Welcome to Big Ten Blast!
MSU's Andrew Maxwell has Spartans 2-0; UW RB Montee Ball finding rough going so far; Neb's Taylor Martinez had 92-yard TD run vs UCLA
This will be a regular weekly column where we will provide some news and notes from around the conference.
Last week, we talked about how this would be a make or break week for the Big Ten. The 12 Big Ten teams played seven schools from BCS conferences. Overall, the week was more break than it was make as Big Ten teams finished the week a dismal 6-6.
It was the worst nonconference weekend for the Big Ten since Sept. 16, 2000, when the 11 Big Ten teams went 5-6.
This past weekend, Big Ten teams were 1-6 against schools in BCS conferences. Two Big Ten teams (Wisconsin and Nebraska) fell out of the AP top 25 after dropping road games at Pac-12 venues.
With Ohio State (2-0) ineligible for a conference championship, it appears that Michigan State (2-0) may be the league’s only viable contender for a national championship. The Spartans face another tough test this week with Notre Dame visiting East Lansing.
“We’ve played two games,” said MSU coach Mark Dantonio. “We are very early in the season. Last year in the third game, we didn’t play well at Notre Dame and I think people kind of wrote us off. We ended up No. 9 in the nation.
“People will respond and reset their compass and evaluate and move forward. It is very competitive across the country when it comes to winning or losing football games.”
Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s Wolverines rebounded from an opening-week loss to Alabama by defeating Air Force at home. Hoke said it’s premature to write off the Big Ten just yet.
“You can call it a slow start of whatever you want to say,” Hoke said. “You can spin it however you want to. We’ve got a great conference. We have great student-athletes who are preparing hard. Our conference – at the end of the day – will hold up with anybody.”
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini’s Huskers dropped a decision at resurgent UCLA. He, too, wants to take a wait-and-see approach.
“I don’t make much of it,” Pelini said. “It’s early in the year and there is a lot of football left to be played. I don’t think you can make snap judgments until the end of the year and see how it plays out.”
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema added, “One game doesn’t define a season. We went 6-6. It’s not where the Big Ten wants to be. At the same time, we played some formidable teams.”
The sledding gets considerably easier for Big Ten teams this weekend. All 12 teams will be at home. Only three games are scheduled against BCS opponents with Michigan State hosting Notre Dame, Ohio State hosting California and Northwestern hosting Boston College. Four of this week’s opponents are from the MAC, while two others are from the I-AA ranks.
Here goes this week’s Big Ten Blast:
Bielema Pulls Plug On OL Coach Markuson
In the off-season, much was made of the upheaval on Wisconsin’s coaching staff with six coaches leaving Bielema’s staff.
Well, two weeks into the season, there is more movement. One day after UW netted 35 yards rushing in a 10-7 loss at Oregon State, Bielema decided to fire first-year offensive line coach Mike Markuson and replace him with graduate assistant Bart Miller.
“Offensively, I told the whole group up front (on Sunday),” Bielema said. “I sat down one-on-one with the offensive line group and explained to them the reason I’m making the move and the direction we’re going. It’s never been done since I’ve been here. I know that probably took them off-balance. At the same time, I think they are excited about the direction we’re going.”
Quarterback Danny O’Brien was sacked four times in the loss at Oregon State. The Badgers did not convert any third downs until their final desperation touchdown drive. The loss dropped Wisconsin from 13th in the AP poll to out of the top 25.
“Overall, we just weren’t seeing the results,” Bielema said. “This wasn’t something that was decided overnight. We had had conversations going back to last spring. We just felt for us to move forward … I decided early in my career that if I didn’t like the direction things were going and thought we had a chance to have a pretty good football team, I wasn’t going to wait until the end of the season because that’s how things are normally done.
“This is on me as the head coach. I righted a situation I thought I needed to do. Hopefully, we will get going in the right direction.”
