Tyler Ferguson

Big Ten spring game wrap-ups

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Some news, notes, quotes and other assorted tidbits from the three spring games contested across the Big Ten Saturday afternoon…

MICHIGAN STATE
To say that the Spartans’ quarterbacks struggled somewhat during today’s spring game would be an understatement of mammoth proportions.

MSU quarterbacks combined to go 22 of 53 for 386 yards, two touchdown and two interceptions.  Last year’s starter and presumptive front-runner for the job this season, Andrew Maxwell, completed just nine of his 20 attempts for 120 yards and the game-winning touchdown pass.  The strong-armed Connor Cook, who has gained some ground on Maxwell this spring, threw for 217 yards and a scoring toss but also completed less than 40 percent of his passes (10-26).  Redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor completed five of six passes — three to his offensive teammates, two to his defensive teammates.

All in all, it was rough outing at a position where the Spartans may have more questions exiting spring than they did entering it.

Head coach Mark Dantonio said that the incumbent would top the depth chart entering summer, but stopped short of anointing him as the season-opening starter.

“I think you leave here at the end of spring saying that (Andrew) Maxwell comes into the summer camp number one based on knowledge and consistency in terms of performance.”

For his part, Maxwell feels as if he’s done enough to retain the job.

“I feel like I’ve done everything that I could do to make my case to the coaches to be the guy, and I feel like every day I came out and got better,” the player said. “I took a competitive mindset to every practice, and the ultimate decision is with Coach D.”

— The Spartans’ defense accounted for two touchdowns in the Green team’s 24-17 win over the White squad: a Chris Laneaux 25-yard interception return and a fumble recovery by Kyler Elsworth that was returned 41 yards.  On the other side of the ball, Aaron Burbridge caught five passes for 113 yards.

— Former MSU quarterback great Kirk Cousins, now Robert Griffin III‘s backup in Washington, returned to the East Lansing campus as color analyst for the Big Ten Network’s coverage of the game.  Based on Cousins’ comments, it doesn’t appear this will be his last rodeo in the booth.

“I want the football thing to last as long as it possibly can, but at the same time, in the offseason it makes a lot of sense to pursue other opportunities and prepare yourself for whenever football ends,” Cousins said. “And that’s why I’m here today, and it’s just a bonus I get to be back in familiar territory, watching the team that I love.”

— One of the coolest parts of the Spartans’ spring game was their helmets.  Specifically, the stickers on the back of the helmets honoring those who were killed or injured by the bombings at last Monday’s Boston Marathon.  Very classy gesture:

Michigan State Helmets

PENN STATE
If you were an individual looking for some clarity at the quarterback position coming out of the Nittany Lions’ spring game, you are likely somewhat disappointed at this point in time.

Following the game, head coach Bill O’Brien stated very firmly that neither Steven Bench nor Tyler Ferguson (pictured) had grabbed hold of the starting job and the competition would continue into the “voluntary” workouts and on into summer camp.  Both players completed nine of 15 passes, with Bench throwing for 99 yards and Ferguson 90.  Ferguson tossed two touchdown passes to Bench’s one.

As has been the case for most of the spring, the second-year coach was, for the most part, pleased with the duo’s performance.

“I thought they both (Bench and Ferguson) produced,” O’Brien said. “I thought both had some nice throws. Like everybody, coaches and players included, in every game you play, you wish you had some plays back. I’m sure they do too. I thought they both did some decent things out there today.”

In his post-game talk with reporters, O’Brien made it perfectly clear where the competition stands.

“I’d say, no, I’m not any closer as I sit here right now,” the coach said when asked about naming a starter. “Eventually, I’ll have to make a decision.”

O’Brien added that he will now go back and look at all of the spring practice tapes as they work toward naming a starter at the position.

The real competition, though, won’t begin until August; Christian Hackenberg, a five-star 2013 recruit rated as the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in this year’s class, will join the competition this summer, with most expecting the Virginia product to make a very serious run at the starting job as a true freshman.

— In front of 28,000 or so fans who braved the rain and snow and cold, the the Blue team (defense) dropped the White squad (offense), 67-47.  It was the second straight year the defense has “won” the spring game.

