NCF Nation: Mark Ortmann
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Greetings from Michigan Stadium, where in a few hours No. 13 Penn State will face Michigan in what figures to be a very exciting game.
Both teams have plenty to prove in today's contest.
Penn State needs to show it can win here, something it hasn't done since 1996, and confirm itself as a legitimate contender for the Big Ten title or possibly an at-large BCS bowl. The Lions snapped a nine-game losing streak to Michigan last year in Happy Valley, but the Wolverines hold a 10-4 edge in the all-time series, which marks Penn State's worst record against an opponent (minimum 10 meetings).
Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez is still searching for his first signature Big Ten victory. A win today combined with an Iowa loss to Michigan State could open the door for Michigan to vault back into the league title race with games against both Ohio State and Wisconsin still left on the schedule.
The weather could be a factor, as light rain is likely this afternoon with winds around 15 miles an hour.
Injuries: Penn State will be without backup running back Stephfon Green, who didn't make the trip because of an ankle injury. Lions linebacker Sean Lee tweaked his sprained knee last Saturday against Minnesota but practiced this week and expects to play. Michigan running backs Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor and center David Molk are all probable for the game. Molk has been out since Sept. 19 with a broken bone in his foot.
One other personnel note: Michigan cornerback Boubacar Cissoko is eligible for the game after being suspended the last two contests. Cissoko won't start but could play.
THREE KEYS FOR PENN STATE
1. Don't lose contain on QBs: Michigan quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson both are best on the move, and it's important for Penn State's defensive front seven to keep them in the pocket. The defensive line has played very well in recent weeks, particularly tackles Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu, but they'll be tested by Michigan's overall speed.
2. Stop Brandon Minor: Minor was limited in practice this week because of a lingering ankle injury, but he should be ready for the game. The senior rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns last year against Penn State, and he gashed Iowa's talented defense in the third quarter on Oct. 10.
3. Daryll Clark in the clutch: Clark has accomplished a lot in his two years as Penn State's starting quarterback, but the senior still needs to prove he can win a close game. He struggled against Iowa the last two seasons and left last year's close win at Ohio State with a concussion. This game figures to come down to the fourth quarter, and Clark will need to make clutch throws.
THREE KEYS FOR MICHIGAN
1. Give Forcier the chance to create: Forcier has been at his best when freelancing, and most of his big plays come outside the pocket. Michigan's offensive line gets Molk back and gained confidence from the Iowa game, but left tackle Mark Ortmann admitted this week that Penn State's defensive front is more athletic.
2. Attack Penn State's secondary: It's hard to find weaknesses with Penn State's defensive line or linebacking corps, so Michigan should target the secondary as much as possible. Penn State did a great job containing Minnesota star wide receiver Eric Decker last week, and cornerback A.J. Wallace seems to have hit his stride. But Michigan has more weapons than the Gophers and needs to use them.
3. Stop Evan Royster: The Lions are a bit thin at running back and don't like to run Clark as much as they did last season. They'll want to pound the football with Royster, who is due for a huge game. Michigan's front seven will need to be disciplined and keep Royster from moving the ball and controlling the clock.
Daryll Clark and Sean Lee believe Penn State is a good football team, and they should know best.
Unlike you and I, Clark and Lee have seen Penn State face top competition this fall. They see it multiple times a week when the Lions step onto the practice field and beat each other up for two hours at a time.
|Kirby Lee/US Presswire|
|Daryll Clark and the Nittany Lions are looking to prove themselves Saturday at Michigan.|
The rest of us? We've seen Penn State destroy much weaker opponents and lose its only game against top competition, to No. 6 Iowa on Sept. 26. We've seen Penn State rise to No. 2 nationally in scoring defense (8.7 ppg) despite facing no FBS offense ranked higher than 79th. We've seen the Lions' offense build some momentum in wins against Minnesota and Illinois, the two worst defenses in the Big Ten.
"We've been fortunate," Penn State head coach Joe Paterno said earlier this week. "The only tough game we've been in, we've lost."
The tough games part is about to change, and Penn State hopes the losing part does, too. The 13th-ranked Lions will be tested in their final five contests, beginning Saturday against Michigan (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).
Penn State tries to snap a five-game losing streak in the Big House, a slide that includes the program's most painful loss this decade, a 27-25 setback in 2005 that kept the Lions out of the national title game. More importantly, the Lions want to show 110,000 fans and a major TV audience what they've been seeing in practice.
"This will definitely be a test for us, but we’re a team that doesn’t mind flying under the radar," said Clark, the senior quarterback. "People aren’t sold on how good we are, and that’s fine. Our goal is to go out and win football games."
