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Wes Lunt pass complete to Matt LaCosse for 1 yd for a TD
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Wes Lunt pass complete to Mike Dudek for 20 yds to the PnSt 8 for a 1ST down
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Wes Lunt pass complete to Mike Dudek for 9 yds to the PnSt 37
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Akeel Lynch run for 11 yds to the PnSt 46 Akeel Lynch fumbled, recovered by Illin
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Wes Lunt pass complete to Mike Dudek for 11 yds to the Illin 35 for a 1ST down
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Christian Hackenberg pass complete to Akeel Lynch for 16 yds to the PnSt 41 for a 1ST down
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Christian Hackenberg sacked by LaKeith Walls for a loss of 9 yards to the PnSt 43
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Chris Gulla run for a loss of 8 yards to the Illin 11
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Brad Bars run for 32 yds to the Illin 22 for a 1ST down
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Christian Hackenberg pass complete to Chris Godwin for 18 yards.

Big Ten Friday mailbag

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
5:00
PM ET
You have questions, I have answers. So let’s skip the small talk and get on to the mailbag.


Josh Moyer: It’s difficult to answer that, Lynn, only because I disagree with the premise of the question. I think J.T. Barrett has gotten a lot of love in the Heisman race. A lot of outlets have him ranked in the top five – including Sports Illustrated (5), CBS (4), USA Today (3) and Yahoo! (5). Sure, he’s right on the outside of ESPN’s Heisman Watch at No. 6, but he’s just two points behind. And, quite frankly, I think it’s a no-brainer he should be ranked within those first five spots.

Since the loss to Virginia Tech, he’s statistically been the best quarterback in the nation – with a national-best 91.7 QBR and an FBS-leading 34 TDs. But, if I can play devil’s advocate just a bit here, he’s also played just four top-60 defenses and two of those games didn’t turn out so well (Virginia Tech, Penn State). He’s still obviously a great quarterback, one of the best in the country, but those stats appear at least a little inflated.

Does he deserve Heisman Trophy consideration? Absolutely. Should he be a top-five contender who travels to New York? You bet. But should he win the Heisman? Definitely not.


Josh Moyer: Nearly all of it comes back to the offensive line. I actually wrote about this more in-depth earlier today, but let me kind of build off that a little bit because Christian Hackenberg has faced two primary criticisms this year -- one, he’s making bad throws even when he does have time and, two, it’s as if he can’t read a defense anymore. As far as the first point, maybe this is an odd analogy, but follow me on this: It’s a bit like Pavlov’s dog. Hackenberg can almost never step up into the pocket and, on most snaps, he has no time. So what happens when the pocket doesn’t collapse? Well, he’s still been conditioned not to step up, because that leads to big hits. When the defense rings that proverbial bell, Hackenberg just can’t snap back to his normal behavior all of a sudden. That goes for any quarterback; just look at Eli Manning and his 27 picks last season for the Giants.

As far as not being able to read defenses, that’s just patently false. He’s been put in some no-win situations because he hasn't been allowed to audible out of every play this season, and a big part of that stems from the fact the rest of this offense – with four new linemen and inexperienced receivers – isn’t ready for that under a brand-new system. Last season, like former Penn State quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher mentioned to me, Hackenberg was able to walk to the line, inspect the defense and pick from three to five plays that were best suited for the situation. He doesn’t have that this season. He’s just living through a worst-case offensive scenario right now. He needs a better offensive line or this isn’t going to go away.


Patrick from Ypsilanti, Michigan, writes: If the Wisconsin coaching staff actually kept Melvin Gordon in for the second half against LSU, would he be the Heisman favorite? Assuming they hung on to win that game with him in, I think they’d still be in playoff contention, which would make his case stronger.

Josh Moyer: You make an interesting point, Patrick, because it’s true that a playoff berth would only help Gordon’s chances. Look at Alabama’s AJ McCarron last season; I believe that’s the main reason he finished second on the ballot. His stats weren’t crazy – 28 TDs, seven INTs – but he was arguably the best player on the best team.

So, yeah, beating LSU would have helped slightly – but if last week’s rushing performance hasn’t changed your mind about Gordon, I don’t know if anything else would have, either. He’s actually within striking distance of Barry Sanders’ seemingly untouchable single-season record of 2,628 rushing yards. He’s averaging an insane 8.6 yards per carry. And on Saturday, he’ll almost certainly become the fastest player to reach 2,000 rushing yards when it comes to carries. It took Sanders 268 rushes, Nebraska’s Mike Rozier 258 rushes and Penn State’s Larry Johnson 251 rushes. Two of those players won the Heisman, and I think it would be a grave injustice if Gordon didn’t beat Marcus Mariota out for the trophy this year.