Bielema admitted that he considered elevating Miller to the OL job during the off-season. But he had already moved one GA, Ben Strickland, onto the full-time staff. But Bielema said the success of the Strickland hiring also led to his decision to move Miller up.
Wisconsin (1-1) gets another tough assignment this week as it hosts Utah State (2-0), which is coming off a huge win over instate rival Utah. That game will be televised by Big Ten Network with an 8 p.m. start.
Bielema said he isn’t sure whether WR Jared Abbrederis will be available.
“Jared was knocked out of the game, although he flew home with us,” Bielema said. “He was slightly concussed. He will be tested and, just knowing Jared, I think he’ll get back out there this weekend.”
Bielema said safety Shelton Johnson (broken arm) will be out four to six weeks after surgery.
Click here for coverage of Wisconsin from Badger 247.
Dantonio Comfortable In Rivalry Games
Michigan State (2-0) moved up from 11th to 10th in the AP poll after its win at Central Michigan. Now the Spartans will host No. 20 Notre Dame (2-0) Saturday night (8 p.m., ABC).
In his five previous years as the head coach at MSU, Dantonio is a combined 7-3 in the school’s two main rivalry games. That includes a record of 4-1 against Michigan and 3-2 against Notre Dame. Dantonio talked about his approach to such games.
“We try to focus on the moment here,” Dantonio said. “We try to not get caught up in the moment. You focus on the next challenge. We don’t get too far ahead of ourselves. As far as rivalry games, we talk about them throughout the year. The rivalry games, the emotion and enthusiasm come from the people who played in it before.
“A coach can make it important, but if there isn’t any substance to it from the past players it seems like that has as much to do with it as anything.”
Two years ago, MSU took a 34-31 win over Notre Dame in overtime as the Spartans won on the “Little Giants” fake field goal play. That was an emotional moment, certainly, for MSU.
“I just try and build it,” Dantonio said. “It doesn’t matter where it starts. On game day, you have to be ready. Emotion is a very fleeting thing. You can have it one minute and not the next. That’s where your team leaders come in. We’ve been fortunate to have some good leaders.”
Click here for more MSU coverage from Spartan Tailgate.
Martinez, Abdullah Carry On For Huskers
Nebraska (1-1) is set to host Arkansas State (1-1) on Saturday (noon Eastern, ESPN2). It’s unclear whether running back Rex Burkhead will be back in action after missing the UCLA game due to a sprained MCL in his knee.
“He’s day-to-day,” Pelini said. “He’s getting a lot better. He had a good day today with his rehab and where he is. We’re being a bit cautious with him. We want to make sure he is 100 percent when he comes back. We’ll see how that plays out throughout the week.”
Without Burkhead, Nebraska was still able to rush for 260 yards in the 36-30 loss at UCLA. QB Taylor Martinez threw for 179 yards and also rushed for 112 – including a 92-yard scamper for a score – in the loss at UCLA.
“I think he’s just a better quarterback than he was a year ago. Is he perfect? No. But he has kept working to get better. He’s throwing the ball better and he’s making better decisions. Like anybody else, he has to continue to work on his consistency. Overall, he’s playing better football.”
Ameer Abdullah rushed 16 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns, playing in place of Burkhead at UCLA.
“We have some weapons on the offensive side of the field,” Pelini said. “Abdullah and Martinez are two of them. I thought Braylon Heard ran well the other night. We’re deeper at running back than we were a year ago. That should make us stronger, especially when you add Rex back into that mix.”
Click here for more coverage from Huskers Illustrated.
UM’s Gardner Makes Impact At Receiver
Gardner had five catches for 63 yards and a touchdown in UM’s 31-25 win over Air Force last Saturday.
“That helps him knowing what Denard is looking for and looking at,” Hoke said. “He is just scratching the surface of being the kind of receiver we need him to be.”
It would seem that Michigan (1-1) has an easy one this week against Massachusetts (0-2). The Minutemen, in their first year as a I-A team in the MAC, have been outscored a combined 82-6 in losses to Connecticut and Indiana. (The Michigan-UMass game is set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday on Big Ten Network.)
