NCF Nation: Lydell Sargeant
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
PASADENA, Calif. -- He's been alive 82 years, so Penn State coach Joe Paterno doesn't always lean on coaching clichés.
|Jody Gomez/US Presswire|
|USC quarterback Mark Sanchez carved up the vaunted Penn State defense in a 38-24 Rose Bowl win.|
So it shouldn't be too surprising that he basically admitted he thought the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi was over at halftime with USC holding a 31-7 lead.
"I thought it had gotten away from us," Paterno said. "Until they got to 31, the last touchdown, I thought we had a shot at it."
USC had outgained Penn State 341 yards to 177 at the break and was dominating on both sides of the ball. The Trojans were 6 of 8 on third down conversions, while Penn State was just 1 of 5.
The Nittany Lions rallied furiously with 17 points in the fourth quarter as, to use Pete Carroll's term, the Trojans "curled up," but the deficit was too large to spare them from suffering the Big Ten's fifth consecutive defeat in a BCS game by 14 points or more.
The Big Ten entered the game with the worst bowl winning percentage among major conferences over the last 6 seasons (.368). The conference is 1-5 so far this bowl season with Ohio State playing Texas in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 5.
Penn State was much better in the second half, even with running back Evan Royster out with a knee injury. The Nittany Lions outgained the Trojans 233 yards to 133 in the second half and brought their devout fans to their feet in the final minutes as they imagined a miracle comeback.
"I think coach said it best in the [post-game] locker room," quarterback Daryll Clark said. "We just got going a little too late. And, you know, we were doing some things that we haven't been doing all season."
Like penalties. While digging the first-half deficit, Penn State, the nation's third-least penalized team, was flagged seven times for 45 yards. One offsides penalty negated a fumble from USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, and the Trojans went on to drive 86 yards for a 7-0 lead.
Penn State's touted defense was overmatched in the secondary by USC's passing attack and athleticism on the perimeter. Mark Sanchez and company picked the Nittany Lions apart.
"I thought our secondary was a little bit tentative," Paterno said. "I don't think we played particularly well in the secondary."
But, in the second half, the Penn State offense made USC's top-ranked defense look average.
USC has allowed only 17 plays of 20 or more yards this season, fewest in the nation. Penn State produced four plays over 20 yards.
"They were good," safety Taylor Mays said. "They didn't back down at all."
It just was too little, too late.
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."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Taking a Buckeye breather to see what else is going on around the league. A lot of Big Ten Network news.
- Several Iowa media outlets are reporting that the Big Ten Network and Mediacom have reached an agreement, which would guarantee that Iowa's season opener against Maine will be seen in the state.
- Two days after Ohio State AD Gene Smith wrote a letter urging Ohio State fans to switch their cable providers to get the Big Ten Network, Time Warner Cable made a proposal to Smith to carry Ohio State games broadcast on the BTN, but not the network itself. Shockingly, the BTN didn't like the idea. The back-and-forth between the two sides is getting out of hand, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises writes in his blog.
- Time Warner made the same proposal to Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez regarding Badgers games on the Big Ten Network.
- Wisconsin starting fullback Chris Pressley will miss the season opener against Akron with a broken right thumb, but the senior is anxious to lead this fall as a co-captain, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus writes on the Badgers Blog.
- This would be a truly amazing story, as Michigan State offensive lineman Arthur Ray Jr. hopes to play football in the next year following surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his leg, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News.
- Will Joe Paterno announce Penn State's starting quarterback Tuesday? Will A.J. Wallace and Lydell Sargeant lock up the starting cornerback spots, or does Tony Davis sneak in? Bob Flounders of The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News hopes for some answers. Former walk-on Deon Butler is in position to move up Penn State's career receiving chart this fall, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Here are the names of former Illinois stars scheduled to attend the Fighting Illini home opener Sept. 6 at the renovated Memorial Stadium. A very impressive list.
- I have a difficult time disliking Ohio State despite the national title game losses, and CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd feels the same way.
- The BCS Guru blog also likes the Buckeyes, ranking them No. 1.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Matthew Emmons/US Presswire|
|Malcolm Jenkins had four interceptions last season.|
The rankings return with the cornerbacks, followed by the safeties later. Malcolm Jenkins and Vontae Davis top the list, but things get a little bit cloudy after those two. Just a reminder that the rundown is only cornerbacks, so if you're looking for names like Anderson Russell, Anthony Scirrotto and Austin Thomas, check back in a bit.
1. Malcolm Jenkins, Sr., Ohio State -- It's a tight race with Davis for the top spot, but Jenkins gets the nod. He enters the fall as the Thorpe Award frontrunner after passing up NFL millions. The back-to-back first-team All-Big Ten selection had four interceptions last season and can shut down one side of the field.
2. Vontae Davis, Jr., Illinois -- His pro stock is skyrocketing and Davis soon will join his big brother Vernon in the NFL. Last season the Thorpe Award semifinalist had four interceptions, eight pass breakups, nine tackles for loss and two blocked punts, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
3. Lydell Sargeant, Sr., Penn State -- With Justin King gone, Sargeant moves into a featured cover role and has the tools to step up. In his first season as a starter he led Penn State defensive backs and ranked third on the team with 70 tackles. And Sargeant isn't afraid of big stages -- in March he was one of the introductory speakers at an on-campus rally of 22,000 people that featured presidential candidate Barack Obama.
4. Donald Washington, Jr., Ohio State -- His two-game suspension at the start of the season could hurt, but Washington has plenty of experience to readjust. Often overshadowed by Jenkins, Washington has big-play potential, as he showed by returning his lone interception last fall 70 yards for a touchdown.
5. Donovan Warren, So., Michigan -- One of the top young defensive backs in the league, Warren earned several freshman All-America distinctions last fall. He recorded 52 tackles and forced and recovered a fumble against Notre Dame. Like most Wolverines players, Warren improved his conditioning level this summer and should turn in a strong sophomore season.
6. Morgan Trent, Sr., Michigan -- The team's most experienced player has made 29 career starts in the secondary, collecting 108 tackles [92 solo] and 19 pass breakups. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season. Trent has been burned at times by elite receivers, but he brings leadership to the secondary and complements Warren.
7. A.J. Wallace, Jr., Penn State -- Wallace turned heads as a freshman, playing on both sides of the ball and dazzling on kickoff returns and reverses. Hopes remain high for his progress at cornerback, as he moves into the spot vacated by King. After a superb Alamo Bowl performance [five tackles, interception, fumble recovery], Wallace should do big things this fall.
8. Bradley Fletcher, Sr., Iowa -- Charles Godfrey and Adam Shada had Iowa's starting cornerback spots on lockdown, but Fletcher still contributed with 53 tackles and two interceptions last fall. With those two gone, Fletcher steps into a featured role this fall. He has played a lot the last two seasons and should step up as a senior.9. Allen Langford, Sr., Wisconsin -- How Langford responds following ACL surgery is critical, but he brings plenty of experience to a suspect Badgers secondary. He has six career interceptions and 19 pass breakups, including seven in 10 games last fall before the injury. If healthy, the fifth-year senior provides a big boost in the back half.
10. Kendell Davis-Clark, Sr., Michigan State -- Davis-Clark ranked second on the team in tackles  in his first season as a starter and should continue to progress this fall. He had eight pass breakups and was effective on blitzes with four sacks in 2007. Davis-Clark's next step is making more plays for a takeaway-starved Spartans defense.