Michigan has its own point to prove as well. The Wolverines have shown improvement in Year 2 under head coach Rich Rodriguez. They boast the Big Ten's top scoring offense (37.3 ppg) and dynamic playmakers at all of the skill positions. They own a win against Notre Dame that should appreciate during the coming weeks.
But they lack a signature win in Big Ten play. Until they get it, doubts will linger about the progress being made.
"We have to prove it every week," Wolverines tight end Kevin Koger said. "Just because we're 5-2 doesn't mean anything. We won't be satisfied until we get a Big Ten championship or a national championship."
The latter goal is certainly off the table, and while it's unlikely a two-loss team can win the Big Ten, the league race certainly can change this weekend if Iowa falls to Michigan State.
"Penn State is a very good team," Michigan linebacker Stevie Brown said. "If we can beat them, it puts us another step toward where we want to go and where we want to go is the Rose Bowl. This is another team that's in our way."
The game's signature matchup pairs Michigan's offense and Penn State's defense. Both units are getting healthier, as Lee returned to the field last week after missing three games, while Michigan freshman quarterback Tate Forcier says he's fine after dealing with a throwing shoulder injury and a concussion. The Wolverines also get starting center David Molk back from a foot injury.
Line play also has improved on both sides. Penn State is getting big contributions from tackles Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu, who have combined for 14.5 tackles for loss (six sacks) and two forced fumbles, and blossoming end Jack Crawford (9 TFLs, 4.5 sacks). Two weeks ago, Michigan's offensive line helped the team rack up 195 rush yards against Iowa, one of the Big Ten's best defensive fronts. Michigan rushed for 461 yards last week against Delaware State.
"As a team, we’ve played our best games at home, but as an offensive line, our best game was at Iowa," left tackle Mark Ortmann said. "Iowa’s front four was the best we've faced up to that point and maybe it will continue to be. It gave us a lot of confidence to get down and run the ball against a great defense."
For Lee, simply beating Michigan is all the incentive he needs. But Penn State wouldn't mind making a bigger statement at the same time.
"We obviously want to prove we're a good team," he said. "You only do that by going out and playing well."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Like most fifth-year seniors, Michigan's Mark Ortmann and Jason Olesnavage have pretty much seen it all.
They've been to the Rose Bowl and lost to Appalachian State. They've handed Florida its only postseason loss under Urban Meyer and endured the worst season in team history last fall. They've experienced a coaching change and been a part of the biggest game in recent Big Ten history at Ohio State in 2006.
|Leon Halip/Getty Images|
|The Wolverines need Tate Forcier to bounce back from Saturday's loss to Michigan State.|
"We’ve been through everything," said Olesnavage, the Wolverines starting kicker. "So from our perspective, I don’t think one loss is going to send us in a downward spiral."
Michigan's old guard isn't the only faction of the team with an inventory of experiences. The Wolverines' freshmen have only five games under their belts and only a few months on a college campus, but arguably no other group of young players in the country has been through more in such little time.
They have dealt with the preseason allegations of NCAA violations against head coach Rich Rodriguez and his assistants, which put Michigan's program under the national microscope leading up to the opener. They have dealt with adversity in games against Notre Dame and Indiana, only to rally back behind their fearless freshman leader, quarterback Tate Forcier. And now they've experienced their first defeat, to a rival no less, as they fell 26-20 in overtime to Michigan State last Saturday.
It was another lesson learned, which Wolverines players hope will pay off as they move on to Saturday night's road showdown against No. 12 Iowa (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).
"We work hard and we deserve what we get," said Ortmann, the Wolverines' starting left tackle. "We didn’t deserve to win on Saturday. Michigan State brought the fight to us, and we weren’t prepared for it. But as tough as it was and as bad as we played as an offense, we still had a chance to win. It gives an inspiration to the rest of the team that we are capable of coming back at any time, if needed, to win a game.
"I think people will go into Iowa with their heads up.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's time to go inside five Big Ten teams as they prepare for the start of league play on Saturday.
Illinois -- The defensive line might finally be taking shape for the Illini after some illness/injury issues. Sophomore Josh Brent is back in the fold at defensive tackle, which has allowed standout Will Davis to move back to his natural position of defensive end. Freshman Cory Liuget also has emerged at defensive tackle, a spot vacated when projected starterSirod Williams tore his ACL during training camp. "It's important that we can [rotate] guys in there and keep us fresh," head coach Ron Zook said. Zook called the defensive line the team's strength before the season, but the group will need to elevate its play Saturday night against Penn State's powerful rushing attack, which ranks eighth nationally (274.3 ypg).
