NCF Nation: Maurice Evans

Big Ten lunch links

May, 11, 2009
5/11/09
12:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- When searching Penn State's roster for an authority on the program's rich history, center Stefen Wisniewski is a pretty good place to start.

 
  Rich Kane/US PRESSWIRE
  Stefen Wisniewski leads an offensive line that loses three of its five starters from last season.

His dad, Leo, starred on Penn State's defensive line from 1979 to 1981 and helped the Lions to two Fiesta Bowl victories. His uncle Steve was a two-time first-team All-American on Penn State's offensive line and played for the national championship squad in 1986 before becoming an eight-time Pro Bowler for the Raiders.

The next man to carry the proud Wisniewski name at Penn State has a good handle on the program's past, present and future. After starting at guard on a Lions team that shared the Big Ten title last fall, Stefen recognizes the significance of a repeat league championship.

"It would mean that we're not just a once-in-a-while good team," he said.

And that's exactly what Penn State has been since joining the Big Ten in 1993.

The Lions have been Big Ten champions three times in 16 years. They won the outright title in 1994, en route to a 12-0 season and a Rose Bowl victory, and shared the crown both in 2005 and last season.

Penn State is tied with both Wisconsin and Northwestern for Big Ten championships during the span, and trails only Ohio State (8) and Michigan (5). But the Lions have yet to secure back-to-back league titles and haven't posted consecutive 10-win seasons since their first two years in the league (1993-94).

Pegged to be the Big Ten's third powerhouse program when it joined the league, Penn State is still trying to reserve a spot at the head table alongside Ohio State and Michigan.

The wait could be over this fall.

Despite losing a good chunk of last year's team, these Lions are still hungry, and several factors point to another Big Ten feast in 2009.

"It's always hard to repeat anything," junior linebacker Navorro Bowman said. "Our goal is to be the best, and our ultimate goal is to win a national championship, but our focus is the Big Ten. Once the Big Ten starts and we get it going, there's no telling what's going to happen.

"We still have guys here who understand what it takes to win, and we plan on doing it."

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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Jared Odrick had kept his cool through the first few weeks of spring ball, but during team drills last Monday, he lost it.

Penn State's offensive line was practicing a protection scheme where the center immediately moved over to help a guard double team a defensive tackle, in this case, Odrick. The center normally makes a check at the line before helping the guard, but not this time.

Odrick didn't see the double team coming, and subsequently paid the price on several plays.

He then turned into Mt. Odrick, a 6-foot-5, 306-pound volcano. 

 
  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  Jared Odrick is back to anchor the Penn State defensive line in 2009.

"I'm pointing the finger down at the ground and I'm yelling because I feel I could have done something more," Odrick said. "You could say on the field, I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I'm very vocal about my play and whether I'm doing good or not.

"That's one thing I'm adamant about, being able to contribute all the time."

Odrick knows he has to limit such outbursts. He's a senior now, a national award candidate, the leader of Penn State's always-reloading defensive line.

He's no longer the fragile freshman who he says was "messing up left and right," but a veteran who knows what to do, and who usually does it extremely well.

Then again, Odrick wouldn't be the player he was without the fire inside. 

"Tough guy," Penn State safety Drew Astorino said. "He wants it a lot more than most people do."

Odrick's drive helped him earn first-team All-Big Ten honors from the league's coaches last fall, as Penn State won a share of the league title and reached the Rose Bowl. He recorded 41 tackles, 9.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks, including a safety against Michigan that gave Penn State the lead for good and earned Odrick the Pontiac Game Changing Performance for the week. 

While linemates Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans declared for the NFL draft, Odrick chose to return for his senior season. He'll enter the fall as a candidate for the Lombardi Award and possibly the Outland Trophy.

"Odrick's a top-notch football player," Lions head coach Joe Paterno said. "He's one of the top players at that position, I don't know about the country, but in the league."  

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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Study up. These links will be on the test. 