“You see some good things that they do from an offensive and defensive perspective,” Hoke said. “I know (UMass coach) Charley (Molnar) is going through some growing pains like we all do in building a program. Our improvement has to be something that is measured from week to week.
“We’ve got a long way to go with our improvement … to play Michigan football.”
Michigan moved up two spots from 19th to 17th after its win over Air Force. Click here for more coverage of Michigan from Wolverine 247.
Jones Moves To Tight End For PSU
Coming out of spring football, some thought that sophomore Paul Jones was ready to supplant senior Matt McGloin as Penn State’s starting quarterback. But two weeks into the season – and with Penn State at 0-2 after losses to Ohio and Virginia – Jones will move to tight end.
“We just felt like Matt McGloin had a better spring, a better training camp and he is our starter,” said PSU coach Bill O’Brien. “Paul Jones is a big, good athlete who deserves to play. He’s not going to play that much at quarterback. Why not find him a place on the field to play, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
O’Brien said Jones has accepted the position change.
“Paul and I have had a number of conversations in the eight or nine months since I’ve been here,” Jones said. “He’s a fantastic kid. He’s a guy who has enjoyed being here. He just wants to help the team. He just wants to play.
“He’s doing double duty. He sits in the quarterback meetings. He has some things he can do (at both positions). You won’t see him as an inline blocker. You will see him more as a receiver or in the backfield.”
Penn State lost another starter with WR Shawney Kersey leaving the team after the game against Virginia. He had six catches for 44 yards so far this year.
There has been a lot of heat on kicker Sam Ficken, who missed four field goals in the loss at Virginia. Ficken was pressed into duty this season after Anthony Fera transferred to Texas in August after the NCAA sanctions were announced.
O’Brien said on Tuesday that he pointed out mistakes throughout the field goal unit on each of Ficken’s misses. He said he plans to stick with Ficken as his kicker as Penn State hosts Navy (0-1) on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC).
“Sam is a fantastic kid,” O’Brien said. “He’s a Dean’s List student and I’m glad he’s on our team.”
Click here for more coverage of Penn State from Lions 247.
Boilers Emboldened Despite Loss At Notre Dame
Purdue dropped to 1-1 after its 20-17 loss at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish pulled out the win on a field goal in the final seconds. The Boilermakers return home to host Eastern Michigan (0-2) on Saturday (noon, Big Ten Network).
“We walked away disappointed that we didn’t win,” said Purdue coach Danny Hope. “But we came away encouraged about the potential of our football team. If we continue to improve, we have a chance to be a very good football team this season.”
The Boilers will be without backup quarterback Robert Marve for at least a few weeks after he suffered his third knee injury in the loss at Notre Dame. That leaves starter Caleb TerBush and Rob Henry at the quarterback spot for the Boilers.
“Marve will need some time off,” Hope said. “He did suffer another ACL injury and he will be out a while. Even though it was an ACL tear, there is still a chance he could come back and finish the season. I know he wants to play. He really wants to do that. It’s a big hit to our team because he brought some real passion and skill. He is an excellent passer who could make some big plays.
“We’ve lost one of our warriors. But he will still be an integral part of what we’re doing.”
Buckeyes Press On Without Hyde
Ohio State’s 31-16 win over Central Florida was costly as starting tailback Carlos Hyde was lost to a sprained MCL in his knee. Hyde could miss several weeks due to the injury, beginning with the game against California (1-1) this Saturday (noon, ABC). Freshman Brionte Dunn and sophomore Rod Smith will be asked to carry the load in Hyde’s absence.
“They are both big, talented backs. They can accelerate. They are both young. We have to take care of the ball. That’s my biggest concern.”
In two games, OSU receiver Corey “Philly” Brown has logged 13 catches – one shy of the 14 he had all last season when he, Devin Smith and Jake Stoneburner tied for the team lead.
