NCF Nation: Stevie Brown

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

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 Brian Bennett


ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- We said at halftime that Michigan either needed to bring more pressure or drop more guys to help cover the Notre Dame wide receivers.

Well, so far, Greg Robinson has opted for the former, and it's been a great idea. The Irish have fumbled and punted on their first two second-half possessions. The fumble was caused by linebacker Stevie Brown, who was blitzing into the backfield. Jimmy Clausen has had guys in his face so far in the second half and hasn't had time to connect with his wideouts.

Momentum is definitely in Michigan's favor now. But this game has been full of momentum changes.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

You know football season isn't too far away when the Big Ten releases the list of players who will be attending media days, to be held July 27 and July 28 in Chicago. The rundown includes 17 All-Big Ten selections, including nine first-team honorees from last year. Minnesota star wideout Eric Decker will speak on behalf of the players at the Big Ten kickoff luncheon on July 28.

Of course, I'll be making the short trip down Lake Shore Drive for all the action, so be sure to chain yourself to the blog during those days.

Without further ado ...

ILLINOIS
Arrelious Benn*, Jr., WR
Doug Pilcher, Sr., DL
Juice Williams*, Sr., QB

INDIANA
Ben Chappell, Jr., QB
Jammie Kirlew*, Sr., DE
Will Patterson, Sr., LB

IOWA
Pat Angerer*, Sr., LB
A.J. Edds*, Sr., LB
Tony Moeaki, Sr., TE

MICHIGAN
Stevie Brown, Sr., LB/S
Zoltan Mesko*, Sr., P
Mark Ortmann, Sr., LT

MICHIGAN STATE
Greg Jones*, Jr., LB
Brett Swenson*, Sr., PK
Blair White*, Sr., WR

MINNESOTA
Garrett Brown, Sr., DT
Lee Campbell, Sr., LB
Eric Decker*, Sr., WR

NORTHWESTERN
Mike Kafka, Sr., QB
Brad Phillips*, Sr., S
Corey Wootton*, Sr., DE

OHIO STATE
Jake Ballard, Sr., TE
Kurt Coleman*, Sr., DB
Doug Worthington, Sr., DL

PENN STATE
Daryll Clark*, Sr., QB
Sean Lee*, Sr., LB
Jared Odrick*, Sr., DT

PURDUE
Joey Elliott, Sr., QB
Mike Neal, Sr., DT
Keith Smith, Sr., WR

WISCONSIN
Garrett Graham*, Sr., TE
Jaevery McFadden, Sr., LB
O'Brien Schofield, Sr., DL

*-indicates previous All-Big Ten selection

It's a pretty solid list overall. There are some very quotable players coming to Chicago, namely Penn State's Daryll Clark and Sean Lee, Illinois' Juice Williams, Iowa's A.J. Edds and Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield. I'm also looking forward to chatting with some of the guys I missed during spring ball, including Illinois' Arrelious Benn, Wisconsin's Garrett Graham, Michigan's Stevie Brown and Zoltan Mesko, Purdue's Mike Neal and Indiana's Jammie Kirlew.

As far as notable absences, there are a few. At some point, Ohio State needs to acknowledge that Terrelle Pryor is a team leader and stop shielding him from the media. Last year's extremely limited access to Pryor was somewhat justified given his age, but he's quickly becoming the face of the team and needs to be out in front. Yes, yes, I know this event is all about the seniors, but people want to hear from Pryor, who usually has something interesting to say.

I also was hoping to talk with Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber, a two-time captain and three-year starter. Same goes for Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi, whose performance could make or break the season for the Hawkeyes.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to examine the names you need to know coming out of spring ball. Daryll Clark and Terrelle Pryor won't appear on this list because if you're a true Big Ten fan, you know who they are. But spring practice provided some clues about other potential stars throughout the league.

Memorize these names and you'll look good in front of your buddies this fall.

Jack Crawford, DE, Penn State -- It shouldn't be a surprise any more, but Penn State appears to have found yet another standout pass rusher in Crawford. The sophomore dazzled this spring and looks ready to take over Aaron Maybin's role on the edge.

Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin -- The son of former Badgers great Al Toon made waves this spring at a critical position of need for Wisconsin. Toon has all the tools to be a top-end Big Ten wide receiver this fall.

MarQueis Gray, QB, Minnesota -- Believe the hype. That was the theme coming out of Minneapolis this spring as Gray took most of the snaps and showcased his impressive skill set. He'll back up Adam Weber but should see the field a lot.

Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa -- McNutt might not win a starting job, but his talent won't go to waste. Iowa needs more playmakers to emerge at wide receiver, and McNutt, a converted quarterback, should enter the rotation after an impressive spring.

Stevie Brown, S/LB, Michigan -- I know, I know, Brown is a risky stock to buy because he's been on the All-Spring Team before. This year could be different, though, as Brown enters his final season and seemed to settle in nicely to a hybrid role in Greg Robinson's defense.

Brian Linthicum, TE, Michigan State -- The Spartans already had depth at tight end before Linthicum came along. But the Clemson transfer worked his way into the mix this spring and could be the No. 2 option behind Charlie Gantt.

Brian Rolle, LB, Ohio State -- The Buckeyes lose a lot of production at linebacker, but Rolle looks ready to fill the void. His speed stood out this spring, and he'll play a major role in the rotation.

Brandon Saine, RB, Ohio State -- The wait for big things from Saine could finally be over as the junior got through spring ball unscathed and looked very impressive. Saine has the dynamic qualities to change games and should complement Dan "Boom" Herron in the backfield this fall, if he stays healthy.

J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin -- Defensive coordinator Dave Doeren can't wait to get Watt on the field. A transfer from Central Michigan who began his college career as a tight end, Watt transformed his body and blossomed this spring. He can play either line spot for Wisconsin, which loses three multiyear starters up front.

Jarred Fayson, WR, Illinois -- The Florida transfer has yet to play a down in orange and blue, but he has already made an impression on his teammates, namely quarterback Juice Williams. Illinois is stacked at wide receiver, but Fayson likely earned a starting job with his play during the first chunk of spring ball.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The learning curve is accelerated at Michigan this spring, and not only on the offensive side of the ball. 

Granted, the offense remains young and thin at quarterback, but most players are in their second year running Rich Rodriguez's spread. Wolverines defenders, meanwhile, are installing a new system under new coordinator Greg Robinson. 

 
  Chris Livingston/Icon SMI
  Obi Ezeh is looking forward to defensive coordinator Greg Robinson's blitz-heavy scheme.

"They're a little bit ahead of us," linebacker Obi Ezeh said of the offense.

Before Tuesday's practice, the defense needed to catch up.

So less than 30 minutes before taking the field, Robinson unveiled three or four brand-new blitz packages for his defenders. Then he gave Rodriguez the green light to move forward with the offense.

"They were like, 'Learn this stuff and then let's go out and run it,'" Ezeh said. "We started off real shaky, but toward the end of practice, everybody started coming together and it looked really good. So I like the attitude, that never-quit attitude that we're trying to develop here."  

Ezeh senses a renewed attitude for a unit that, despite some solid performances in September and early October, ranked 10th in the Big Ten in points allowed (28.9 points per game) and ninth in yards allowed (366.9 yards per game). Michigan's offensive futility under Rodriguez drew most of the attention last fall, but the defense turned in one of its worst statistical performances in team history.

Coordinator Scott Shafer resigned after only one year and took the same job at Syracuse, where Robinson served as head coach for four years before being fired and coming to Ann Arbor. Robinson is Michigan's third defensive coordinator in as many years, but his plan for the unit isn't totally foreign to the players.

"It resembles a lot of the stuff we were doing with coach [Ron] English, so some of the older guys did it before," Ezeh said, referring to Michigan's defensive coordinator from 2003-07. "I got the feeling that it's going to be blitz-heavy, so I'm excited for that."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Michigan's defense came to play. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, so did Chris "Beanie" Wells.

For the first 10 minutes, Michigan totally shut down Wells, quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the Ohio State offense. The Wolverines registered an interception, three tackles for loss and sacks by Brandon Graham and Brandon Harrison. But with absolutely no help from the offense or the special teams, Michigan could only hold on for so long.

Eventually, Beanie broke through with a scintillating 59-yard touchdown run. This guy is clutch in November, and he'll likely continue to wear down Michigan's defense.

The Wolverines offense is horrendous. No other word can describe it. Quarterback Nick Sheridan can't get anything going, and a change seems imminent. Michigan finished the quarter with no first downs and minus-1 total yards. After a Stevie Brown interception set them up in the Ohio State red zone, the Wolverines went six yards backwards before missing a field goal. There won't be many more chances to seize momentum in this game.

Pryor looks shaky so far, but it probably won't matter. After completing his first pass, he threw the interception and three more incompletions.

Ohio State junior wide receiver/punt returner Ray Small is back in action after a two-game suspension for repeated team rules violations.

