NCF Nation: Brandon Moseby-Felder
1. Northwestern: Injuries have played a major role in the Wildcats' 0-3 start in Big Ten play. All-American kick returner and star tailback Venric Mark has been healthy enough to play exactly one full game -- against Ohio State. Quarterback Kain Colter has been banged up just about all season as well. Both were reinjured at Wisconsin and missed all of last week's loss to Minnesota. In addition, top defensive tackle Sean McEvilly has played in only three games, while starting cornerback Daniel Jones suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener at Cal.
2. Penn State: The Nittany Lions had major depth issues to begin with because of NCAA sanctions. It hasn't helped that they have also dealt with a series of injuries. Tight ends Matt Lehman and Brent Wilkerson and defensive end Brad Bars were lost for the season. Linebacker Mike Hull was hurt for most of the first two months, as was tight end Kyle Carter. Wide receiver Brandon Felder missed the Indiana loss with an ankle problem. Linebacker Ben Kline has been limited after offseason shoulder surgery. Safety Ryan Keiser has been dealing with a hand injury since the Kent State game. This team can't afford many more injuries as it approaches the homestretch of the season.
3. Nebraska: The Huskers' injury problems haven't adversely affected them -- at least not yet. Still, it's never easy when you lose your four-year starting quarterback, and Taylor Martinez hasn't played since Week 3 versus UCLA because of turf toe. He could be back this week, but All-American guard Spencer Long was lost for the season in the last game against Purdue with a knee injury. He'll be tough to replace.
Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford: Unlike Penn State last week, the Spartans realized that running the ball against Indiana is usually a good idea. And Langford was the star of that strategy, carrying the ball 23 times for 109 yards and three touchdowns in Michigan State's 42-28 victory over the Hoosiers. His last touchdown, a 32-yarder, put his team ahead 35-21. In all, the Spartans rushed for 238 yards as a team.
- Nebraska DE Randy Gregory: There aren't many Big Ten defensive ends playing better than Gregory right now. The one-time Purdue commit and Indiana native haunted his home-state school with two sacks, a fumble recovery and a safety in the Huskers' 44-7 blasting of the Boilermakers. The entire Nebraska defense deserves a nod after holding Purdue scoreless until the final 39 seconds.
- Wisconsin's defense: The Badgers held Northwestern -- a team that had scored at least 30 points in seven straight games -- to just two field goals in a dominating 35-6 win. Seven different Badgers had at least one sack. Chris Borland led the way with 10 tackles, but this was a total team effort -- and a very impressive one at that.
- Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: With only four games this week, we give a second sticker to a deserving Badger. Gordon rushed 22 times for 172 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown, in a bounce-back performance from his showing at Ohio State.
- Penn State RB Bill Belton: We could have gone a number of ways in the Nittany Lions' wild, weird 43-40 win over Michigan in four overtimes. Christian Hackenberg made some great throws down the stretch, Brandon Felder provided a strong complement to Allen Robinson and Michigan's Devin Funchess was great for a second straight week. But we ultimately went with Belton, whose final numbers (27 carries, 85 yards) might not stand out in a box score. But Belton picked up the crucial first down on fourth-and-one in overtime No. 4 before finally ending things with a 2-yard touchdown run. That's enough to earn a sticker.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- It was a record-breaking day for Penn State.
Allen Robinson set the Nittany Lions' single-season receptions record in the first quarter, and Matt McGloin set a school record for yards in a single season and career touchdowns.
Behind a strong offensive effort -- highlighted by performances from Robinson and McGloin -- the Nittany Lions overcame a slow start to throttle Indiana 45-22 Saturday.
Robinson now has 73 receptions, surpassing the record of 63 set by former PSU greats Bobby Engram and O.J. McDuffie. McGloin boasts 3,071 passing yards this season and 45 career passing touchdowns.
With the win, Penn State's record improves to 7-4 (5-2 Big Ten), while Indiana falls to 4-7 (2-5 Big Ten).
It was over when: Zach Zwinak crossed the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. The Hoosiers were building momentum, but that score put an end to it. PSU led 35-22 at that point, and Indiana wouldn't threaten again.
Game ball goes to: Robinson. Not only did he set the single-season receptions record on his first catch of the game, but he caused problems for Indiana all day. He was responsible for the Nittany Lions' first three touchdowns and finished with 10 catches for 197 yards.
Stat of the game: 482 -- Penn State's offensive yardage in the first three quarters, when the game was still in doubt. Indiana couldn't stop the Nittany Lions on the ground or through the air.
Turning point: In the third quarter, with Indiana trailing by only six, Bill O'Brien found his team facing fourth-and-10 on his opponent's 33. He decided to go for it -- surprise, surprise -- and McGloin found Brandon Moseby-Felder for a 12-yard gain. That key play set up a touchdown.