“Philly Brown, I noticed he was a competitor,” Meyer said. “But the way he handled his business off the field was not what we expect academically and other areas. I thought he had some ability. This summer, when he got a 3.8 GPA that’s when I knew the corner was officially turned.
“He was a guy who liked to catch passes. But I have liked the way he has developed.”
Ohio State inched up two spots from 14th to 12th in the new AP poll after defeating UCF. Click here for more Ohio State coverage from Bucknuts.com.
Iowa Looks To Energize Offense
Iowa (1-1) has managed just one offensive touchdown in its first two games. The Hawkeyes managed just 304 yards total offense in last Saturday’s 9-6 home loss to instate rival Iowa State.
When asked what his team needs to work on, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said, “I’d say pretty much everything. When you have one touchdown in two ballgames, that says it all. We have a lot of work to do.
“Our passing game isn’t where we want it to be any phase – downfield or in any regard. We will just keep working on it. We have to do well in the red zone when we get inside the 20. We have not done well down there in either game.”
Iowa will host I-AA Northern Iowa (1-1) on Saturday (3:30 p.m. Eastern, Big Ten Network). The Panthers gave Wisconsin a tough game, falling 26-21 in their season opener on Sept. 1.
Ferentz hopes QB James Vandenberg, who was 20 of 42 passing for 236 yards and two interceptions, can get back on track.
“He’s fine,” Ferentz said of Vandenberg. “We don’t have anybody more invested in our football team. James is totally in. I’m sure he’s disappointed right now. We just have to keep working. It’s going to get better. He will be a big part of our improvement. He is a proven player and an outstanding player. You just worry he is trying to do too much.”
Click here for coverage of Iowa athletics from Voice of The Hawkeyes.
Hoosiers Lose Roberson To Broken Leg
Indiana moved to 2-0 with its win over Massachusetts at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. But the Hoosiers lost starting quarterback Tre Roberson to a broken leg.
“He will be able to get a redshirt and we will have him for three more (years) and he will have a great career,” said IU coach Kevin Wilson. “We are lucky Cam Coffman came in and performed nicely for us.”
“It’s a tough deal for Tre and we love him and we will miss him. We’ll keep working hard to make this year as good as we can. We think it will be a good year for us.”
Wilson found himself in a quarterback quandary after last season as quarterbacks Edward Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel transferred out of the program. He had been acquainted with Coffman’s family from his time at Oklahoma. Coffman spent last season at Arizona Western Junior College, where he led the team to an undefeated season.
“It was pure necessity, pure luck and we’re very thankful he’s here,” Wilson said of Coffman.
Against UMass, Coffman was 16 of 22 passing for 159 yards and a touchdown. He will make his first start for Indiana as the Hoosiers host Ball State (1-1) on Saturday (8 p.m., Big Ten Network).
“Tre can do a little bit more with his feet,” Wilson said. “Cam is a good enough athlete that we will still do some of that. But Cam is probably a little bit better thrower and a little more polished there.”
Click here for coverage of IU athletics from Inside Indiana.
Tough Schedule Works For Northwestern
When the Big Ten season starts in two weeks, Northwestern (2-0) will be ready. The Wildcats are the only I-A team nationally to have beaten two BCS opponents with wins at Syracuse (42-41) and at home over Vanderbilt (23-13).
Northwestern has a chance to become the only school to open with three wins over BCS conference opponents if it can knock off Boston College (1-1) on Saturday (3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network).
“It will prepare us well,” NU coach Pat Fitzgerald said of his team’s schedule. “We talked about it in the spring and some again in the summer. We are one of the only teams in the country and I know the only one in our conference playing three BCS nonconference opponents. That’s just the way it fell this year. We just have to embrace this challenge.
“If we did, we knew we would know more about our team than any of our brothers in the Big Ten. It’s another challenge. Put more weight on the bar and we’ll see how we respond on Saturday.”
