NCF Nation: Desmond Taylor

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The final week of the Big Ten regular season is upon us. Here are a few weekend leftovers and some items looking at the upcoming games.

  • Daryll Clark's mind-set is a cause for concern as Penn State enters its most critical game of the season, Bernard Fernandez writes in the Philadelphia Daily News. Nittany Lions center A.Q. Shipley is serving as Clark's defacto psychologist, but the Penn State quarterback needs to relax and forget his mistakes, David Jones writes in The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News.

"He's rushing every movement, all jerks and abrupt stops. Nothing is smooth or relaxed. Worse, he's begun throwing either off his back foot or with no stride at all, feet flat as if entombed in set cement.

Groping through a tunnel of doubt like this is a learning process. Unfortunately for Clark, this is his rookie year as a starter and a lot of the mental/emotional part of fighting through a slump is still new."

"You know what? We have three potential deals," [head coach Tim] Brewster said of the Gophers' bowl picture. "The Insight [in Tempe, Ariz.], the Motor City [Detroit] and possibly the Alamo [San Antonio]. If you win, you improve your bowl status."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MINNEAPOLIS -- Both of these teams have credited their strong seasons to major improvements on the defensive side. It showed in a scoreless third quarter.

Minnesota safety Traye Simmons intercepted his second pass of the game to snuff out a Northwestern drive into Gophers territory. Moments earlier, the Gophers mounted a 92-yard drive but got nothing out of it as Northwestern held near the goal line and kicker Joel Monroe missed a chip-shot field goal attempt.

So here we are, one quarter to play. Northwestern's conservative scheme hasn't prevented turnovers, but the Wildcats remain in the game and have a good track record in close contests. They'll need to force a turnover to win.

Minnesota holds the momentum, and quarterback Adam Weber has been fabulous today, both with his arm and his feet. Unlike Northwestern's quarterbacks, who run virtually the same offense, Weber avoids turnovers and finds the holes in opposing defenses. Weber has done an excellent job utilizing all of his weapons.

Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka threw the two picks, but he also has set a school record for quarterback rushing with 15 carries for 149 yards. He has read the field well and found lanes to run, but his interceptions are proving costly.

Injuries have hit both teams, especially Northwestern. The Wildcats lost guard Desmond Taylor to an injury and star defensive end Corey Wootton went to the locker room with what looked like a right leg cramp. Minnesota standout wide receiver Eric Decker appeared to injure his left ankle on a 24-yard gain. Decker is receiving treatment on the Gophers sideline.

Big Ten internal affairs

October, 8, 2008
10/08/08
11:49
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time for our weekly look inside five Big Ten teams.

Illinois -- Judging solely by his size -- 6-foot-5, 250 pounds -- Jeff Cumberland should be a tight end. But after seeing the junior struggle with blocking and other trench duties in 2007, Illinois coach Ron Zook moved Cumberland to wide receiver. The switch worked last week as Cumberland, who missed time earlier this season with a foot stress fracture, had a 77-yard touchdown on his first reception of the fall. "He just wasn't doing the job down in the briar patch like we wanted him to do in terms of blocking and so forth," Zook said. "He's a very athletic guy that we knew we needed to get on the field so we talked to him about moving to the outside."

Iowa -- Redshirt freshman quarterback Marvin McNutt is auditioning at wide receiver, a spot where his athleticism could be better utilized this year. McNutt wasn't a major factor in the quarterback competition ultimately won by Ricky Stanzi, but he continues to take some snaps should an emergency arise. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said the 6-foot-4, 210-pound McNutt welcomed the change but has taken time to adjust. "His legs are trying to catch up a little bit," Ferentz said. "He's been through two years of inactivity as a quarterback, so he's got sore feet, sore knees, sore everything else right now."

Michigan State -- The Spartans likely will be without starting cornerback Chris L. Rucker against Northwestern, but their secondary gets a big boost with the return of cornerback/safety Kendell Davis-Clark. Boasting 15 career starts, Davis-Clark has been out of action since sustaining a shoulder injury in the season opener at Cal. A major key Saturday will be the health of safety Otis Wiley, the Spartans' defensive catalyst who left last week's game against Iowa with a lower leg injury. Wiley leads the Big Ten in both interceptions (4) and passes defended (11) and ranks second in punt return average (11.9).