Indiana -- When the NCAA cleared Florida transfer Jerimy Finch to play this season, Indiana's secondary looked like one of the deepest groups on the team. That depth will be tested Saturday against Michigan State (ESPN, noon ET). The Hoosiers will be without at least one starting safety (Nick Polk, knee) and could miss their other starter, as strong safety Austin Thomas is questionable for the game with a lower leg injury. Coach Bill Lynch announced that starting cornerback Chris Phillips will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. So the Hoosiers could be replacing three starters against the Spartans. Finch figures to see plenty of time.
Michigan -- A bye week allowed Michigan's offensive line time to heal, though a knee injury to tackle Perry Dorrestein last week in practice clouded things a bit. Mark Ortmann is expected back from a dislocated elbow and should rotate at left tackle with Dorrestein if Dorrestein can play. Left tackle is one of three offensive line spots that have an "OR" listed between potential starters on the depth chart. Converted defensive linemanJohn Ferrara could start at right guard in place of David Moosman, who is listed at both guard and center on the depth chart. Redshirt freshman Mark Huyge also should be back from an ankle injury, so the coaches have some decisions to make up front.
Minnesota -- True freshman running back DeLeon Eskridge has stepped up in the two games after Duane Bennett's knee injury, but coach Tim Brewster isn't quite ready to call Eskridge his featured back. Brewster said Eskridge, freshman Shady Salamon and junior Jay Thomas all will play Saturday at No. 14 Ohio State, and Minnesota will stick with whoever has the hot hand. The coach admitted that identifying a clear-cut starter has become less of a concern than it was after Bennett went down. Eskridge has 192 rushing yards and five touchdowns the last two games.
Ohio State -- Quarterback isn't the only offensive position where youth will be served Saturday against Minnesota. Freshman Michael Brewster remains the starter at center on this week's depth chart after playing a prominent role last week against Troy. The Buckeyes movedJim Cordle from center to left guard after Steve Rehring injured his foot against USC. Rehring will miss "another week or so," coach Jim Tressel said, so that means more time for Brewster, one of several heralded freshmen in Ohio State's recruiting class.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Injuries are cropping up around the league, and coaches are shuffling pieces to try to find the right fit. Here's a look at five key issues in the Big Ten.
Minnesota -- Just when the Golden Gophers found a viable running threat, they received news that Duane Bennett tore his ACL against Bowling Green and will miss the rest of the season. Coach Tim Brewster will audition three players -- junior Jay Thomas and freshmen Shady Salamon and DeLeon Eskridge -- at the running back spot in hopes of identifying a featured back. The Gophers need more than one capable runner, but Brewster doesn't want a rotation there. Though Thomas has by far the most experience, Eskridge and Salamon are listed behind Bennett on this week's depth chart.
Michigan State -- The Spartans apparently no longer have cornerbacks or safeties, just general defensive backs. Before the season, coach Mark Dantonio moved starting corner Kendell Davis-Clark to safety after projected starter Roderick Jenrette took a leave of absence. Dantonio now is considering switching another starting cornerback, Ross Weaver, to safety after Davis-Clark sustained a shoulder injury against Cal and missed last week's matchup against Eastern Michigan. Davis-Clark is listed as day-to-day but didn't appear on this week's depth chart for Florida Atlantic.
Ohio State -- Cornerback Donald Washington returns from a two-game suspension Saturday against USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET), but the two-year starter might not retain his job. Ohio State likely will platoon Washington and sophomore Chimdi Chekwa, who has started the first two games. Coach Jim Tressel also seems intent on keeping Jermale Hines in the mix, possibly at nickel back. Hines should get decent playing time Saturday because the Buckeyes don't know whether linebacker/safety Tyler Moeller will be able to play after suffering an injury.
Michigan -- Redshirt sophomore Perry Dorrestein likely will make his season debut as the Wolverines' starting left tackle Saturday at Notre Dame after Mark Ortmann dislocated his elbow last week. Dorrestein previously had backed up Stephen Schilling at left tackle. Michigan already is without two guards who went down with injuries before the season. Coach Rich Rodriguez expects Bryant Nowicki and true freshman Patrick Omameh to fill in behind Dorrestein on the left flank.
Penn State -- The still-unresolved suspensions of starting defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma and the season-ending injury to Jerome Hayes leave the Nittany Lions in a bit of a bind. Both the end and tackle positions have depth issues, and end might be a greater concern as Penn State doesn't have much behind Josh Gaines and Aaron Maybin. One possibility would be moving true freshman Jack Crawford from tackle to end, though Paterno is leery about Crawford's inexperience. If Crawford switches, it puts more pressure on keeping Jared Odrick, Ollie Ogbu and Tom McEowen healthy.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- I'm back here today to check in on the Ohio State Buckeyes as they prepare for Saturday's matchup at top-ranked USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). Head coach Jim Tressel will address the media shortly after noon ET, and I'll keep a running tally of Chris Wells questions as reporters inquire about America's most famous big toe. Check back throughout the day for updates on Ohio State and the rest of the league.