Northwestern survived the heat inside the Carrier Dome in its opening win over Syracuse. Last week, NU put the game with Vandy away while playing in a driving rainstorm. But Fitzgerald said he knows his team must ramp up the physicality to play BC and also get ready for the Big Ten.
“We’re not where we need to be right now,” Fitzgerald said. “We better show up better than we did Saturday night or we will get our tails whooped.”
Scheelhaase Working Back For Illinois
Illinois coach Tim Beckman is hoping to get starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase back into action as the Illini (1-1) host I-AA Charleston Southern (0-2) on Saturday (noon Eastern, Big Ten Network).
Scheelhaase did not play in last Saturday’s 45-14 loss at Arizona State due to an ankle injury. Reilly O’Toole and Miles Osei struggled at that position in his absence.
“I don’t want to put any football player out who is not completely ready,” Beckman said. “That will be a decision that is made by our coaching staff and our doctors. He practiced (Tuesday). He was not a full player last week. The doctors came up to me on Saturday and said, ‘If we need to use him in an emergency situation …’
“But he just hadn’t practiced enough. I don’t care who you are as a football player, if you don’t practice Tuesday and Wednesday then I don’t know how you can play.”
One of the few bright spots in the loss at ASU was the play of freshman running back Josh Ferguson, who carried 14 times for 101 yards.
“I was very happy with Josh,” Beckman said. “I thought he did an outstanding job of making things happen. We got better as an offensive front. We are still struggling with pass protection. We did make some strides in our rushing game.”
Minnesota Looks For 3-0 Start
Minnesota will be going for its first 3-0 start since it opened the 2008 season at 4-0 as the Golden Gophers host Western Michigan (1-1) on Saturday (noon Eastern, Big Ten Network).
“It’s always easier to teach kids when you’re 2-0,” said UM coach Jerry Kill. “When you’re 0-2, it’s harder to get them to pay attention. It’s helped us to have some momentum. I think people also understand we still have a ways to go.
“We focus on what we didn’t do well a week ago. We work on what we need to get better at. We take it a game at a time and try to get better. We’re trying to build a program.”
Kill credited the play of his defensive line – led by junior Ra’Shede Hageman and senior D.L. Willhite – for Minnesota’s fast start.
“If I’d say there is a vast improvement on our team through two games, our defensive line is much more athletic than it was a year ago,” Kill said. “We’re getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback. We have probably gotten more hits on the quarterback and pressure than we had in the whole year last year.
“We can go eight or nine kids there, which is important. We’re playing some young kids who redshirted and a true freshman. They are moving around pretty good.”
* Early in his coaching career, Nebraska’s Pelini worked as a quality control assistant in the San Francisco 49ers organization. He talked about some of the guys he learned from in the profession.
“George Seifert, Pete Carroll, Ray Rhodes, those are probably the guys,” Pelini said. “You change and you evolve with the changing times. But you have certain core beliefs you stick with and base your system on.”
* One area of concern for Michigan State coming into the season was the wide receiver position. The Spartans lost B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin to graduation.
Through two games, junior wideout Bennie Fowler and junior tight end Dion Sims share the team lead with 10 catches. Sophomores Keith Mumphery (six catches) and Tony Lippett (five catches) have also come up big.
And two more youngsters have also been heard from in freshman Aaron Burbridge (two catches) and soph DeAnthony Arnett (48-yard grab vs. Central Michigan).
“When we came into camp, we had quite a few players we were looking at,” said MSU’s Dantonio. “Now it’s a little cleaner. We have designated eight guys who will travel and all eight may play. That’s the nature of it when you’re young at that position. They need game experience to bring that along.
“Last week, everybody made big plays. We got some young players involved. I’d love to see them all do well.”
* As we were writing this notes column, it was widely reported that Notre Dame will join the ACC in most sports except football.