Unsung hero: Gerald Hodges. With the injury to Michael Mauti, Penn State's other outside linebacker stepped up. He showed just why he's a Butkus Award candidate with 12 tackles and an interception. Hodges was this defense's playmaker Saturday.
Unsung hero, part deux: Cameron Coffman. With no help from the running game, Coffman was forced to throw often -- and he did a pretty good job. He threw two interceptions, but one came when he pressed while trailing by three touchdowns. He finished with 454 passing yards.
This week's selection: Penn State QB Matt McGloin
Saturday assignment: at Nebraska, 3:30 p.m., ABC
Penn State's senior quarterback is having a tremendous season, better than anyone could have predicted. McGloin has thrown for more than 2,400 yards with 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions, with three 300-yard games under his belt.
The one thing he hasn't done is lead his team to a signature victory. Against Ohio State, McGloin threw for 327 yards but also tossed a very costly pick-six that helped lead to the 35-23 defeat at home.
Now McGloin takes the Nittany Lions into Lincoln, where Nebraska traditionally plays much better on defense. The Cornhuskers also usually fare much better against pocket passers like him than they do versus dual-threat signal-callers. Still, McGloin will have a chance to make some big plays with receivers like Allen Robinson and the improving Brandon Moseby-Felder, plus his deep array of tight ends. Nebraska has often played from behind this year, so it will be important for McGloin not to make mistakes and fuel the home team's momentum if Penn State can grab an early lead.
If McGloin can get the passing game clicking and put the Nittany Lions on the scoreboard early and often, he and Penn State can shake up the entire outlook of the Big Ten title chase.
- Michigan QB Devin Gardner: After playing wide receiver for most of the season, Gardner moved back to his original position to replace the injured Denard Robinson at Minnesota. He had a rough first quarter that included an interception, but settled down nicely after keeping a play alive and firing a 45-yard touchdown strike to Drew Dileo. Michigan had failed to score a touchdown in nine quarters, but Gardner led consecutive touchdown drives of 91 and 90 yards in the first half. He finished the game 12-for-18 passing for 234 yards and two touchdowns, adding 21 rush yards and a touchdown in the 35-13 victory. Gardner showed that Michigan can win -- and score points -- without Robinson on the field. He also got a lot of help from receivers like Dileo, Jeremy Gallon and Roy Roundtree.
- Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez: It's very rare when a quarterback with three interceptions gets any sort of recognition here, but Martinez is an unusual player who can go from goat to hero in the blink of an eye. When Nebraska needed the junior Saturday at Michigan State, he stepped up in the clutch and led the Huskers to a come-from-behind 28-24 win that might seal the Legends division. Martinez completed just 16 of 36 passes for 160 yards with two touchdowns and the three picks, but he added 205 rush yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries, including a 35-yard score in the fourth quarter. He made a great throw to Jamal Turner for the game-winning touchdown with six seconds to go.
- Indiana WR Cody Latimer and Indiana QB Cameron Coffman: The Hoosiers had just enough offense against Iowa, and the Coffman-Latimer connection was the biggest reason why. Latimer had an enormous game in a 24-21 win, snagging seven catches for 113 yards and three touchdowns. His 30-yard scoring grab in the fourth quarter gave Indiana a lead it would never relinquish. Latimer is quickly establishing himself as one of the Big Ten's top wideouts. Coffman also stepped up after a rough game at Illinois, completing 21 of 33 passes for 315 yards with the three touchdowns to Latimer and no interceptions.
- Penn State LB Gerald Hodges: After flying under the radar during non-league play, Hodges has taken his game to the next level in the Big Ten season. He was brilliant in Saturday's 34-9 win against Purdue, recording team highs in both tackles (8) and tackles for loss (3) as Penn State nearly kept Purdue out of the end zone and held the Boilers to 87 rush yards. Hodges added a pass breakup. Hodges has recorded at least eight tackles in four of five Big Ten games. Lions QB Matt McGloin and WR Brandon Moseby-Felder also merit mentions here.
- Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde: Braxton Miller gets most of the hype, but Hyde has been a terrific complement in the Buckeyes backfield. Hyde abused Illinois' defense Saturday for 137 rush yards and three touchdowns on only 18 carries, an average of 7.6 yards per attempt in the 52-22 victory. He has eclipsed 135 rush yards in three of his past five games and has scored multiple touchdowns in five of 10 games this season. Hyde leads the Big Ten in both touchdowns (14) and scoring (10.5 ppg).
Penn State entered the season with a seemingly depleted roster, a first-time head coach and low expectations, at least outside the program.
Purdue entered the season with supposedly its best team in the Danny Hope era, a roster stocked with returning starters and the label of sleeper team in the Leaders Division.
