NCF Nation: Terrence Moore
1. Wisconsin offense vs. MSU defense: Two of the nation's elite units clash Saturday night at Spartan Stadium in a game that likely will determine the Big Ten's top team. The nation's top scoring offense (50.2 ppg) is pitted against a Michigan State defense ranked fourth in points allowed (10.8 ppg), second in yards allowed (186.2 ypg) and first against the pass (119.2 ypg). From terrific individual matchups -- Jerel Worthy vs. Peter Konz, Nick Toon vs. Johnny Adams -- to the chess game between the coordinators, these two units will easily hold your attention.
2. Life without Crick begins: After six shaky quarters in Big Ten play, Nebraska's defense regained its mojo in the final 23 minutes of a historic comeback victory against Ohio State on Oct. 1. But the Huskers received some bad news during the bye week, as star DT Jared Crick was ruled out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Coach Bo Pelini plans to use a four-man rotation at defensive tackle -- Chase Rome, Terrence Moore and Thaddeus Randle will see time alongside starter Baker Steinkuhler. Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said this week that Rome, a redshirt freshman, "plays like a madman" and has stood out. The Crick-less defensive line debuts Saturday against 1-5 Minnesota.
4. Spartans' October grind continues: Michigan State is halfway through one of the more grueling months in recent Big Ten history and boasts a 2-0 mark. The Spartans already have made history with their first win at Ohio State since 1998 and their fourth consecutive win against archrival Michigan last Saturday. They now aim to make a national statement by recording their first win against a BCS top 10 team under coach Mark Dantonio. Although Wisconsin certainly gets Michigan State's attention, it'll be interesting to see how the Spartans perform after emotional games against Michigan and Ohio State. Oh, yeah, and a road trip to Legends division contender Nebraska awaits next week.
5. Badgers' road leads to house of horrors: Wisconsin's first true road game of the 2011 season takes place in a stadium that has been the program's house of horrors in recent years. The Badgers have dropped three consecutive games in Spartan Stadium, including a 34-24 defeat last year that proved to be their only regular-season loss. They blew a late lead in East Lansing in 2008 and suffered a 49-14 beating in 2004 when they were 9-0 and ranked No. 5 in the BCS standings. Quarterback Russell Wilson hasn't been part of the Badgers' stumbles in Sparta, and Wisconsin will lean on the transfer in what should be a raucous environment Saturday night.
6. Boiler crossing: The Illinois-Purdue game won't make waves nationally or even regionally, but it's absolutely huge for both teams. Illinois comes off of its first loss and knows the doubters are getting louder. The Illini also must regain their swagger on both sides of the ball after failing to score for 53 minutes last week and falling to an Ohio State team that completed only one pass (and attempted just four). This game might be even more important for Purdue, which did some good things last week at Penn State but once again made too many major mistakes to record a win. The Boilers' schedule following Illinois is very difficult -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa -- so if they want to end their bowl drought, they had better start winning soon.
7. Iowa's McNutt eyes the record: After coming to Iowa City as a quarterback, Marvin McNutt will leave as one of the Hawkeyes' most prolific wide receivers. Last week he tied Tim Dwight and Danan Hughes for the team's career touchdown receptions record with 21. McNutt can set the record Saturday as he goes up against an Indiana defense that has surrendered 13 passing touchdowns this season. McNutt ranks fourth in the Big Ten in receptions (5.8 rpg) and third in receiving yards (95.5 ypg) this season.
8. Spartans getting defensive: Michigan State has been on the defensive about its defense since last week's penalty-filled win against Michigan. Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi on Tuesday clarified his "unnecessary roughness" quote and defended the unit against claims it played dirty against Michigan, in a game that featured several personal fouls. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema has his team prepared, saying the Spartans, "do certain things, whether it be before the snap, during the snap or after the snap that can cause you to react." It will be interesting to see if Michigan State's defense can strike a balance between aggression and discipline against a Wisconsin team that rarely beats itself.
9. A close shave in Evanston: Northwestern has lost four consecutive games for the first time since 2006, and quarterback Dan Persa's senior season seems to be going down the drain. The Wildcats clearly need a shake-up ... or a shave-up? The day after throwing a pick-six at Iowa, Persa decided to shave his head. "Woke up on Sunday, felt like shaving it," Persa said Monday. "So I shaved it." Perhaps the new 'do will help Persa and the Wildcats in a must-win game Saturday night against Penn State at Ryan Field. It's a big one for Persa, a Pennsylvania native who was overlooked by the Lions during the recruiting process. The quarterback needs a strong effort against a Penn State defense ranked seventh nationally against the pass (161.1 ypg).