The wireless is extremely slow here at the airport this morning, so just a few links today.
- Illinois coach Ron Zook wants to see more leadership from middle linebacker Brit Miller, Lindsey Willhite writes in the Daily Herald.
- You could argue Indiana already has had two weeks off. So does an early bye hurt the Hoosiers? Coach Bill Lynch doesn't think so, Lee Hurwitz writes in the Indiana Daily Student.
- The Ricky Stanzi era has dawned at Iowa, as the sophomore quarterback takes over the top spot on the depth chart, Andy Hamilton writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
- Michigan players aren't big Charlie Weis fans, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. Bad news for a transitioning Wolverines offensive line, as left tackle Mark Ortmann has a dislocated elbow, John Heuser writes in The Ann Arbor News.
- Florida Atlantic is putting Michigan State on upset alert, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News.
- Minnesota's road win against Bowling Green appears to have come with a heavy cost. Starting running back Duane Bennett could miss significant time with a knee injury, and center Jeff Tow-Arnett was injured on the same play, Kent Youngblood writes in the Star Tribune.
- This was going to happen sooner or later, but Northwestern redshirt freshman cornerback Jordan Mabin has claimed a starting job, Shannon Ryan writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Chris Wells is listed as the starting running back on Ohio State's depth chart, though he has yet to participate in team drills at practice, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Sadly, there won't be a Ray Small sighting at Tuesday night's media availability.
- The competition hasn't been great, but Penn State's offense is off to a blazing start, Cory Giger writes in The Altoona Mirror.
- Joe Tiller felt Purdue was just average in its season opener. That won't cut it against No. 16 Oregon, Stacy Clardie writes in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
- The road wasn't kind to Wisconsin last year, and the Badgers hope to change their fortunes at Fresno State, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
No case of the Mondays today. The best week of the Big Ten's nonconference slate is officially under way. Despite an 11-0 mark in Week 2, the Big Ten still has plenty of work to improve its national reputation, and this is the time to do it. Matchups against top-ranked USC, No. 16 Oregon, No. 21 Fresno State and an always-spotlighted Notre Dame team provide the Big Ten the chance to change public opinion.
Quarterback questions linger at Iowa and Michigan, while injuries are piling up around the league. Here's a look:
- An interesting piece from The Indianapolis Star's Mark Alesia about the popularity and peril of football teams accepting "special admits" in recruiting.
- Illinois starting safety Miami Thomas will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. The Illini expect to move Dere Hicks to his spot and hope to get wideout Jeff Cumberland back from a foot injury. Defensive tackle Josh Brent also is ailing, Mark Tupper writes in the Decatur Herald & Review (scroll down a bit).
- Sure, it was Murray State, but Indiana's defense looks much stingier so far this season, Terry Hutchens writes in The Indianapolis Star.
- Ricky Stanzi is the fans' choice to become Iowa's starting quarterback, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Longtime starter Jake Christensen took his demotion in stride, Pat Harty writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
- Running back Sam McGuffie is picking it up, but don't expect many fireworks from Michigan's offense this fall, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News. Despite an elbow injury to left tackle Mark Ortmann, the Wolverines' offensive line seemed to jell against Miami (Ohio), Jim Carty writes in The Ann Arbor News.
- Michigan State is using key starters (S Otis Wiley, RB Javon Ringer) on special teams, and so far it's paying off, Andrew Mouranie writes in the Lansing State Journal. Ringer doesn't expect his workload to lessen, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Minnesota's big road win against Bowling Green might come with a cost, as starting running back Duane Bennett went down with a knee injury, Marcus Fuller writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. No word yet on the severity of the injury.
- Northwestern left Duke with an ugly win, but questions on both sides of the ball, Shannon Ryan writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Ohio State's conservative play calling without Chris "Beanie" Wells raises some concerns if the star remains limited for USC, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. The Buckeyes' takeaways on defense didn't lighten the mood from Saturday's near disaster, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- The comparisons between Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark and former Lions star Michael Robinson are hard to ignore, Jeff McLane writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Lions must overcome more adversity after the season-ending loss of defensive end Jerome Hayes, Jeff Rice writes in the Centre Daily Times.
- Purdue is optimistic that standout right tackle Sean Sester (back) will play against Oregon. The Boilers need him. Purdue is preparing for the Ducks' speed, Tom Kubat writes in The Journal and Courier.
- Slow starts are becoming a problem for Wisconsin, which can't come out flat at Fresno State, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.