A big reason for the defensive win?  The Nittany Lions’ defense accounted for nine sacks, which counted four points apiece in the scoring system utilized by O’Brien.

— Youth was certainly served for the Nittany Lions as the school noted that all six players who ran, caught or threw a touchdown will be a freshman or sophomore this season.  Both of the front-runners for the starting QB job will be sophomores.

— Another of the young ones was running back Akeel Lynch, who led all rushers with 83 yards on his 13 carries.

— “I feel terrible because I love that city,” O’Brien said of the tragic events in Boston this past week. “I grew up 20 minutes north of that city and my brother Tommy is heavily involved in that city and so is my older brother and my dad and my mom so I feel terrible for them. … Boston is a very resilient city and we caught him last night so that was good.”

WISCONSIN
At the end of Gary Andersen‘s first spring as the Badgers’ head coach, and in the midst of a crowded quarterback competition, it was UW’s defense winning most of the plaudits in Madison Saturday afternoon.

Thanks to the “unique” scoring systems that are all the rage during spring games, the final score appears to be a high-scoring offensive affair: Cardinal 61, White 47.  The former team consisted of the Badgers’ defense, the latter the offense.

The game wasn’t a true measure of either unit, however, as Andersen lamented afterwards that “[w]e’re basically missing six starters right now on the defensive side that didn’t play a snap today, and four or five on the offensive side.”

Also, the fact that the game was televised on the Big Ten Network led Andersen to keep his team’s cards very close to his vest.

“I will say this: Defense today was very vanilla. Offensively, we were very generic, and defensively, we were very generic,” the former Utah State head coach said. “We did throw the ball, bottom line, and we did catch the ball better than we have all spring, and that was very encouraging.”

— The Cardinal team totaled 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks in the game.  As those plays were worth two points apiece, the defense scored 36 of its 61 points off those two types of plays.  They also earned 24 points off of eight three-and-outs.

— As far as the quarterback battle goes, two players, Joel Stave and Curt Phillips, received the vast majority of the reps.  Stave completed 15 of his 20 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown, while Phillips went 8-of-13 for 82 yards.  The other quarterbacks on the roster, including former Maryland Terrapin Danny O’Brien, attempted just three passes each.

— Running back Melvin Gordon, who will be charged with the task of replacing Montee Ball, ran for a team-high 74 yards and scored the game’s only touchdown on the ground.  He also added three catches for 35 yards.

— “Yeah, we’re in a good spot,” Andersen said when asked if his team is where he thought it’d be at the end of the spring.  “You’re never going to get everything you want. You’re never going to have it perfect. We wanted consistency. I think we got that. We wanted effort. I think we got that.”

Hip issue forces Mizzou RB Morgan Steward to retire

Morgan Steward
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Thomas Tyner isn’t the only Power Five running back forced to step away from the sport because of injury.

Back in November of 2014, Morgan Steward sustained a hip injury during the early portion of Missouri’s summer camp.  Specifically, the running back said at the time, “[m]y hip joint popped out of place, tore things around, pulled off some of the bone.”

Surgery that November sidelined him until camp the following year, but Steward managed to play the first three games of the 2015 season. Unfortunately, the back was shut down in late September for the remainder of the year; five months later, he’s being shut down permanently as Mizzou officials have confirmed that Steward will be forced to retire from the sport and end the playing portion of his football career.

A three-star member of the Tigers’ 2012 recruiting class, Steward ran for 84 yards and a touchdown as a redshirt freshman. Prior to the hip injury the following year, Steward was viewed as a back who could potentially shoulder a significant portion of the running-game load, rushing for 117 yards and three touchdowns in a scrimmage during spring practice in 2014. Post-injury, he ran for 18 yards in the three 2015 games.

The good news for Steward is that he has his degree from Mizzou in business communications.

Ole Miss QB Ryan Buchanan opts to quit football

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - NOVEMBER 22:  Ryan Buchanan #9 of the Ole Miss Rebels throws a pass in the fourth quarter of a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Razorbacks defeated the Rebels 30-0.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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Ole Miss had already lost one quarterback to a transfer the past couple of months.  Now, the Rebels are losing another via different means but essentially for the same reason.