10. Hoosiers receivers under the gun: Indiana coach Kevin Wilson rarely holds back, and this week he unloaded on his wide receivers, a group that was supposed to be the team's strength. "Our receiver play's been very, very poor," Wilson said. "... We don't work with any sense of speed and urgency out there." Injuries have been a problem, but the wideouts need to help out their young quarterbacks, beginning Saturday afternoon at Iowa. The Hoosiers will be without Damarlo Belcher (knee), so Kofi Hughes and others must step up against the Iowa secondary.
Most folks, including fellow Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett and I, thought he was still a bit off after missing a Week 4 matchup against Wyoming with a head injury. Turns out Crick was dealing with another ailment, a torn pectoral muscle that will sideline him for the remainder of the season and end his college career.
There's no sugarcoating this one. It's a big loss for Big Red.
"I feel extremely bad for Jared," Huskers coach Bo Pelini said in a prepared statement. "He is a young man who has represented this program in a first-class manner throughout his career. He made an unselfish decision to come back to Nebraska for his senior year and earn his degree, which he did this summer. He has also been a leader on and off the field and a young man who has made a positive impact in our community. Jared has a bright future in front of him on the field at the professional level. I know he will bounce back from this, and become a stronger player and person."
You certainly feel for Crick, who passed up big money in the NFL draft to return for his senior season. The second-team Associated Press All-American entered the fall with loads of accolades, including the No. 1 spot in our preseason player rankings. After recording 9.5 sacks in each of the past two seasons, Crick had been pegged as one of the nation's top defensive linemen and a leader for Nebraska's defense.
Although Crick had yet to hit his stride this season -- he had 22 tackles, three for loss, a sack and a blocked kick -- his absence will be felt. Pelini said Tuesday morning that he planned to give Crick some time off during the bye week to rest up, but further tests showed the muscle tear.
A Nebraska defense that hasn't played to expectations thus far must lean on its other leaders -- LB Lavonte David and CB Alfonzo Dennard among them -- as well as a defensive line that has depth. Veteran tackle Baker Steinkuhler becomes a vital player for the Huskers in Crick's absence, and Nebraska needs its other tackles, like Terrence Moore, Thaddeus Randle and Chase Rome, to step up.
It benefits Nebraska to get this news during a bye week, as players can absorb the blow without having to play a game on Saturday. This is gut-check time for Nebraska's defense, which has struggled for six of its first eight quarters in the Big Ten.
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska will officially introduce itself to Big Ten play in two weeks at Wisconsin. The league doesn't seem to be getting exactly what it bargained for in the deal.
The Cornhuskers were billed as a dominating defensive squad with a questionable offense. Hardly. They're winning via shootout, leading to this odd quote from linebacker Will Compton after Saturday's 51-38 victory over Washington:
"Thank God for our offense," he said.
The Huskies seem to bring out the schizophrenia in Nebraska, which played two mirror-image games against Washington last season. In taking the rubber match, Bo Pelini's team showed that it's not all about defense. In fact, sometimes that seems optional.
The Blackshirts ranked among the nation's best in most defensive categories the past two seasons, but they're not leaving too many people black and blue so far in 2011. They've allowed 67 points the past two games and let Washington score three fourth-quarter touchdowns on Saturday after the game looked well in hand.
Huskies players repeatedly broke tackles, and Keith Price became the second straight quarterback to bedevil the Nebraska pass rush with his mobility, as Fresno State's Derek Carr did last week. Though Pelini said he turned his defensive front loose after building a 44-17 lead, the Huskers managed only one second-half sack (granted, it was a big one, as Cameron Meredith tackled Price on a fourth down in the red zone).
"I wouldn't say it was tough for us to get pressure," defensive lineman Terrence Moore said. "We're keeping our eye out for a lot of things, like the quarterback run."