Three-fourths of the way through the fall, the two programs are in opposite places. Penn State, despite all the turmoil, is surging behind coach Bill O'Brien, while Purdue is an absolute disaster. The only label the Boilers have earned is: Big Ten's biggest disappointment.
After falling last week against Ohio State, Penn State resumed its winning ways with a dominant performance in a 34-9 win against Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium. The Lions reclaimed the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and powered their way to their sixth victory of the season, recording a season-high 506 yards of offense. O'Brien's team is still alive for the Leaders Division championship, although it needs to win out and have Ohio State drop its final two games.
Penn State (6-3, 4-1 Big Ten) allowed first-quarter points for the first time this season, but did little else wrong in West Lafayette, scoring the final 34 points. Despite playing without injured tight end Kyle Carter, the Lions' pass attack surged as wideout Brandon Moseby-Felder had a career performance with six catches for 129 yards and a touchdown. Matt McGloin (321 pass yards, 2 TDs) became the first player in Penn State history to record five career 300-yard passing performances. More important, a Penn State team that coudn't rush the ball against Ohio State received good production in the power game, as the Z boys (Zach Zwinak and Michael Zordich) combined for 167 yards and two touchdowns. Zwinak (134 rush yards, 21 carries) established himself as the team's top running back with an impressive day.
The defense lost star tackle Jordan Hill to a knee sprain in the first half (it looked a lot worse), but bullied a Purdue offense that couldn't stretch the field while the outcome was still in doubt. Linebacker Gerald Hodges punished Boiler ball-carriers throughout the game, and Purdue didn't reach the end zone until the final play. Boilers quarterback Robert Marve, making his first start in a league game since he led Miami's offense against NC State in 2008, completed 18 passes in the first half ... for only 106 yards, an average of 5.9 yards per completion. Purdue continued a troubling pattern of a strong opening drive followed by a lot of nothing. As bad as the offense was, a defense featuring several future NFL players continued to fall flat.
Purdue (3-6, 0-5) has been blown out in four of five Big Ten games. Three have taken place at Ross-Ade, which looked barely half-full for most of the game. Athletic director Morgan Burke issued a statement Monday indicating no decisions on Hope would be made until after the season. But Hope's status is very much in doubt entering the final three games. Purdue needs to win out to reach its second consecutive bowl, and while the slate isn't overly taxing -- Iowa, Illinois, Indiana -- the Boilers seem to have flat-lined.
Penn State, meanwhile, returns to the road -- where it has been brilliant in league play -- next week at Nebraska.
Are you settled in now as the Penn State coach?
Bill O'Brien: I'm settled in. We had a good winter, and we're ready to go for spring. We've got a bunch of really good kids want to be coached and want to play well and win. So I'm settled in.
We'll get to spring practice in a second, but first I wanted to ask you about how well you've recruited the past couple of months. I know you can't talk about specific recruits, but how have you been able to sell the program through some difficult times?
O'Brien: We just talk about Penn State. We talk about our vision for the football program here. We talk about the university. There are 16 majors to choose from here. It's just a great college town, we have a 108,000-seat stadium, a tremendous football facility, a great, brand-new weight room, and a great indoor facility. We just sell Penn State, and there's a bunch of things about Penn State to sell. The student body, the coaching staff here, the players on our football team here. So all we do is talk about Penn State.
How has the reception to that pitch gone?
O'Brien: We feel good about the reception. Again, this is a special place that obviously people recognize and have great respect for, so we've gotten a good reception.
What are your main objectives this spring?
O'Brien: We want the kids to understand how fast we want to play, the tempo we want to play at. We want to get in our base systems on offense, defense and special teams, and we want these guys to understand how we want them to play football. We want them to play fast, play hard, play tough, be situationally smart. So those our are goals.
The players have been doing things this offseason to learn the offense, so how far along do you expect them to be when you get started?
O'Brien: It will be baby steps. We'll put it in one day at a time. We're not in a rush to get a bunch of things in. We're just in a rush to find out who our best football players are, so that's what we'll begin to do on Monday.
How much do you really know these players?
BO'B: I really know them from winter workouts and just speaking to them in my office. I've been very impressed with this group. We have about 124 guys on the team and we have a bunch of hard-working guys. I've been very impressed and proud to be associated with them.
Let's talk about the quarterback situation. Is it a true open competition this spring?
O'Brien: Yeah, its definitely an open competition. Every position on the team is an open competition. Now, obviously guys who have experience have the upper hand because they've played, but nobody has a starting position right now. Guys are going to get a bunch of reps, we're going to play fast and we'll evaluate the roster as we go along.
What are you looking for in a quarterback?
O'Brien: He's got to be a good decision-maker. He's got to be accurate when he throws it. He's got to take care of the football. He's got to have really good knowledge of defensive alignments, the coverages and fronts and pressures. He's got to be a good leader. He's got to mentally tough and physically tough. That's basically what I'm looking for.