"The Buckeyes have just 14 seniors on their roster, so Ohio State is not expected to sign a large class in 2010. That means that more high-level prospects will be looking out of state if they want to play in the Big Ten."
"We all know how deep the SEC and Big 12 go in terms of quality teams. Outside of Ohio State and Penn State, the Big Ten has lacked a group of consistent winners since 2005. But the conference's depth is getting better. Michigan State, Iowa, and Northwestern are all on the rise. Wisconsin is a strong program that had a bad 2008 season. Michigan, Illinois and Purdue will come back."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As players filter in and out of football programs, certain position groups become grizzled or green. As the St. Patrick's Day series marches on, it's time to look at the greenest, or least experienced, units on every Big Ten squad heading into 2009.

Illinois' defensive line -- Mainstays Will Davis, Derek Walker and David Lindquist depart, and with Josh Brent's status up in the air, Illinois looks unproven up front.

Indiana's wide receivers -- Leading receiver Ray Fisher switched to cornerback and Andrew Means bolted early for the NFL draft, leaving sophomores and juniors to handle the pass-catching duties this fall.

Iowa's defensive tackles -- Mitch King and Matt Kroul locked down the starting interior line spots for the last four years, and their backups didn't have many opportunities to develop in games.

Michigan's quarterbacks -- Nick Sheridan started four games last fall, but once again the most important position on the field will be one of the greenest for Michigan, as two true freshmen (Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson) vie for the starting job.

Michigan State's running backs -- National carries leader Javon Ringer is gone, and it's likely that a redshirt sophomore (Andre Anderson, Ashton Leggett) or a true freshman (Edwin Baker, Larry Caper) will take his place in the backfield.

Minnesota's running backs -- The Gophers return practically everyone but remain young and unproven after finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (103.8 ypg) last fall.

Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters graduate and junior Andrew Brewer hasn't quite settled in at wideout after switching from quarterback, so there are some legit questions here.

Ohio State's offensive line -- Don't be shocked if Ohio State enters 2009 with three sophomores (Mike Brewster, Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts) and a transfer (Justin Boren) on its starting line.

Penn State's defensive ends -- Jerome Hayes should be back from another knee injury, but Penn State will be on the lookout for a proven pass rusher after losing Aaron Maybin, Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines.

Purdue's wide receivers -- New coach Danny Hope made wide receiver a peak priority in his first recruiting class after losing Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy, who combined for 136 receptions and 1,596 yards last year.

Wisconsin's defensive line -- The Badgers lose three multiyear starters (Matt Shaughnessy, Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman) and don't return many proven players aside from ends O'Brien Schofield and Dan Moore.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

"Since 1950, a Big Ten Conference school has combined for nine wins or less in football and basketball a total of 19 times."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The recruiting classes are in, several underclassmen are out (preparing for the NFL draft) and coaching changes have been made. It's time to re-examine the Big Ten power rankings, which project forward to the 2009 season but take into consideration the way a team finished up 2008.

1. Ohio State -- The Buckeyes lost juniors Chris "Beanie" Wells, Brian Hartline and Donald Washington to the NFL draft and said goodbye to a large senior class, but they performed well in the Fiesta Bowl and brought in the league's best recruiting class. The youth movement has begun in Columbus, and Ohio State likely will surround Terrelle Pryor with more dynamic skill players on offense. There are some holes in the defensive two-deep, but Ohio State rarely misses a beat on that side of the ball.

2. Penn State -- The somewhat surprising early departures of defensive ends Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans create questions in an area where Penn State dominated last season. Linebacker should be a major strength, but Penn State must replenish the secondary and find a stud pass rusher or two. Wide receiver should be the most interesting position to watch during the spring and summer, and if Penn State avoids a drop-off on the offensive line, it should be in good shape for another league title push. A large recruiting class will play a key role in the Lions' quest to repeat.

3. Iowa -- Shonn Greene surprised absolutely no one by declaring for the NFL draft, and the Doak Walker Award winner leaves a major void in production. But backup running back Jewel Hampton showed promise last year, and Iowa has fewer question marks on offense than most Big Ten teams. Arguably the bigger questions come at defensive tackle, where four-year starters Mitch King and Matt Kroul depart. Avoiding a major drop-off in the interior line is crucial, but Iowa returns most of its key players from a 9-4 team.

