NCF Nation: Derek Day

Big Ten weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 29, 2012
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, 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.

Big Ten stock report: Week 4

September, 19, 2012
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.

Instant analysis: Penn State 34, Navy 7

September, 15, 2012

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.

Day to start over injured Belton at PSU

September, 6, 2012
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."

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 2

September, 6, 2012
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.
Earlier today, I had a Q&A with new Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien where he talked about spring practice. O'Brien met with the media this afternoon and gave out some new information on the Nittany Lions spring, including the news that wide receiver Curtis Drake is moving to cornerback.

Drake played a big role in the win over Ohio State late in the season as a Wildcat quarterback, but he did not make the trip to the team's bowl after getting into a locker-room altercation with quarterback Matt McGloin. O'Brien said Drake had a "clean slate" as far as discipline and that he was needed to bolster the numbers in a secondary where all four starters graduated.

"What I saw with Curtis on the football field was good size, good feet, good hips, instinctiveness, and I think that he's a guy that can contribute over there," O'Brien said. "He's got to keep up his end of the bargain by doing well in school and keeping his nose clean, and then we'll give him a shot to play over there this spring."

Some other notes from O'Brien:
  • He reiterated again that there is no starter at the quarterback spot right now and that he might not name a starter until the night before the season opener against Ohio.
  • Linebacker Michael Mauti (ACL) won't participate in contact drills this spring, but O'Brien said Mauti "has had a heck of a winter just in the things that he has been able to do. He's definitely obviously one of the core players on this football team, just both from his leadership and from his work ethic, his family."
  • Running back Curtis Dukes will sit out the spring to concentrate on academics. That will leave Derek Day as the backup to Silas Redd. Incoming freshman Akeel Lynch will be given a long look this summer at tailback as well.
  • O'Brien said he didn't watch much film of Penn State last season and when he did, he mostly watched the defense. He said he wanted all the players to have a clean slate and preferred to focus his time on academics, recruiting and conditioning aspects of the program. He'll get his hands-on work done this spring. "The spring is about, in many ways, just like mini-camps in the National Football League," he said. "The spring is about experimentation, maybe practicing a guy at one spot for about five practices and then moving him to another spot and seeing how he does in different areas and trying to get your best players on the field."

Nebraska-Penn State kickoff notes

November, 12, 2011
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Back to football. Finally.

Both teams went through normal workouts. I didn't see any signs of a Paterno tribute on the Penn State players' uniforms, wrist bands or shoes. But that could change when they come back out for kickoff.

Defensive line coach Larry Johnson and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden will serve as co-defensive coordinators with Tom Bradley acting as head coach. Terrell Golden is working for the receivers with Mike McQueary on administrative leave and reportedly finished as a Nittany Lions coach.

For Nebraska (remember the Huskers?), guard Andrew Rodriguez didn't make the trip because of an undisclosed injury. Seung Hoon Choi will make the start in his place. Choi has started this season, and the Huskers play a lot of guys on the offensive line, so it shouldn't be much of an issue. Defensive lineman Chase Rome was banged up last week but practiced and should be good to go. Nebraska rarely operates in the shadows, but the focus has clearly been away from the Huskers this week.

Penn State had its bye last week, so the team is about as healthy as it could be at this point in the season. Backup running back Derek Day had his foot stepped on in practice this week and is not available, but he wasn't expected to contribute, anyway. The Nittany Lions' mental and emotional health is the real question.