Tyler Ferguson

Big Ten spring game wrap-ups


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

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

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.”

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.”

Florida RB Mark Thompson cited for pot possession

GAINESVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 15:  Mark Thompson #24 of the Florida Gators rushes for yardage during the game against the Missouri Tigers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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And now we know a little bit more of the rest of the story.

Friday afternoon, Florida announced that Mark Thompson would not travel with the rest of the team to Jacksonville for Saturday’s game against Georgia.  The only reason given was “some choices and decisions he’s made.”

According to the Orlando Sentinel, one of those choices was smoking weed, with that decision resulting in a citation for possession of marijuana.  The citation was issued after the running back ran a stop sign very early Thursday morning and was pulled over by a university police officer.

From the Sentinel:

UFPD spokesperson Maj. Brad Barber said the officer smelled the odor of marijuana in the car and after a search discovered Thompson in possession of fewer than 20 grams of the substance.

Thompson was given a notice to appear for the misdemeanor violation and also cited for failure to stop at a stop sign and failure to provide proof of insurance.

Thompson, a 6-2, 237-pound redshirt junior, is currently third on the Gators in rushing yards (262) and second in rushing touchdowns (two). This is the back’s first season in Gainesville after transferring in from the junior college ranks earlier this year.

Nebraska WR Jordan Westerkamp set to return after two-game absence

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 10: Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp #1 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers grabs a touchdown pass against linebacker D.J. May #7 of the Wyoming Cowboys at Memorial Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Wyoming 52-14. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
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When undefeated and seventh-ranked Nebraska takes the field for its biggest game of the 2016 season thus far, it’ll do so with one of the most experienced and productive pieces of its passing game back in action.

Jordan Westerkamp sustained an injury to his back during the Week 5 win over Illinois, and was briefly hospitalized after being hit by an Illini defender. The wide receiver missed the Week 7 win over Indiana and the Purdue win the following Saturday because of the injury.

This week, however, Westerkamp practiced without any type of restrictions ahead of the Week 9 game against No. 11 Wisconsin in Madison. Westerkamp, who stated his injuries included tiny fractures on the transverse process in his spine as well as what was described as a deep muscle bruise, confirmed the obvious, that he will suit up for the Cornhuskers and play against the Badgers in the huge Big Ten West matchup.

“It’s been good,” Westerkamp said, by way of the Omaha World-Herald, of his return to practice. “My confidence is at an all-time high and we’re ready to go get back with the team and kick butt this Saturday.”

At the time of the injury, Westerkamp led the Cornhuskers in receiving touchdowns (four) and tied for the team lead in receptions (13). His 228 receiving yards were second behind Alonzo Moore‘s 310.
Last season, Westerkamp led the ‘Huskers in all three of those categories.

‘Due to some choices and decisions he’s made,’ Florida RB Mark Thompson won’t play vs. UGA

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 17: Mark Thompson #24 of the Florida Gators in action during the second half of the game against the North Texas Mean Green at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Sounding very similar to a disappointed parent, Florida has announced that one of their kids will be in timeout instead of on the field this weekend.

Ahead of Saturday’s annual rivalry game with Georgia, Florida announced via Twitter that running back Mark Thompson not only won’t play this Saturday but won’t even make the trip to Jacksonville for The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.  Why? “[D]ue to some choices and decisions he’s made.”

The school, obviously, will not go into any further details as to the issue or issues that will sideline the player.

Thompson, a 6-2, 237-pound redshirt junior, is currently third on the Gators in rushing yards (262) and second in rushing touchdowns (two). This is the back’s first season in Gainesville after transferring in from the junior college ranks earlier this year.

Big 12 eschews two-division setup; instead, top two teams to play in league title game

WVU vs Marshall
Associated Press

The Big 12 earlier this month eschewed expansion.  A short time later, they’ve done the same for splitting up the conference.

The league announced late Friday morning that, when the conference championship game returns for the 2017 season, there will be no split into two five-team divisions.  Instead, the teams with the best and second-best record in conference play will square off in the conference championship game.

Each conference member will continue to play nine league games every season, one against each other member.

“There are a number of advantages to matching our top two teams,” said commissioner Bob Bowlsby in a statement. “Given our round-robin, nine-game scheduling model, it is expected the Big 12 champion will be uniquely positioned for College Football Playoff consideration. I would argue there will be no path more difficult than our champion’s, where it will have played every team in the Conference, faced at least one Autonomy Conference non-conference opponent, and then plays in our championship game.

“The guaranteed No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup will be a great game for our fans, and it’s hard to imagine a stronger position for a conference champion.”

The release gave no indication as to how three-way ties would be handled, although CFP rankings would likely come into play.  The decision to not split into two divisions likely won’t sit well with the league’s coaches, however, even as it’s arguably the wisest decision the conference has made in years.

The conference also revealed that the site of the 2017 conference championship game “will be announced in the coming weeks.” AT&T Stadium in Arlington, the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, is widely believed to be the front-runner for at least the first renewal, and is viewed as the far and away favorite if the league opts to “anchor” the game at one site for a period of years.