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.”

Heisman Trophy odds see change at the top

Leonard Fournette
Associated Press
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There is a new preseason favorite for the 2016 Heisman Trophy, at least as far as Bovada is concerned.

The betting service Tuesday listed LSU running back Leonard Fournette checks in with the best odds at 9/2. He moved ahead of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, whose odds went from 9/2 in January to 5/1 now.

Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey’s odds moved to 11/2 while Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, Florida State running back Dalvin Cook and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield are all at 12/1.

Several players were added to the board since January, including UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen (16/1), Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough (20/1) and Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham (28/1).

The group of newcomers also includes both of the competitors to be Notre Dame’s starting quarterback. DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire are both set at 28/1.

Oklahoma DB facing charges after early morning arrest

NORMAN, OK - OCTOBER 3:  Safety Hatari Byrd #4 and cornerback Jordan Thomas #7 of the Oklahoma Sooners take the field before the game against the West Virginia Mountaineers October 3, 2015 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated West Virginia 44-24.(Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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Oklahoma defensive back Jordan Thomas was arrested early Thursday morning and stands accused of three offenses.

Cleveland (Oklahoma) County sheriff arrest records show the 20-year-old Thomas was booked at 2:45 a.m. on charges of assault and battery, public intoxication and interference.

A school spokesperson told The Tulsa World the department is aware of and monitoring the situation.

Thomas, who reportedly has been released on bond, was second on the Sooners with nine pass defended last season and was credited with 46 tackles. He had five interceptions.

The World notes Thomas has been in trouble both with the law and the team previously.

Thomas was jailed in Grady County before last year’s Orange Bowl after failing to appear in court following a traffic citation.

The junior also has faced issues on the team. He missed the first quarter of the 2015 opener against Akron and the entire Tulsa game for undisclosed disciplinary reasons.

The Sooners won the Big 12 last season and made the College Football Playoff.

They are expected to be contenders again this season and have a showdown with Ohio State looming in Norman on Sept. 17.

Joker Phillips among Urban Meyer’s new hires at Ohio State

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 25:  Head coach Urban Meyer of the Florida Gators is congratulated by head coach Joker Phillips of the Kentucky Wildcats at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Gainesville, Florida. Florida defeated Kentucky 48-14 for Meyer's 100th career victory.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
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Ohio State has quietly added Joker Phillips and Brian Knorr — two experienced college coaches — to Urban Meyer’s staff.

Although the athletics department has not made an announcement yet, Phillips is listed in Ohio State’s employee directory as a sports program associate with the working title of “Football QC – kicking,” which presumably means he is a quality control assistant for the Ohio State kicking game.

Knorr is listed simply as an athletics intern.

Of the two, Phillips is the more experienced. Now 53, he began his coaching career as a G.A. at Kentucky, his alma mater, and eventually spent six seasons as a full-time receivers coach for the Wildcats in the early 1990s.

He also coached at Minnesota, Notre Dame and South Carolina before returning to Lexington as an assistant and eventually rising to head coach in 2010.

The Wildcats went just 13-24 in his three seasons, and he spent last year as wide receivers coach of the Cleveland Browns. He also spent a season coaching receivers at Florida, where he was found guilty of a level two recruiting violation.

Knorr was most recently the defensive coordinator at Indiana. He spent two seasons in Bloomington after six at Wake Forest.

A Kansas native, he played quarterback at Air Force and previously worked in the Buckeye State as an assistant to Jim Grobe and then Frank Solich at Ohio University from 1995-2004.

The Hoosiers ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring defense and total defense last season, and he was replaced by Tom Allen in January.

Texas’ plunder of Baylor’s recruiting class continues

SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 30:  Texas Longhorns mascot Bevo wears a harness in honor of head coach Mack Brown during the Valero Alamo Bowl against the Oregon Ducks at the Alamodome on December 30, 2013 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Make that four new additions to Texas’ 2016 recruiting class in late June.

The school announced Wednesday that Patrick Hudson, an in-state offensive lineman from Silsbee, has signed a financial aid agreement and is expected to enroll in Austin in July when the second summer session begins.

Hudson is a four-star prospect and the 50th-best player in the country according to 247Sports’ composite rankings.

He signed with Baylor in February but was granted a release from his letter of intent after a report accusing members of the school and athletics department of mishandling accusations and incidents of sexual assault delved the school into controversy.

J.P. Urquidez and brothers Devin and Donovan Duvernay also signed with the Longhorns in the past week.

“We’re really excited to have Patrick joining our program,” Texas coach Charlie Strong said in a release. “Patrick coming to Texas, along with J.P. and Donovan earlier this week, are tremendous additions to an already impressive class of 2016. Patrick and J.P. are two big, physical, talented linemen, and Donovan is an explosive athlete who has played on both sides. We’re looking forward to getting them on campus and working with the team.”

Urquidez is also a four-star offensive lineman while Devin Duvernay is a four-star receiver and Donovan Duvernay is a three-star athlete per 247Sports.

Texas’ class is ranked seventh nationally and No. 1 in the Big 12 as Strong looks to put a rocky start to his tenure behind him and return the Longhorns to national prominence.

They start the season with a visit from Notre Dame on Sept. 4.