squad 21-16.

There weren't many revelations in the spring game, though Penn State can feel a bit better about its quarterback depth heading into 2009.

First-team All-Big Ten performer Daryll Clark was terrific in limited action, completing 10 of 13 passes for 123 yards. Freshman Kevin Newsome, an early enrollee who had looked shaky earlier in spring ball, completed 9 of 13 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. And redshirt freshman Matt McGloin threw two touchdown passes and added a 28-yard run for the White team. Clark might still be the most indispensible player in the Big Ten, but the performances by both Newsome and McGloin were encouraging.

The day's biggest news involved a player who didn't take the field, first-team All-Big Ten linebacker Navorro Bowman. Paterno said the junior failed two team-issued drug tests. Earlier in the week, Bowman admitted in court to marijuana use and received an additional year of probation.

"It's a very difficult situation these days with kids," Paterno said of Bowman. "You hope that they can overcome some of the environmental problems and things that they have. You know, he's lost his father [Hillard, in 2008] and some other things. I'm just going to let it all settle down and I'll decide sometime next week."

Bowman will face further punishment from Penn State, but it doesn't sound like Paterno will do anything too drastic, especially after the player admitted to his mistake. Though Bowman has erred more than once at Penn State, I'd be surprised if he gets more than a three- or four-game suspension.

Other items from the Blue-White Game:

  • Without Bowman and Sean Lee on the field, linebacker Michael Mauti finished a strong spring with four tackles in the game. Mauti was named the team's most improved defender during spring ball, and Paterno called him a "big-time player." The sophomore will be in the mix for a starting outside linebacker spot this summer. Redshirt freshman Jon Ditto also looked promising during the spring game with four tackles and a fumble recovery.
  • Penn State's top three wide receivers appeared to be Derek Moye, Graham Zug and Chaz Powell, with Brett Brackett as a close fourth. Moye hauled in a 28-yard reception from Clark, while both Zug and Brackett caught touchdowns. Zug had a game-high four receptions for 62 yards. After losing three multiyear starters at wide receiver, Penn State could come out of the spring feeling good about this group.
  • Talented tight end Andrew Quarless might finally be on the right track after recording four receptions for 52 yards.
  • Defensive line coach Larry Johnson appears to have another budding star in defensive end Jack Crawford, who batted down a pass and showed impressive pass-rushing ability in the spring game. Defensive tackle Devon Still also recorded a tackle for loss.
  • An injury-plagued spring for Penn State ended on a down note, as defensive end Pete Massaro, Brackett and tackle Ako Poti all got hurt in the Blue-White Game. Powell and cornerback A.J. Wallace returned from ailments, but Penn State's sick bay this spring included running backs Stephfon Green and Brent Carter and defensive end Jerome Hayes.