Talk that Notre Dame could one day join the Big Ten or Big 12 had all but dissipated in recent years. This adds another blow to the Big East, which loses ND in basketball.
As part of this deal, ND will play as many as five ACC opponents in football. The Irish have routinely played the likes of Boston College and Wake Forest. They have also on occasion played Miami (Fla.), Florida State and Pittsburgh, which is headed to the ACC next year.
It’s unclear what impact, if any, this new arrangement will have on ND’s longtime series with Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue in the Big Ten. Notre Dame is scheduled to play Purdue through 2021. ND plays Michigan through 2017 and then again from 2020-31. ND has games set with MSU next year as well as in 2016-19. ND will also play Northwestern in 2014 and 2018.
* Weekly award winners from the Big Ten included:
Offensive Player of the Week: Michigan QB Denard Robinson (426 yards total offense and four TDs vs. Air Force).
Defensive Player of the Week: Northwestern LB Chi Chi Ariguzo (10 tackles, three TFLs, one sack vs. Vanderbilt).
Special Teams Player of the Week: Purdue punter Cody Webster (averaged 43.3 yards on seven punts vs. Notre Dame).
Freshman of the Week: Michigan TE Devin Funchess (four catches for 106 yards and a TD vs. Air Force).
Big Ten Standings
Ohio State (2-0, 0-0)
Indiana (2-0, 0-0)
Illinois (1-1, 0-0)
Purdue (1-1, 0-0)
Wisconsin (1-1, 0-0)
Penn State (0-2, 0-0)
Michigan State (2-0, 0-0)
Northwestern (2-0, 0-0)
Minnesota (2-0, 0-0)
Iowa (1-1, 0-0)
Nebraska (1-1, 0-0)
Michigan (1-1, 0-0)
Sept. 8 Games
Minnesota 44, New Hampshire 7
Ohio State (14) 31, Central Florida 16
Virginia 17, Penn State 16
Iowa State 9, Iowa 6
Michigan (19) 31, Air Force 25
Michigan State (11) 41, Central Michigan 7
Indiana 45, Massachusetts 6
Notre Dame (22) 20, Purdue 17
Oregon State 10, Wisconsin (13) 7
UCLA 36, Nebraska (16) 30
Northwestern 23, Vanderbilt 13
Arizona State 45, Illinois 14
Sept. 15 Games (All times Eastern)
California at Ohio State (12), noon (ABC)
Arkansas State at Nebraska, noon (ESPN2)
Charleston Southern at Illinois, noon (Big Ten Network)
Eastern Michigan at Purdue, noon (Big Ten Network)
Western Michigan at Minnesota, noon (Big Ten Network)
Boston College at Northwestern, 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Massachusetts at Michigan (17), 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Navy at Penn State, 3:30 p.m. (ABC regional, ESPN2 outer market)
Northern Iowa at Iowa, 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Ball State at Indiana, 8 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Utah State at Wisconsin, 8 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Notre Dame (20) at Michigan State (10), 8 p.m. (ABC)
Sept. 22 Games
UTEP at Wisconsin, noon, (ESPN or ESPN2; platform TBD after Sept. 15 games)
UAB at Ohio State, noon (Big Ten Network)
Central Michigan at Iowa, noon (Big Ten Network)
Temple at Penn State, 3:30 p.m. (ABC regional; ESPN2 outer market)
Idaho State at Nebraska, 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
South Dakota at Northwestern, 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Eastern Michigan at Michigan State, 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Syracuse at Minnesota, 8 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Louisiana Tech at Illinois, 8 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
On Thursday, I made my picks for Week 2.
I ended up 18-7 straight-up and was 14-10 against-the-spread. For the year, I am now 43-12 SU and 26-23 ATS.
In Big Ten games, I was 9-3 straight-up (with losses on Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa) and also 7-4 ATS. Through two weeks, I am 19-5 straight-up and 10-10 ATS.
Stay tuned this week for our Picks for Week 3 on Thursday and a Chat either Thursday or Friday.