4. Michigan State -- Several key seniors depart, including running back Javon Ringer and safety Otis Wiley, but Michigan State brings back most of its key contributors and adds its best recruiting class in recent memory. The competition at both running back and quarterback will set the course for the 2009 season, but the Spartans should be deeper and better on defense.

5. Northwestern -- Much like Michigan State, Northwestern must replace its starting offensive backfield for the 2009 campaign. Mike Kafka steps in at quarterback after a solid junior season, but there will be plenty of competition at both running back and wide receiver. The offensive line should be much improved, and as long as star defensive end Corey Wootton recovers from knee surgery, the Wildcats will boast one of the Big Ten's best defenses.

6. Illinois -- As expected, cornerback Vontae Davis entered the NFL draft, leaving some questions in an Illini secondary that struggled at the safety spot in 2008. Improving the defense will be Illinois' top priority entering the fall, especially with so much talent back on the offensive side. Ron Zook's recruiting class drew mixed reviews after several committed prospects went elsewhere, but Illinois held onto wide receiver Terry Hawthorne and addressed several of its needs.

7. Minnesota -- The Gophers welcome two new coordinators (Jedd Fisch and Kevin Cosgrove) and a different offensive approach heading into spring practice, but they bring back most of the pieces from a 7-6 team. Tim Brewster continued to improve the defensive secondary with his recent recruiting haul, and both lines return virtually intact. If Minnesota can adjust to the changes in coaching and scheme, it should take another step forward in 2009.

8. Wisconsin -- Underappreciated running back P.J. Hill surprised some by declaring for the NFL draft, and Wisconsin also said goodbye to a large senior class. John Clay looks more than capable of becoming a featured back for the Badgers in 2009, but unless some significant progress is made at the quarterback position, it's hard to see improvement. A very solid recruiting class featuring quarterback Jon Budmayr and wide receiver Kraig Appleton could bolster the passing attack and move Wisconsin up the rankings.

9. Michigan -- Despite a 3-9 season, Michigan landed a top 10 recruiting class that features several players likely to contribute right away. Brandon Graham stayed for his senior year, giving the Wolverines a dominant pass rusher. The Wolverines very well could make a major move up this list, but they first must find a solution at the quarterback spot and fill holes on the defensive line and in the secondary. The recruiting class provides a major boost, but the program remains in a transition phase.

10. Purdue -- The Boilermakers are the Big Ten's mystery team, as they welcome a new head coach (Danny Hope) and most likely a different type of player. Hope landed 14 recruits from Florida in hopes of upgrading Purdue's speed and athleticism, and he also must replace starters at all the offensive skill positions (quarterback, running back, wide receiver). If the defense avoids a drop-off and Hope's recruits contribute immediately like he thinks they will, the Boilers will be a much-improved team.

11. Indiana -- Wide receiver Andrew Means declared for the NFL draft, but Indiana doesn't lose a whole lot from last year's team, which could be good or bad. Head coach Bill Lynch didn't make any staff changes, hoping that continuity and improved health will lead to better results in 2009. Indiana boasts two experienced quarterbacks (Kellen Lewis and Ben Chappell), two proven pass rushers (Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew) and some promising young players, but if the defense doesn't improve, it could be another long season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Several reports out of Pennsylvania say that Penn State redshirt sophomore defensive end Aaron Maybin has decided to declare for the NFL draft

 
  Randy Litzinger/Icon SMI
  Aaron Maybin's departure would be a blow for Penn State's defense.

Fightonstate.com reported that Maybin informed head coach Joe Paterno and defensive line coach Larry Johnson of his decision Thursday night. 

The team hasn't made an official announcement, and a spokesman told me earlier today that he expected decisions from Maybin and fellow defensive linemen Jared Odrick and Maurice Evans to come next week, when students resume classes. 

Maybin's stock soared this season, as he stepped into a starting role and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors. He led the Big Ten and tied for seventh nationally in sacks (12) and finished with 19 tackles for loss. The 6-foot-4, 236-pound end was a finalist for the Bednarik Award. 

Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. lists Maybin as a top 10 pick in April's draft. Though Maybin seems undersized to play defensive end at the next level, he could bulk up or be moved to a linebacker spot.

His departure would be a significant blow for Penn State, but the Lions still should boast good depth along the defensive line, particularly if Evans and Odrick return. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The college football season is over, but the links will never die.

"Remove, in your minds, Larry Johnson from the last few years of the picture and watch the George Bailey-like ripple effect that absence would have had on the 2008 Nittany Lions.

No Aaron Maybin or Maurice Evans at defensive end. No Navorro Bowman at linebacker. No Evan Royster at tailback. No Derrick Williams at wide receiver."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Happy New Year to all. It's a huge day for the Big Ten, and here are some of the key story lines. 

"I think it's been a mental-toughness issue," senior linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "You look at those games and it seemed something happened, like a penalty when we've got them stopped, or a touchdown gets called back, and guys' heads just went down, 'Dang, that's it.'"

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Here's your final helping of links for 2008. Don't let them get cold. 

"'Hey, from what I've seen, Penn State is pretty good,' protested defensive end Kyle Moore.

"This means the Trojans have watched the films. This means that they've surely seen how, athletically and strategically, USC is clearly better. The writers were able to compare the players in person Tuesday, and the differences were obvious.

"USC looked like Humvees. Penn State looked like jayvees."
"Look, when we were 7-1, I knew we had some issues," he said. "We didn't have much depth, guys got injured. I knew the potential was there for something like this happening. But I also know that the people of Minnesota respect our team. They know how hard we work. They are proud that we made the jump to being respectable again."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A year ago, Penn State's defensive line meeting room was packed with players, and Aaron Maybin could hang out in the back. 

 
 Randy Litzinger/Icon SMI
 Aaron Maybin produced 12 sacks and 19 tackles for loss this season.

Maybin had a role, but not a key one. He contributed four sacks as a redshirt freshman and had carved a niche as a rush end who could provide a boost every now and then.

Maybin's role figured to remain more or less the same for the 2008 season. Anything he gave Penn State would be gravy, but the defensive line would be solid without him. 

Then Chris Baker and Phil Taylor were dismissed from the team, Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma were suspended and Devon Still and Jerome Hayes sustained major injuries. 

A few games into the season, the meeting room had nearly cleared out, and Maybin sat down with line coach Larry Johnson. 

"He really let me know it was time to turn up the heat," Maybin said. "Because there was nobody else."

Maybin followed orders, and the temperature rose in opponents' backfields. The redshirt sophomore made his first career start in Week 3 at Syracuse and started nine of the final 10 games for the Lions. 

He emerged as the Big Ten's top pass rusher, racking up 12 sacks and 19 tackles for loss to go along with three forced fumbles. A first-team AP All-American, Maybin anchored a Penn State defensive line that survived all the personnel losses and ranked ninth nationally against the run (95.9 ypg). 

"Obviously, it was a tough situation to deal with," Maybin said. "Being as close as I am with my whole D-line, it was tough to see some guys go down and some guys be removed from the equation because of situations that are out of my control.

"But obviously, I had to step up and contribute a lot of things to this defense. Throughout the course of the season, I've been able to do that."

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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Despite the dominant victories, the emerging stars and the climb up the national rankings, No. 3 Penn State continued to generate a mixture of doubt and curiosity.

 
 Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
 Penn State improved to 9-0 by knocking off the Buckeyes Saturday night.

How would the Nittany Lions respond to adversity? Not first-half adversity against a significantly inferior Michigan team. Real adversity. The kind that comes on the road against a quality opponent with the clock winding down.

Head coach Joe Paterno was the most curious. He liked his team and its potential. But he couldn't get a true gauge on how good the squad could be until it was placed under extreme pressure.

A fourth-quarter deficit at Ohio Stadium certainly qualified, not to mention having starting quarterback Daryll Clark standing on the sidelines with a head injury.

"We've got a good football team," Paterno said definitively after Saturday night's 13-6 win against No. 9 Ohio State.

Defensive end Josh Gaines knew the truth about Penn State before the season began. And though the Lions didn't face adversity on the field until Saturday night, they had faced plenty off of it.