Josh Moyer: Purdue has shown marked improvement this year, especially with redshirt sophomore Austin Appleby under center. But make no mistake -- this team still has a long way to go. Its receivers are lacking -- Danny Anthrop is out until next spring and DeAngelo Yancey has been a disappointment -- and the defense hasn't at all helped matters.

Purdue is ranked No. 83 nationally in total defense and No. 97 in scoring defense, and it's a big reason Purdue didn't beat Minnesota or play Michigan State closer. The Boilermakers are simply giving up too many big plays. There are plenty of young players on both sides of the ball – such as linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, one of the biggest freshman surprises in the Big Ten – but the problem with this team is there’s more than one problem. Plus, just take a look at the nonconference slate next season when it faces Virginia Tech and Marshall.

So when will Purdue make it to the upper echelon? Not in the near future. Right now, the question has to be when it can become bowl-eligible – and I think Purdue will be improved, but still hard-pressed to do that next season.
Just like the West Division, our league's race is starting to clear up.

Thanks to huge days by Melvin Gordon (64 fantasy points) and J.T. Barrett (44 fantasy points), it now appears as if it's just a two-team race between the Coal Crackers and Massive Attack. Who will come out on top these last two weeks?

Stay tuned ...

Your results this week:

Coal Crackers (Josh Moyer): 186
Massive Attack (Austin Ward): 156
Legendary Leaders (Brian Bennett): 107
The Trombone Shorties (Adam Rittenberg): 76
Sherman Tanks (Mitch Sherman): 63

And the overall standings:

Coal Crackers: 1,460
Massive Attack: 1,417
The Trombone Shorties: 1,327
Legendary Leaders: 1,164
Sherman Tanks: 1,048

Waiver wire: Rittenberg trails by 133 points after a down week and, as a result, he is trying to make up for some lost ground. He accounted for exactly half of our league's six moves this week. But, overall, last week's starting rosters are mostly intact.

Sherman adds Michigan RB De'Veon Smith and drops Nebraska RB Imani Cross

Bennett adds Michigan WR Devin Funchess and drops Penn State TE Jesse James

Rittenberg adds Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian and drops Wisconsin QB Tanner McEvoy

Moyer adds Michigan WR Amara Darboh and drops Illinois WR Geronimo Allison

Rittenberg adds the Michigan defense and drops the Rutgers defense

Rittenberg adds the Maryland kickers and drops the Minnesota kickers

Coal Crackers (Moyer)

Purdue QB Austin Appleby
Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman
Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo
Michigan WR Amara Darboh
Wisconsin kickers
Penn State defense
Bench: Maryland QB C.J. Brown (at Michigan)

Massive Attack (Ward)

Iowa QB Jake Rudock
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott
Minnesota RB David Cobb
Ohio State WR Michael Thomas
Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton
Penn State kickers
Michigan State defense
Bench: Illinois RB Josh Ferguson (vs. Penn State)

The Trombone Shorties (Rittenberg)

Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian
Michigan State QB Connor Cook
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Northwestern RB Justin Jackson
Ohio State WR Devin Smith
Nebraska WR Kenny Bell
Maryland kickers
Michigan defense
Bench: Ohio State RB Dontre Wilson (vs. Indiana)

Legendary Leaders (Bennett)

Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong
Illinois QB Wes Lunt
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford
Michigan WR Devin Funchess
Illinois WR Mike Dudek
Ohio State kickers
Wisconsin defense
Bench: Wisconsin QB Joel Stave (at Iowa)

Sherman Tanks (Sherman)

Rutgers QB Gary Nova
Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg
Michigan RB De'Veon Smith
Purdue RB Akeem Hunt
Michigan State WR Tony Lippett
Iowa Kevonte Martin-Manley
Michigan State kickers
Ohio State defense
Bench: Wisconsin RB Corey Clement (at Iowa)
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Christian Hackenberg pulled his Penn State ballcap close to his eyes, furiously chewing a blue stick of gum while the media peppered him with the same questions he has heard since September.

How could he go from Big Ten freshman of the year to throwing twice as many interceptions (14) as touchdowns (7)? Why is his offense averaging a touchdown less per game compared to 2013? Whatever happened to the Hackenberg of old?