In an interview with Scout.com, Ryan Buchanan confirmed that not only is he leaving the Ole Miss football team, but he’s leaving the sport, period.  Buchanan’s decision to step away from the game is actually the culmination of a process that began midway through a 2015 season that would see the Rebels win 10 games and a Sugar Bowl title.

“I came to the conclusion a few months ago that football would not be my future and it was time to start applying myself 100% to my future,” he said. “It’s time for me to find my passion beyond football.”

Buchanan, who said he briefly flirted with transferring to another school, informed head coach Hugh Freeze and his position coach, Dan Werner, of his decision a couple of weeks ago.

If Buchanan had decided to return to Oxford, he would’ve been no better than third on the depth chart. All-SEC quarterback Chad Kelly is firmly entrenched as the starter, while five-star 2015 signee and future at the position Shea Patterson is poised to be Kelly’s backup for a season before taking over the reins in 2017. There’s also no guarantee that the sophomore could beat out redshirt freshman Jason Pellerin for the No. 3 spot.

A four-star member of the Rebels’ 2013 recruiting class, Buchanan was rated as the No. 19 pro-style quarterback in the country and the No. 3 player at any position in the state of Mississippi.  After taking a redshirt as a true freshman, Buchanan attempted 22 passes and served as Ole Miss’ holder on kick attempts in 2014.  This past season, he attempted 13 passes, two of which went for touchdowns.

In early December, DeVante Kincade, a three-star recruit in Buchanan’s class, announced his decision to transfer from the Rebels.

Arkansas loses RBs coach to NFL for second straight year

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - SEPTEMBER 5:  Head Coach Bret Bielema of the Arkansas Razorbacks talks with a official during a game against the UTEP Miners at Razorback Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Razorbacks defeated the Miners 48-13.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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Whatever the reason, the big boy league of football has taken a shining to one particular position on Bret Bielema‘s Arkansas coaching staff.

On Instagram Friday night, Jemal Singleton confirmed that he will be leaving Bielema’s football program.  While he didn’t specify it in his post, the running backs coach will be leaving for the same job with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.

The 40-year-old Singleton had spent just one season coaching that same position with the Razorbacks.

A photo posted by coachsings (@coachsings) on Feb 5, 2016 at 5:23pm PST

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This marks the second straight year that Bielema will be forced to replace a running backs coach to the NFL.  Almost a year to the day, Joel Thomas left Fayetteville for the same position with the New Orleans Saints.

Thomas owed the university $50,000 as part of his buyout last year; Singleton will owe $100,000, per the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.  If Singleton had waited until Feb. 16, that buyout figure would’ve been halved.

Unlike the post right before this one, there were signs of an impending on and around National Signing Day earlier this week.

He was notably absent from a signing day event at Walton Arena on Wednesday, and he did not attend another event to discuss the signing class Thursday in Little Rock, fueling speculation he was being courted by another program.

Singleton’s job with the Colts will be the Air Force graduate’s first at the NFL level.

Nebraska ‘parts ways’ with DL coach Hank Hughes

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 5: Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Mike Riley points out a missed call during their game against the Brigham Young Cougars at Memorial Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Surprisingly, Mike Riley has a self-made hole on his Nebraska coaching staff.

In a move that wasn’t on most if any radars, Hank Hughes will not return in 2016 as NU’s defensive line coach, Riley revealed Friday.  No reason was given for the the departure of the assistant.

“I want to thank Hank for his hard work and contributions to our football program over the past year,” Riley said in a statement. “We continue to build our program with the pursuit of championships always at the forefront of everything we do, and we will look for a great coach, teacher and recruiter to enhance our defense.”

Regardless of the reason or reasons — and the fact that Riley made certain to note that a replacement would be “a great coach, teacher and recruiter” points to at least a couple — it wasn’t an expected development. From the Lincoln Journal Star:

There was no sign of such a move Thursday night, with Hughes present at the Big Red Bash that celebrated the 2016 recruiting class.

Hughes had just completed his first season with the Cornhuskers. Additionally, it was his first season as an assistant on a Riley-led coaching staff.

As the Journal Star notes, Hughes was in the midst of a two-year deal that was to pay him $300,000 annually.