Three more spring games are in the books, as Ohio State, Penn State and Minnesota punctuated their drills with games on Saturday. Michigan State and Wisconsin are the only schools left playing, with each conducting a spring game this Saturday when the NFL draft still will be going on.
BUTKUS’ TIME: Is this a worrisome thought? The most critical and complicated position on Tim Beckman’s Illinois staff is being handled by the unit’s least experienced coach.
His name: Luke Butkus. His position: The offensive line.
How badly did the Illini attack struggle in 2011? The unit failed to score a first-half point in five of six games in a late-season swoon. In those six games, Illinois averaged 11 points for a team that opened, 6-0, then went 0-6 before winning a bowl over UCLA to end the season. Just a strange year.
At least Butkus knows the terrain, playing on a line that helped lead Illinois to the Big Ten crown in 2001.
“We’re not here to run a million schemes,” Butkus told Loren Tate of the Champaign News-Gazette. “Whether it’s spread or I-formation or two-back, our job is to move people up front, and to protect the quarterback in the passing game. Ours is the hardest position because offensive line technique is unnatural. You don’t grow up to be an offensive lineman.”
MICHIGAN STATE’S ANCHOR: With Jerel Worthy gone, Michigan State’s defensive line needs a new anchor inside. And that anchor could be Anthony Rashad White.
This spring, White isn’t getting as many reps at nose tackle, says George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press. Instead, he’s working a three-technique, where he lines up between a guard and tackle. The three-technique is required to take on a lot of double teams, and that’s something Spartan defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi didn’t want converted end Tyler Hoover to have to do coming off an injury that cost him 2011.
“With that injury he had, I just wanted to start him off at the nose because I think it’s a little easier to do,” Narduzzi said. “So I want to wean him into the three. He’ll play both. He’s got to be able to play both. I figure it will be good for Rashad to play the three. Then we’ll switch it in the fall, probably.
“I’d rather Hoover be there, but in our defense the three-technique (gets) a lot more double-teams so I don’t want Hoover to get beat up too quickly. I want him to get used to it in there before we send him to the wolves, I guess.”
FINDING A PENN STATE QB: Even after the Penn State spring game, the quarterback spot remains up for grabs. But, this isn’t a big shock. The position has been muddled for some time. Bill O’Brien said he’d liked to have had the quarterback derby down to two entering camp in August. Well, that may have happened.
According to Joe Juliano of the Philadelphia Inquirer, those two likely will be Matt McGloin and Paul Jones—with Rob Bolden being the odd man out.
The big surprise is Jones, who sat out his first two seasons as a redshirt (2010) and then because of academics (2011). He hit just 6-of-15 passes for 113 yards with a pick on Saturday but had his moments. McGloin connected on 6-of-13 passes for 105 yards with a touchdown and interception.
Bolden struggled, hitting 7-of-14 attempts for 78 yards with three interceptions.
“We’ve asked a lot of them,” O’Brien said. “We’ve asked them to learn a system that’s totally different from anything they’ve ever learned, and that takes time. . . . So we have to let it soak in a little bit, let it soak for ourselves as a staff. We’ll make a decision headed into training camp on who we’re going with or who the top two are.”
It’s the most important decision O’Brien has to make in camp.
PRICE OF ADMISSION: The cost of going to a Big Ten game is rising. Fans at Michigan and Michigan State can feel the pain. According to Matt Charboneau of the Detroit News, Michigan will be facing the highest cost for a football game in the school’s history, while many at Michigan State will have to kick in donations to accompany their season tickets
More sobering news to your wallet: Purdue and Illinois joined the Michigan schools in raising at least some of their football ticket prices for 2012, while every other school has had some type of cost increase in the last three years.
In fact, among the six major conferences that are members of the Bowl Championship Series, the Big Ten has the second-highest average cost per ticket for its premium games at $64.67. Only the Big 12 is higher with an average of $87.20.
IMPROVEMENT IN MINNEAPOLIS: Minnesota has put the wraps on spring drills.
“We got a chance to see everyone on the field, and we got out of it healthy,” head coach Jerry Kill told Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “So that’s the biggest thing.”
Quarterback MarQueis Gray looked good among the four signal-callers, hitting 4-of-8 passes 62 yards. The secondary also stood out.
“We’ve got some guys in the secondary that can run, and we’re getting a little bigger in the secondary, which we needed to continue to do,” Kill said. “I can tell you just physically watching that that was better.”
That’s good, because the defensive backs struggled often in 2011, as the Golden Gopher defense finished 11th in the Big Ten vs. the run (186.4 ypg), ninth against the pass (216.7 ypg) and 10th overall in the Big Ten (403.1 ypg).
BUCKEYES PASS IT WELL: Ohio State’s spring game was all about working on the passing game. Mission accomplished. The star? True freshman wideout Michael Thomas, who caught 12 passes for 131 yards. Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch puts that into perspective: Three players tied for the team lead in 2011 with 14 receptions.
Thomas—a nephew of Keyshawn Johnson–is a native of California who attended Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy before arriving at Ohio State in January. If it looked like Thomas and Miller had great chemistry, it may be because this wasn’t the first time the duo worked together. They were teammates in the Under Armour All-American game in January 2011.
This looks like it’s gonna be a fun marriage for a Buckeye offense that needs to pump air into a passing game that ranked last in the Big Ten in 2011.
TWEETS that matter
My take: Many felt it would be a struggle to replace starting center Michael Brewster, but Linsley has stepped up as one of the top blockers for a revamped Buckeye offensive line that will have three new starters. The left side looks good with tackle Jack Mewhort and guard Andrew Norwell, while the right side may be coming together with Marcus Hall at guard and converted tight end Reid Fragel being pushed at tackle by stud true freshman Taylor Decker. Linsley is looking like an anchor inside.
I think defense will be fine, once it gets three key starters back, CB Devin Smith and LBs Mike Taylor and Chris Borland.—
Tom Mulhern (@TomMulhernWSJ) April 21, 2012
My take: When most discuss Wisconsin, they focus on an offense that’s looking for a go-to wideout, three new linemen and a quarterback. But don’t forget about a defense that could be pretty stout. To me, the biggest issue for the Badger defense will be developing some pass rushers. Still, I like this unit led by coordinator Chris Ash and co-coordinator Charlie Partridge. It usually doesn’t get the credit it deserves playing with a prolific offense.
BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, and all of his work is at btn.com/tomdienhart. Send questions to his weekly mailbag, subscribe to his RSS feed, and check out his video Q&A.