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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 David Stluka/Getty Images
 Wisconsin quarterback Allan Evridge spent much of Saturday's game being chased by Penn State's linemen.

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin's offensive line is an imposing group of super-sized men -- average weight: 322 pounds -- but the Badgers' behemoths didn't intimidate Penn State's Aaron Maybin on Saturday night.

Maybin might not have seen a bigger group this season, but the defensive end certainly sees a meaner one every week in practice.

"We have the meanest offensive line that I've gone against," Maybin said. "I haven't really played against an offensive line that I feel is better than ours."

"You can't really teach being mean. That's just something that everybody on our offensive line has in 'em."

Maybin and the rest of the Lions defensive linemen aren't exactly nice guys. Just ask the Wisconsin ball-carriers who paid the price throughout Saturday night's game at Camp Randall Stadium. Penn State's ability to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball resulted in total domination, a 48-7 win that put the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions in the national championship discussion.

Maybin, who had 3.5 tackles for loss, led a defense that shut out Wisconsin in the second half, forced a quarterback change and held bruising backs P.J. Hill and John Clay in check. A veteran-laden Lions offensive line kept Daryll Clark clean -- no sacks allowed for the third time this season -- and provided the quarterback plenty of time to find his open receivers.

Wisconsin's experienced defensive front was a non-factor. Left tackle Gerald Cadogan and his teammates had faced a bigger test earlier in the week.

"I'm well prepared for anybody else," Cadogan said. "I don't think there's anybody that can match Maybin's speed here in the Big Ten. Going against that, whether it's Josh Gaines or Maurice Evans, they're great defensive ends."

"It's a constant battle in practice, doing 1-on-1's and 9-on-7's and different drills that we [do] throughout the week."

Maybin has been one of the defense's bigger surprises. He entered Saturday night's game leading the Big Ten in sacks (7) and ranking third in tackles for loss (9). The sophomore turned in another ferocious performance that included two forced fumbles, a sack, a quarterback hurry and a pass breakup. His only problem might be his size (6-4, 245 pounds).

"He's doing really well," head coach Joe Paterno said. "I just wish I could put a little weight on him. The guy doesn't eat. He's so quick and he's an aggressive player. You can see that."

Maybin and the rest of the Lions' linemen remain hungry for a Big Ten title -- and a shot at the national title.

"We don't practice for nothing and go through the motions," Cadogan said. "We're definitely out there to establish Penn State."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Ned Dishman/Getty Images
 Josh Gaines and the Penn State defense have overcome injuries to start the season 6-0.

Josh Gaines feels like a survivor.

Back in the spring, Penn State's defensive line meeting room included 17 men, the majority of whom had starting experience or played significant minutes in 2007. Gaines, a senior defensive end, anchored a Nittany Lions defense led by Sean Lee, the next great linebacker at Linebacker U.

Then one by one, Penn State's depth began to diminish.

  • Lee tore his ACL in spring drills.
  • Defensive tackles Chris Baker and Phil Taylor, who combined for 11 starts last season, were dismissed from the team in the summer.
  • Promising defensive tackle Devon Still broke his leg in a preseason scrimmage.
  • Prior to a Week 2 matchup with Oregon State, first-team All-Big Ten defensive end Maurice Evans and starting defensive tackle Abe Koroma were suspended after police found marijuana in their apartment. They missed three games.
  • Reserve end Jerome Hayes tore his ACL in the Oregon State game.

The personnel purge would be enough to deplete most defenses, but not Penn State's. All the Nittany Lions have done is lead the Big Ten in both rushing defense (80.2 ypg) and total defense (250.3 ypg).

A dynamic new offense stocked with rushing threats gets most of the credit for Penn State's 6-0 start, but Gaines and his group shouldn't be overlooked. The line has held its ground, and despite some lingering questions at linebacker, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull have elevated their play in recent weeks.

"Coming in, we were [picked] third or fourth in the Big Ten, and now we're in the top 10," Gaines said. "That's great and all, but it still feels like we're surviving. We've still got a long road ahead of us."

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