Northwestern -- The bye week gave the Wildcats a chance to get healthy, particularly on the offensive line. Right tackle Kurt Mattes will return from a knee injury, and guard Keegan Grant also could return from an ankle injury. Both players were projected starters heading into the season, and offensive line coach Bret Ingalls will have some playing-time decisions to make for Saturday's game against Michigan State (ESPN2, 3:30 p.m. ET). Junior Desmond Taylor has played well at both right tackle and right guard, and Northwestern is tied for fifth nationally in fewest sacks allowed (two in five games). Then again, the Wildcats aren't running the ball like they'd like to and could benefit from a greater rotation of linemen.

Penn State -- Head coach Joe Paterno hoped to play speedy junior A.J. Wallace at both cornerback and as a reserve wide receiver before the season, but a hamstring injury before the opener changed the script. For Wallace, the setback might have been a blessing in disguise, as he started at right cornerback last week at Purdue and has been elevated to a co-starter with Lydell Sargeant on this week's depth chart. "Sargeant, [Wallace] and [Tony] Davis, they're three good corners and they all should play, keep them fresh," Paterno said. "Nowadays, when you have to be ready for a lot of spread, you need that extra defensive back."

Big Ten internal affairs

September, 3, 2008
9/03/08
12:36
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Welcome to the first edition of internal affairs, which will take an inside look at five key developments around the Big Ten every Wednesday during the season.

Penn State -- Josh Gaines moved from defensive end to defensive tackle on several plays against Coastal Carolina and could continue to do so the rest of the season. It freed up Aaron Maybin (two sacks) for more pass-rushing opportunities, though Jerome Hayes got most of the playing time at Gaines' usual end spot. The Lions are a bit thin at tackle after the summer dismissals of Chris Baker and Phil Taylor, and the broken leg suffered by Devon Still. Gaines, the team's most experienced defensive lineman, collected four solo tackles in the opener.

Iowa -- Junior A.J. Edds is without a doubt Iowa's best linebacker, but his coaches are resisting the temptation to move him to the middle spot, where most top backers play. Edds says he can play all three linebacker positions but feels most comfortable on the strong side, where he can showcase his playmaking skills. "My natural home is the outside backer spot," said Edds, who recorded a safety and deflected a pass that led to an interception against Maine. "It's kind of a hybrid, playing on the D-line over a tight end a lot of the time, but you're also playing out there in coverage over some of the wide receivers. If the coaches didn't have faith in the other backers, I'm sure they would put me in the middle."

Indiana -- Mitchell Evans' days as a nomad appear over as the sophomore has found a home at wide receiver. Kellen Lewis' return from suspension and the decision to move Evans from quarterback to wideout is paying off already. As top receiver Ray Fisher battles a shoulder injury, Evans, a former safety, can step in and contribute. His size (6-3) and excellent hands give Indiana another option in the passing game. Also keep an eye on freshman Damarlo Belcher, who Lewis likens to a young James Hardy.

Michigan State -- The Spartans' depth on the defensive line and in the secondary helped produce lofty preseason expectations, but they're struggling to find capable bodies at running back and along the offensive line. Coach Mark Dantonio will use Javon Ringer as much as possible, but A.J. Jimmerson was held out of the Cal game and Ashton Leggett didn't touch the ball. Ringer is a horse, but he'll wear down fast if the Spartans don't find another back. The Spartans can't afford attrition up front, where Mike Bacon is listed as a possible starter at two positions (center and left guard).

Northwestern -- Don't be surprised to see junior offensive lineman Desmond Taylor in the starting lineup Saturday against Duke. Taylor has earned rave reviews throughout preseason camp and performed well in place of injured right tackle Kurt Mattes against Syracuse. Now Taylor could take Mattes' job or the one belonging to guard Joel Belding. Though Mattes and Belding are Northwestern's only two returning starters on the line, Taylor has plenty of experience and will see significant time at tackle or guard.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Happy Labor Day. It's a day off for most of you (I hope), but not me. I'll be back with updates throughout the day. Before looking ahead to Week 2 and a set of Big Ten games unlikely to make your must-see list, here's a quick look at the best from the first weekend.

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