Written By T.J. Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
Spring Game Recaps
Several B1G squads have already wrapped up Spring ball and had their Spring Games. Read on for highlights and quick recaps to find out who stood out, who struggled and which units still have lots of questions to answer.
On April 4, the Maize and Blue played their first Spring Game under new HC Jim Harbaugh. The defense was the star (the pessimist would say that the offense struggled mightily) as the Blue team knocked off the Maize team by a score of 7-0.
Takeaways (all stats taken from maizenbrew.com):
-The Wolverines don’t have a clear cut starter at QB. Shane Morris (Junior) was the best they had in the Spring game but he wasn’t great. Morris threw the game’s only score (14 yard TD to Jaron Dukes) while redshirt freshman Alex Malzone struggled throughout and threw two INTs. Wilton Speight didn’t participate (injury) but isn’t expected to battle for the starting job. I think it comes down to Shane Morris vs. Iowa transfer Jake Rudock and the door is wide-open for the former Hawkeye. Whomever ends up starting at QB, the offensive line and receivers both need to improve for this offense to reach acceptable levels.
-A strong defense will need to carry Michigan if they are to improve in Harbaugh’s first season. It’s important to remember that defenses are usually ahead of the offense in the Spring (especially with a new coaching staff that is implementing a new offensive scheme). That being said, I think Michigan’s defense is set to be very good. They are experienced and return a lot of talent. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has a proven track record of success and I expect for Jabril Peppers and the rest of this Michigan D to help the Wolverines get to 7 or 8 victories, despite an offense that is likely to leave a lot to be desired.
Another new coach made his “debut” as the Cornhuskers took the field in Lincoln on April 11. Mike Riley left Oregon State to replace Bo Pelini at Nebraska and his first spring game in Lincoln was a 24-15 “victory” for the Red squad. It wasn’t a pretty game (I’m not jumping to conclusions about what that means, just observing that it wasn’t a great contest to watch on BTN)…there were 8 punts (Sam Foltz punted 8 times for 408 yards, I’m guessing he’s still icing his leg) and some really questionable decision making from the quarterbacks. That being said, there are some playmakers on this Nebraska squad and some things they can build on heading in Riley’s first season.
Takeaways (stats provided by cornnation.com)
-I’ve watched four Spring games in the past two weeks (you’re welcome!) and my favorite moment from any of them came right before halftime in this one. Tommy Armstrong took a snap from inside his own 5-yard line and, against all logic and sound reasoning, decided to take a knee in the endzone (in other words, a safety). It was bizarre, hilarious and I could be convinced that it occurred as part of a Monty Python sketch or something. Tommy Armstrong would say after the game that he thought new offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf told him to take one. It doesn’t mean Armstrong is a bad football player, it doesn’t mean Nebraska has “communication issues” and it doesn’t mean anything for Nebraska’s season but it was definitely amusing to watch.
-Speaking of Tommy Armstrong, there were questions surrounding the QB position and those questions were mostly answered during the Spring game. Armstrong is the starting quarterback until proven otherwise (a change may be made if Armstrong struggles greatly in Nebraska’s early games). Both he and A.J. Bush struggled in the first quarter (combined for 8-16 for 50 yards) but Armstrong got into a bit of a rhythm later in the game and connected on a few nice plays (including a nice 32-yard score to De’Mornay Pierson-El). Meanwhile, Bush threw a couple of picks and I thought Zach Darlington looked a bit better than he did. Johnny Stanton didn’t enter the game until the fourth quarter and appears to be out of the running for the starting job.
-Ameer Abdullah was an amazing running back for Nebraska and the battle to fill his shoes as the starting tailback has been an interesting one. Add in a change in the coaching staff (and the resulting change in offensive philosophy) and the running game was something I was very intrigued to watch on Saturday. It appears as though Terrell Newby is the #1 back and I expect Imani Cross to be the “big back” that is used in short-yardage situations. Adam Taylor and Mikale Wilbon also saw extensive snaps and impressed a bit. I think the biggest piece of news is that Mike Riley appears to be keeping some of the zone read stuff in this offense (often used during Bo Pelini’s tenure while Riley prefers I-form and pro-style running sets). I think that’s a good move for Nebraska’s current personnel and I imagine we’ll see them running out of the zone read for at least portions of the 2015 season.
-Pierson-El is a really, really dangerous football player. He can change games when he gets the ball in his hands, whether as a WR or as a punt/kick returner. Nebraska is going to need to manufacture ways to get him the ball in space because he can be electric.
-76,881 people attended the Spring Game (despite recent good, but not good enough results, this is a still an elite fan base) and Mike Riley received a Gatorade shower at the conclusion of the game.
The Terrapins showcased a lot of colorful uniforms at Byrd Stadium on Saturday as the Red team bested the White team, 21-16 in front of fewer than 4,000 fans. Randy Edsall’s squad has to replace a pair of talented wide receivers and they were missing Caleb Rowe (expected to start at QB) for the entirety of Spring practice but a few things stood out from their Spring Game.