That raises an obvious question: if athletic quarterbacks pose this many problems, how will Nebraska handle Wisconsin's Russell Wilson in two weeks? The Huskers talked confidently in the preseason about roughing up the Big Ten with their defense, but they've gotten sliced and diced by two West Coast teams in the past two weeks. The defense will undoubtedly improve once star cornerback Alfonzo Dennard returns; he warmed up in uniform before the game and appears very close to overcoming a leg muscle injury.
"All those yards and points, that's unacceptable," Compton said. "We're not at all happy with that."
On the bright side, the offense continues to produce at high levels, and Saturday brought its most consistent effort of the young season.
In the first two weeks, Nebraska was as likely to go three-and-out as it was to score a 50-yard touchdown, and it did a lot of both. Quarterback Taylor Martinez had accounted for nearly 80 percent of the total yards.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck used a more varied attack on Saturday, especially in the second half. Instead of just counting on Martinez to break one, the Huskers got key contributions from running backs Rex Burkhead (121 yards and two touchdowns), Braylon Heard (34 yards) and Aaron Green (36 yards in the fourth quarter). Green, a freshman listed fourth on the depth chart, had only two carries before Saturday.
"We're trying to take some of the load off Taylor," said fullback Tyler Legate, who had his own 37-yard run as well as a touchdown catch. "We have enough playmakers that he doesn't have to be the one."
The offensive line, which featured three former walk-ons in the starting lineup, helped establish a much-needed power running game in the second half. Beck said he kept calling the same run with Burkhead in the fourth quarter over and over again, because Washington couldn't stop it.
"I thought it was a good mix," Pelini said of the offense. "There was physicality. We ran the ball at them, we threw the ball, we kept them off-balance. If we execute like that, it's pretty hard to defend us."
Martinez continues to be hard to defend. He threw for 155 yards and ran for 83 against the Huskies, with three total touchdowns. Maybe most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over. Beck said he puts a lot on Martinez's shoulders, expecting the sophomore to change the cadence and tempo and read defenses at the line of scrimmage without help from the sidelines.
"He's done a fantastic job running our offense," Beck said. "I just think the media's been critical of him."
The defense is probably in for much more critiquing this week, especially from the demanding Pelini. But Pelini had mostly praise for his team after Saturday's win.
"We're nowhere close in any respect, in any phase of our game, of where we need to be to be a championship football team," he said. "But I think we're making progress."
Just maybe not the type of progress anybody expected.
Here are Crick's thoughts on Week 1, the depth of the Huskers' defensive line and what to expect Saturday night against Fresno State.
How did you feel about the defense's performance in the opener?
Are you ever worried to watch the film, even after a win?
JC: You're not worried, but you're always critical. You're always looking for the finer details, even if it's the littlest thing because sometimes that's what wins and loses games. You're very critical of yourself, you're very critical of your teammates. We played a good game. We only allowed seven points and that came on a bust on our part. But knowing the exact precise things we need to work on going into this next Saturday, it's very positive for us. It's a great feeling.
How much help will you have up front from guys like Cam [Meredith]?
JC: It was good, but we expect that of Cam. Now that Cam's healthy, he's got a year of experience under his belt and he did that all through fall camp, he made plays. So we expected that from him. But it was definitely nice to see him come out Saturday and just have fun. Last year, at times he worried a little too much about his responsibility instead of just relaxing and letting the game come to him. That's exactly what he did Saturday and he did a great job for us.
Did you expect him to score on the interception?
JC: I would have liked him to, but I'm just glad we got the turnover inside the 5. We always want to score as defensive linemen because we don't get that opportunity too much, but it was special enough that he got the pick.
Who else stood out to you along the defensive line?
JC: [Jason] Ankrah played well for us, his first start. This was really the cornerstone of his career of seeing how good he can really be, going against some different competition finally. This is only going to build his confidence throughout this year, and I expect big things from him. And also the new guys who played, Joe Carter, Eric Martin, Chase Rome. I saw a lot of good things out of T-Mo, Terrence Moore. I feel good knowing where we're at as a defensive line right now.
Did you feel Jason was coming on strong in camp? When did he turn the corner?
JC: Last spring he started to really come around. We asked him to gain a lot of weight. He came in at 240 and I think he's now up to 265, so he had to adjust to that weight change. He's playing a lot more physical. We saw it through this spring and he's progressed through the summer, into fall camp and definitely into the game. He's got to keep progressing.