The teams had a little dustup at midfield before exiting pregame warmups. No penalties were assessed.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Terrance Taylor and his Michigan teammates reacted how you'd expect them to when they saw a biting comment from the coach of a 3-9 team plastered around their training room.

They laughed.

As Michigan began its preparations for Saturday's meeting with rival Notre Dame, the coaches made sure players saw the statement Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis made to boosters during a speech in April.

Addressing his players' approach to the season opener against San Diego State, Weis said, "That's the first opportunity they're really going to have to make a statement, and then we'll listen to Michigan have all their excuses as they come running in saying they have a new coaching staff and there's changes."

Wait for the kicker.

"The hell with Michigan."

Tough talk from Weis, but the Wolverines are saving their reply for the field.

"He can talk from the sideline," Taylor said Monday afternoon. "We're going to talk with our pads. We laughed when we heard it, but that's about it. It's not going to get a rise out of us. That comment's not going to decide the game or decide what's going to happen when we get over there to Notre Dame. What's going to decide the game is when we put on our helmets and we come into their stadium and we get to flying around.

"We were amused by that comment."

It didn't surprise Michigan safety Stevie Brown. Brown, who looked at Notre Dame during the recruiting process, told the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder:

"When Charlie, Coach Weis, used to recruit me, he kind of had an arrogance about him, so I figured it's just him being him."

Though Notre Dame comes off the worst season in school history and Michigan is in the midst of a transition with new coach Rich Rodriguez, Taylor thinks the rivalry still has some spice. The senior defensive tackle is certain any excuses made Saturday won't come from Michigan, which has won its last two games with Notre Dame by a combined score of 79-27.

"We're not coming in making any excuses about anything," Taylor said. "Either you do it or you don't. We know what we're going through, we know what's going on, but we're just taking it in stride."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- I've returned to the press box after watching the Victors Walk, a new tradition at Michigan in which players and coaches walk about 200 yards past Crisler Arena and into Michigan Stadium. A lot of teams do something like it and this walk wasn't particularly unique aside from the fact that it happened at Michigan. Before this season, the Wolverines' buses would pull up right outside the stadium, so it wasn't much of a spectacle. 

Several hundred fans lined the path and the Michigan marching band greeted the team buses, which carried the 70 players and coaches who made the trip from the team hotel.

New coach Rich Rodriguez was first off the bus and walked with his son Rhett, while his wife Rita and daughter Raquel followed close behind. RichRod had his game face on, barely acknowledging the crowd as he approached the stadium. He shook some hands before entering the locker room. One fan lining the path held up a 1997 Michigan National Championship banner.

Not sure if they planned it this way, but Michigan's starting secondary -- cornerbacks Donovan Warren and Morgan Trent and safeties Stevie Brown and Brandon Harrison -- walked together at the back of the group.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Michigan safety Stevie Brown tries to block negativity from his life whenever he can. The problem is he also owns a TV.

 
 Leon Halip/Getty Images
 Stevie Brown and Michigan still remember last year's season-opening loss to Appalachian State.

When Brown flips through the channels, he's often comes across those unsightly images, the ones showing the little team with the funny name stunning the big team with the famous name. There might as well be a station called WLAS -- Wolverines lose to Appalachian State.

"It was hard to get over because every week, we saw the clips being played," Brown said. "It's still being played right now. So it's always something that stays in the back of your mind."

Does Brown relive Michigan's 34-32 loss, considered by many to be the biggest upset in college football history?

"Nah, I change the channel right then and there," he said.

Brown might want to unplug his set this week. The Wolverines enter a new era with head coach Rich Rodriguez and dramatically different schemes and personnel, but the Appalachian State loss will undoubtedly be rehashed as another season dawns Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

Rodriguez and most of his assistants weren't in Ann Arbor for Michigan's historic setback last fall, and though they focused on installing new systems with mostly unproven players this summer, there have been some not-so subtle hints about the game. Brown remembers a particular conversation he had with one of Michigan's graduate assistants.

"The one thing the GA told me was, he didn't believe it and the coaching staff didn't believe it, but when they came in, they heard that No. 3 would just have mental mistakes and blow coverages every now and then," Brown said. "I didn't ask where it came from, they didn't tell me where it came from."

It doesn't take much detective work to find the likely source. Brown started the Appalachian State game, got burned on a 68-yard touchdown and several other plays, and began the second half on the bench.

Don't expect a re-run Saturday against Utah.

(Read full post)

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