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.”

Lawyers for Mark Dantonio seeking legal fees from former MSU recruiting director Curtis Blackwell

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Lawyers representing former Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio in a federal lawsuit filed by former Michigan State recruiting director Curtis Blackwell are seeking reimbursement for legal fees as the case appears to be heading for possible dismissal. According to Mlive.com, Dantonio’s legal team is seeking up to $214,153 to cover legal fees tied to the case.

One of Dantonio’s lawyers, Thomas Kienbaum, is optimistic his client will receive reimbursement but does not expect a full compensation.

“Have I ever gotten anything close to what I think this judge will award? Nope, never,” Kienbaum said, according to the MLive.com report. “I’ve never asked for anything close to this, never been an occasion for it.”

Blackwell filed a lawsuit against Dantonio and Michigan State University in Nov. 2018 on the claim a contract not being renewed was a violation of the contract. Blackwell also claimed Dantonio and the program were guilty of various NCAA violations connected to recruiting and job placement opportunities for recruits. Dantonio resigned as head coach of the program shortly after the lawsuit documents were submitted. Blackwell later filed another lawsuit piling on the program and Dantonio once again.

In March of this year, a federal judge has recommended the original lawsuit be tossed due to a belief Blackwell’s lawyers were misusing the court process to harass defendants, including Dantonio.

Penn State WR Mac Hippenhammer enters transfer portal

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Another Penn State wide receiver is entering the transfer portal. Mac Hippenhammer, who was not named on Penn State’s spring football roster, has reportedly entered his name to the NCAA transfer portal.

By entering the transfer portal, Hippoenhammer is free to communicate with any other college football program interested in recruiting him to their program. Hippenhammer may also withdraw his name from the portal and stay at Penn State, but Penn State is no longer obligated to reserve his scholarship spot in the program.

Hippenhammer’s future at Penn State as a football player appeared to be going in the opposite direction as he has been focusing more on playing baseball. Hippenhammer did not participate in spring football practices in 2019 so he could participate in Penn State’s baseball season. He once again shifted his spring focus to baseball this spring before college baseball was shut down. This is why some of Hippenhammer’s transfer options may be slanted more toward baseball, one of the sports that was shut down by the NCAA this spring due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In 10 games in 2019, Hippenhammer caught one pass for 15 yards and returned two punts for 13 yards. Hippenhammer was a three-star addition of Penn State’s Class of 2017. He will still have one year of eligibility for football, although the NCAA tacking on an extra year of college eligibility for baseball would give Hippenhammer two years on the baseball diamond.

Penn State is already facing a bit of a questionable situation at wide receiver in 2020 following the early departure of KJ Hamler to the NFL and the transfer of Justin Shorter to Florida.

Alabama’s use of Apple Watches during coronavirus pandemic under scrutiny

Nick Saban
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The NCAA recently made a decision to allow strength and conditioning coaches to distribute workouts to players while they are isolated away from their respective programs. But Alabama’s use of Apple watches to monitor the players is drawing some eyes from around the SEC and beyond with everyone trying to figure out whether or not Alabama is in violation of any NCAA rules.

According to a report from Mark Schlabach of ESPN, the SEC is in the process of checking in on the use of the smartwatches at Alabama. The Athletic reports Alabama has been in constant communication with the SEC regarding the manner, according to a statement shared by a university spokesperson;

“The SEC is aware that Alabama provided Apple Watches to some of our student-athletes,” Alabama senior associate AD for compliance Matt Self said in a statement. “We are in constant communication with the SEC discussing the appropriate manner in which to utilize these and any other resources to provide for the health and well-being of our student-athletes during this crisis.”

Alabama set players up with the smartwatches as part of the program setup by strength and conditioning coaches David Ballou and Matt Rhea. The watches include workouts and apps to help players stay in as best in shape as possible during these unique times in wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The NCAA recently allowed for such workouts to be distributed to players with the stipulation that coaches were not permitted to monitor those workouts. The only member of Alabama’s staff reportedly observing the information from the watches has been Alabama’s director of sports medicine, Jeff Allen.

So why all the fuss about Alabama’s smartwatches? It seems to be a lack of uniformity in interpreting the NCAA regulations.

The NCAA has certainly been more accommodating and understanding with the situation hitting every facet of the sports world right now, so it remains to be seen if the NCAA would step on Alabama to investigate this issue before the SEC makes any kind of decision first. For now, at least, Alabama players can continue using those Apple Watches.

If Alabama is given confirmation their use of smartwatches during this time is permissible, it won’t take long for other schools to follow in Alabama’s footsteps and send out smartwatches to their players as quickly as possible.

As college football coaches preach staying home, Dabo Swinney was flying on vacation

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As more and more college football coaches are putting out public service announcements about the severity of the coronavirus, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, the eternal optimist, is not bashful about taking his family on vacation with a private jet. And he may be doing so again around Easter.

Speaking to members of the media on Friday, Swinney spread his usual positive message in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Swinney remains as confident as possible in suggesting college football’s 2020 season will manage to kick off as currently scheduled. Swinney’s proclamation college football will be unaffected in the fall came in the most patriotic way imaginable.

“I don’t have any doubt. I have zero doubt that we’re going to be playing and the stands are going to be packed,” Swinney said. “I’ve got one plan, and that’s to get the Tigers ready to play in late August, early September.”

Perhaps that sense of security is what has allowed Swinney to keep on living some parts of his life as if nothing has changed. For example, going on vacation with the family. Swinney said his family flew to Florida recently on a private plane, and he is contemplating flying again next week for Easter.

“The plane was sanitized,” Swinney said. “We don’t have any concern.”

It must be nice to live such a lifestyle right now.

The state of South Carolina is one of the few remaining states with no state-wide stay-home order in place (Arkansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa have no orders in place), but it is one of four states with stay-home orders in place in parts of the state (Utah, Wyoming, and Oklahoma). As of now, Charleston and Columbia are the two major locations in the state with stay-home orders in play, with Charleston enacting its order on March 26 and Columbia following three days later on March 29.

The ACC suspended all athletic activities in mid-March.