Takeaways (stats from testudotimes.com)
-Marcus Leak appears to be the best option to replace Stefon Diggs as the #1 WR. Leak (a SR in the coming season) has flashed his talent at times but he looked dominant on Saturday. He’s really, really big and it looks like a real challenge for secondary players to bring him down in the open field. He scored three touchdowns and had over 130 yards and was clearly the best player on the field for the Terps. Deon Long was also tremendous in 2014 and replacing both Diggs and Long is a challenge. However, I saw a number of receivers that are intriguing and I don’t think talent will be an issue with this position group. Juwann Winfree, Taivon Jacobs, the aforementioned Marcus Leak and LeVern Jacobs (the guys besides Leak that I thought looked the best) should do just fine carrying the load for Maryland’s offense.
-Maryland’s special teams was a real strength for them last season. They return Brad Craddock (probably the best kicker in college) but have to replace punter Nathan Renfro. The man expected to do that (Nicholas Pritchard) struggled mightily on Saturday. Most of his punts were between 30-40 yards and didn’t have much hang time. They are bringing in a true freshman punter in the Fall and he might challenge Pritchard for the job but it’s safe to say that this is a concern heading into the 2015 season.
-In a previous piece on Maryland’s offseason, I touched on Yannick Ngakoue moving from OLB to DE. On Saturday, Ngakoue stood out as a disrupting force and I think he could be a dark-horse candidate to lead the B1G in sacks.
-Minnesota Golden Gophers-
Jerry Kill’s Minnesota program has steadily built itself into a very solid B1G force and improved in each year of his tenure. There’s a lot of positive momentum surrounding the Golden Gophers and B1G Network analyst Gerry DiNardo thinks Minnesota is the 3rd most talented squad he saw in the conference this Spring. I don’t think DiNardo is all-knowing but I do think his opinion on this matter should at least be considered when thinking about the Gophers as 2015 approaches. Plus, he’s not alone with this opinion. USA Today’s Tom Pelissero was told by an NFL scout that Minnesota had the 3rd most talent in the conference (behind only OSU and MSU). A little more than 10,000 fans saw Minnesota’s Spring Game at TCF Bank Stadium this past Saturday and the defense (as expected) impressed.
Takeaways (stats from Minnesota.247sports.com)
-The strength of this team is the defense. I actually think Minnesota may end up having the best defense in the B1G West and they might have the best group of linebackers in the entire conference. Cody Poock constantly made plays on Saturday (17 tackles) and it’s very apparent when watching this group that they move very well, pursue the ball (both in run support and in coverage) and tackle well. It’s also a relatively young group with a lot of depth so the Gophers are set to succeed at linebacker both now and in the future.
-Who replaces David Cobb? Cobb did a lot for the Minnesota this past season and his departure will be felt. However, I think they have a stable of backs that should be able to combine to replace most of Cobb’s production. Rodrick Williams Jr. is probably the man at the top of the depth chart right now and he had a punishing TD run on the first drive of the game. Rodney Smith is another guy to watch at RB.
-Mitch Leidner is going to have to improve as a passer if Minnesota is to exceed expectations and challenge for a division title this Fall. I like Leidner and I think he can be the quarterback of a very successful team but their passing attack wasn’t great last season and they lost their top pass-catching threat in Maxx Williams. A name to keep an eye on…Chris Streveler. Streveler is a big run-first QB that can flat out run. He had a 60+ yard TD run in the Spring game and the defense wasn’t even close to getting a hand on him. Streveler is not going to start for the Gophers but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some wrinkles in the game plan to get him some snaps (zone read type plays or maybe on QB draws in the red zone) during the 2015 season.
After watching the Gophers this past Saturday, I’m really intrigued to see their season-opening contest on Thursday, September 3 as they host a top 5 TCU Horned Frogs squad.
The Wildcats don’t really do a “Spring Game” (rather, they host a “showcase” at Lakeside Field), so I won’t spend much time recapping it. However, there were some quotes and notes that came from it and there were some highlights from their practice/scrimmage.
-I think Clayton Thorson is going to be the starting QB. He physically looks the part and I think he throws the best ball. Is he the most mentally ready of the three (Matt Alviti and Zach Oliver)? I have no clue but I think his talent will win out and he’ll be the starting QB for the Cats this Fall.
-Northwestern’s offensive line has been a work in progress all Spring and Pat Fitzgerald has shifted some guys on the line around to attempt to get the five best O-linemen on the field. Geoff Mogus has shifted from guard to tackle, while Shane Mertz (a 6’8” large, large man) has shifted from tackle to guard. Currently, it’s Mogus at left tackle and Shane Mertz at right guard but things could still shift around before Fall.
-Justin Jackson didn’t participate in much of the Spring practices after an injury. His absence meant increased reps for the backups and it appears that Solomon Vault is the most likely contributor when Jackson needs a breather.