Two spots that were hit hard by graduation were the secondary and the offensive line. What's the outlook like for those positions this spring?
O'Brien: I feel good about both those positions. I made a couple of position moves to move some guys over to the secondary, and you guys will get that when we start spring practice. So we've got better numbers over there. And I feel good about the offensive line. We've got four guys on that offensive line that are dean's-list students. We've got smart guys guys that play hard and love Penn State, and so I feel good about both positions.
How about the receiver position, where Derek Moye was the No. 1 guy last year?
O'Brien: It's tough to replace a guy like Derek Moye, and I wish he had more eligibility. But we feel very good about our receiving corps. We've got Justin Brown, Shawney Kersey, Devon Smith, Brandon Moseby-Felder and Christian Kuntz. We've got a number of guys with good size that can run. And they've got two jobs: get open and catch the ball. So we'll see how that goes as we go through spring.
You're going to be very involved on offense, so how will you split your time this spring in practice?
O'Brien: We've got a great staff on offense and on defense, so I'll be able to be involved with every facet of the football team, absolutely no problem.
Have leaders emerged yet from this offseason?
O'Brien: There's a lot of leaders. There really are. We have a lot of good kids. Once you come back and ask me that after spring, I'll have a better feel. But I think we've got the potential to have a lot of strong leaders on this team.
How do you replace Devon Still on defense? Can you do it with just one guy?
O'Brien: It's hard to replace a guy like Devon Still. He's a potential first round draft pick. But we feel really good about our defensive line that exists right now with Jordan Hill, DaQuan Jones, Pete Massaro, Sean Stanley, James Terry, C.J. Olaniyin. I could go on and on. We're deep up front.
How much will we be seeing you use the tight ends in your offense, even in spring practice?
O'Brien: Yeah, we'll definitely be using the tight ends quite a bit.
Lastly, how do you think the team has responded this offseason during winter workouts and other activities?
O'Brien: I've been very impressed with this football team, just with their work ethic. I'm proud to be their coach. Now we've got to put it out on the field and see how it translates to playing football. But to this point, I've been very impressed with them.
As expected, the quarterback competition took center stage at Beaver Stadium, and the early returns weren't too promising. Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin both struggled, while true freshman Paul Jones, seemingly an afterthought in the race before Saturday, had the best performance. Jones twice found classmate Shawney Kersey for 18-yard touchdown passes and finished 5-of-8 passing for 67 yards.
Although the quarterbacks didn't get much help from the offensive line (concerning) or the wide receivers (less concerning), Penn State's offense remains a major question mark entering the summer. To be fair, star running back Evan Royster didn't play Saturday.
"I would rate my performance as we've got a lot of work to do," Newsome said afterward. "We've got a lot of work to do. We've got a lot of work to do. We're just going to keep working."
"A lot of eyes were on us today," McGloin said. "We didn't perform maybe up to par, maybe up to what people expected to see."
Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said after the game that it's wrong to eliminate Jones from the race, and then added, "I checked my e-mail afterwards, and people are telling me Paul should be the starter. So it doesn't take long for people to make the decisions."
Paterno and the other coaches have more time to make the ultimate decision, and they'll look for improvement from all three signal callers by the time preseason camp rolls around.
Other nuggets from the Blue-White Game:
- The offensive line's struggles can be attributed in part to the shuffling that went on this spring. It takes time to build chemistry, and Penn State has moved around several linemen, including first-team All-Big Ten selection Stefen Wisniewski. "Obviously, there's that chemistry we need to have,'' right tackle Lou Eliades said. "I think we're only going to get better in time. Chemistry will develop. I think, by September, we'll be ready to go.''
- Nate Stupar sometimes gets overlooked when folks size up Penn State's linebacking corps for 2010, but he had a very nice performance Saturday. Stupar recorded seven tackles (six solo) and an interception.
- Defensive ends Eric Latimore and Kevion Latham both found their way into the offensive backfield, and Latimore recorded two sacks in the game. Penn State's defensive line once again should be the team's strength, as end Jack Crawford and tackle Devon Still should have big seasons.
- While backup running back Stephfon Green (4 carries, 10 rush yards) didn't do much, I liked what I saw from freshman Silas Redd, who recorded a 16-yard run and a 10-yard reception. Redd brings a nice combination of size and shiftiness.
- Penn State brings back several proven veteran receivers, but Kersey and sophomore Justin Brown, who recorded a game-high four receptions for 35 yards, could work their way into the mix. Freshman Brandon Moseby-Felder led the White team with three receptions for 31 yards.
- Wide receiver Brett Brackett, linebacker Bani Gbadyu and offensive tackle Quinn Barham received awards from the coaching staff for their performances this spring.