You've only played one game, but do you have a sense of how offensive lines are going to approach you this year?
JC: Hard to say. Chattanooga ran a lot of two-step drop, they got rid of the ball quick. I saw a couple double-teams, slide pro. We saw it all, so we're going to watch the film again, see what kind of protections we didn't do so well on, what we did do well. We don't expect offenses to run the same kind of protection that Cam had pressure on, that I had a lot of pressure. We're looking for the protections we didn't do so well on. We're going to anticipate that a lot more and have to prepare for how to beat it.
Texas has to replace quarterback Colt McCoy and star receiver Jordan Shipley. Oklahoma loses 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford and tight end Jermaine Gresham, who didn't play much at all last season, and Oklahoma State said goodbye to quarterback Zac Robinson and receiver Dez Bryant.
With spring practice right around the corner, here's a look at five position battles to watch in the Big 12 this spring:
1. Oklahoma State quarterback
Robinson leaves after breaking most of the school's passing records. He'll probably be replaced by 26-year-old junior Brandon Weeden, who was a second-round draft choice of the New York Yankees in the 2002 amateur baseball draft. Weeden played well at times last season, when he filled in while Robinson was hurt. If Weeden can grasp new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen's spread offense quickly, he should hold off heralded incoming freshman Nathan Sorensen during fall camp.
2. Texas defensive line
The bad news for Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp: star defensive end Sergio Kindle and tackle Lamarr Houston departed for the NFL draft. The good news: ends Sam Acho and Eddie Jones, who combined for 15 sacks in 2009, are both coming back. Jones might be the leading candidate to replace Kindle, but he'll have to hold off Russell Carter and promising sophomore Alex Okafor. Replacing Houston's productivity might be more problematic. Sophomore Calvin Howell, who had four tackles and one sack in 2009, was the No. 2 tackle at season's end.
3. Oklahoma offensive line
The Sooners were banged up on the offensive line last season, which contributed to their unexpected slide to 8-5. Now, OU coach Bob Stoops has to replace left tackle Trent Williams, right guard Brian Simmons and center/tight end Brody Eldridge. Will the Sooners stick with their starting tackles against Stanford in the Sun Bowl? Converted tight end Eric Mensik and rising senior Cory Brandon started against the Cardinal. Junior Jarvis Jones, who split time between guard and tackle last season, is recovering from a broken heel and might not be ready for the start of spring practice. Junior Donald Stephenson, who was suspended all of last season, might be the wild card. Junior Stephen Good and senior Tavaris Jeffries have to get better in the interior line if OU is going to improve up front in 2010.
4. Kansas quarterback
Todd Reesing, who broke about every passing mark in the Kansas record book, is gone after starting the last three seasons. Sophomore Cale Pick might remind new coach Turner Gill of his playing days at Nebraska. Pick averaged 11.9 yards per rushing attempt in seven games last season, while throwing only five passes. Pick will have to hold off junior college transfer Quinn Mecham, who enrolled in classes in January. Mecham threw for 3,091 yards with 40 touchdowns and 11 interceptions at Snow College in Utah last season.
5. Nebraska defensive line
How do you replace one of the best defensive tackles in school history? That's the dilemma Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini will face when his team opens spring practice. All-American Ndumakong Suh is gone, along with senior defensive end Barry Turner. The good news for Nebraska is that it played several young players on the defensive line last season. Starting tackle Jared Crick had 9.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss and was a star in his own right. Sophomore Baker Steinkuhler and junior Terrence Moore will battle for the other tackle spot. Sophomore Cameron Meredith, who had five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in limited time last season, is the top candidate to replace Turner on the edge.
But some Big 12 players will be facing bigger challenges than most.
Here's a look at the players who will be the toughest to replace across the Big 12:
1. Texas QB Colt McCoy: He leaves school as the most statistically proficient quarterback in school history, although his career will forever be marked by his near misses in the Heisman Trophy balloting over the past two seasons and his injury in his final college game against Alabama. Garrett Gilbert will be facing some big shoes to replace when Texas practice starts later this month.
2. Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh: He will go down in history as arguably the greatest Blackshirt ever, a player who stayed in school for an extra season and cashed in with a haul of individual trophies. Terrence Moore will accept the huge challenge to replace the most dominant defensive force in Big 12 history and in recent college football history.
3. Oklahoma State CB Perrish Cox: His ability as a shutdown cornerback and a punt returner helped marked the Cowboys' defensive effort last season. Cox led the Big 12 with 19 passes defensed and he didn't play in his final game in the Cotton Bowl. Overachieving 5-foot-8, 180-pound Brodrick Brown will have the unenviable task of trying to replace Cox in the Cowboys' secondary.
4. Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy: Although he was sometimes overshadowed by Suh in the conference, McCoy was the anchor of the Sooners' defense during the past three seasons, notching six sacks and 15.5 tackles for losses last season. Heralded Jamarkus McFarland will get the first shot at replacing McCoy -- not only in his production but also in his leadership.
5. Missouri WR Danario Alexander: The Tigers will bring back starters Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp, along with heralded rising sophomore T.J. Moe. But it still won't lessen the contributions of Alexander, who blossomed into the nation's top receiver over the second half of the season, finishing with school-record single-season totals of 113 receptions and 1,781 receiving yards.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Bo Pelini has been told to simmer down along the sidelines.
The bombastic Nebraska head coach has pumped some life back into the moribund Nebraska program in his first season directing the program. But sometimes, as even Pelini admits, he goes too far.
Pelini already has been flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty earlier this season during a loss to Virginia Tech. And his comportment was again called into question during a 62-28 loss to Oklahoma on national television last week.
"I'm a fiery guy, and I'm not going to change that," Pelini told the Lincoln Journal-Star. "But I have to be careful. You always have to be careful about what you say, what you do. And that's whether you're a head coach or coordinator."
Some have wondered if Nebraska's lack of discipline on the field might stem from their coach. Nebraska has been flagged for 17 personal foul penalties in nine games. Seven have come in the past two weeks. And against Oklahoma, redshirt freshman nose tackle Terrence Moore was ejected for throwing a punch at an opposing player.
"This is not an undisciplined football team in how they act either on or off the field, because that will not be permitted ever," Pelini told the Omaha World-Herald. "They know that."
But Pelini's open admission of his troubles in controlling his temper became prime discussion points at his weekly press conference in Lincoln Tuesday.
Jon Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald writes about Pelini's plans to change it.
But perhaps the best judge of Pelini's character is veteran Lincoln Journal-Star columnist Steve Sipple, who has known him as well as anybody in the Nebraska media corps.
Sipple writes that he appreciates Pelini's fire and passion, as long as it's kept at a controlled burn most of the time. That's made the job of a rookie coach difficult at times as he learns sideline decorum along with other aspects of becoming a head coach.
Obviously, Pelini is familiar with defense being played at a certain, exacting standard -- like the national championship team last season at LSU on which he served as defensive coordinator.
The Cornhuskers are playing far from that level. They have given up 16 rushing touchdowns in their last five games and will be facing a huge challenge in stopping Kansas' Jake Sharp, who is merely one of the hottest running backs in the country.
Which should make Pelini's reactions some good theater for those watching Saturday's game -- and maybe even make it worth the price of the pay-per-view telecast merely to focus on Pelini.
Until then, here are some other links from around the conference:
- Dave Matter of the Columbia Tribune breaks down his current choices for the Big 12 offensive, defensive and freshman players of the year.
- Heralded Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp better hope news of his team's recent struggles doesn't start seeping out to some of his suitors. The Longhorns were gashed for 217 yards rushing by Oklahoma State and then were blistered for 474 passing yards last week by Texas Tech. In those two games, the Longhorns have missed 27 tackles, according to Natalie England of the San Antonio Express-News.
- Eric Sorrentino of the Lawrence Journal-World looks at some of Texas Tech's most memorable comebacks under Mike Leach.
- The weekly "Bazooka Drill" has helped prepare Missouri kicker Jeff Wolfert for the pressure of facing game-winning kicks, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Derrick Goold. Wolfert's success has earned him the nickname "Mr. Reliable" from Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel.
- John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald said that Baylor's upcoming games against Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech will be critical in creating momentum for the upcoming recruiting season.
- Standout Texas A&M freshman receiver Jeff Fuller will be facing some familiar faces Saturday at Kyle Field, Bryan-College Station Eagle beat writer Robert Cessna writes. Fuller was an early commitment to Oklahoma before deciding to come to Texas A&M to follow in his father's footsteps.