“There’s not a quarterback in the country that can come out and play a perfect game every week,” he said Saturday.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Walker
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarChristian Hackenberg has been sacked more than any other Power 5 QB this season behind a makeshift offensive line.
He’s not wrong. But Happy Valley is still growing impatient with the player it anointed as the program’s savior when he was a high schooler. One local radio station recently debated the merits of benching the team captain. Others have hurled countless insults on Twitter: “Hackenberg sucks.” “He’s just awful.” “Just sit Hackenberg already.”

But, according to opposing coaches, a former scout and Hackenberg’s past coaches, all of that criticism greatly misses the mark. Stats and mistakes tell only part of the story, they said, and Hackenberg’s talent and draft stock haven’t dropped off, even if casual observers believe otherwise.

“No, it hasn’t dampened at all,” said Dan Shonka, one-time scout for the Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins who now runs Ourlads.com. “You’re talking about a guy who’s really smart and is mentally alert. He’s a good athlete. He’s durable, he’s tough, he’s made big plays in the past. And just look at his arm strength, quickness and delivery. You can go right on down the line.”

That ability hasn’t always been on display this season. But the quarterback position isn’t a solution to a struggling offense inasmuch as it’s the product. Last season, Hackenberg thrived with an experienced offensive line and the two-time Big Ten receiver of the year in Allen Robinson. This year, Hackenberg is struggling with the thinnest line in the Power 5 and with an exceedingly young crop of wideouts. That correlation is no coincidence.

His 37 sacks this season are tied for second-most in the FBS and are the most for a Power 5 signal-caller. And, according to ESPN Stats & Info, he’s under pressure at a rate 15-percent higher than the Power 5 average. The reality off that stat sheet is even starker, too, considering Hackenberg has been forced to throw the ball earlier to avoid said pressure.

“It’s the line. It’s all the line,” one opposing coach said. “We could see going in that he was taking a ton of hits, and big hits. He just can’t operate like he wants to with so much pressure.”

Hackenberg could only peel himself off the turf so many times before the frustration mounted. Against Maryland, following some drives, he’d angrily unbuckle his chin strap, jog over to the sideline – and then start shouting at Penn State’s offensive coordinator. During one sequence, he placed his hands on his hips and just stared at an assistant coach. At other points, he’d gesture and point until the frustration simmered down.

Even earlier in the season, during Week 2, Hackenberg grabbed the white phone on the sideline and it went viral when he appeared to mouth, “I don’t know what the f--- we’re doing.”

“It’s just being competitive,” Hackenberg explained after the 20-19 loss to Maryland.

But Hackenberg’s struggles aren’t especially surprising, scouts and coaches said, because the struggles haven’t started with him. He can’t step up in the pocket because two of his offensive guards were smacking around ball-carriers as defensive tackles in February. He’s a pro-style quarterback who has been forced to operate more out of the shotgun. And his high football IQ is countered by the fact the second-youngest team in the nation is still adjusting to a new system; he’s not even allowed to audible out of every play.

In other words, to some extent, he has been handicapped.

“More than anything, he’s a guy that is trying really hard to make plays,” said former Penn State quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher, who taught Hackenberg last season. “And sometimes you can force yourself, or try harder than normal to make plays, and we’ve all seen that before. I mean, Brett Favre threw more picks than anybody. That’s not just Christian Hackenberg.

“He’s a major, major talent. What really stuck out to me is how quickly this kid learned the offense and what we were doing. You don’t see that a lot with a younger player.”

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarNFL scouts haven't soured on the arm and toughness of Christian Hackenberg.
One Big Ten coach after another has taken turns praising the sophomore signal-caller this season, in spite of the performances. It hasn’t just been lip-service because it has been so consistent. Brady Hoke and Pat Fitzgerald both called him one of the nation’s best quarterbacks. Randy Edsall and Kyle Flood both lauded him as a rare talent. Urban Meyer called him “an NFL quarterback,” and Kevin Wilson referred to him as “one of the better players in the conference.”

They continue to compliment Hackenberg – even when not directly asked about him – because no quarterback, no matter how elite or mature, can operate at a high level without an average offensive line. Even professionals. Drew Brees’ production has dropped off this season – and the New Orleans Saints stand at just 4-6 – thanks in part to poor pass protection. Eli Manning just so happened to suffer the worst season of his career (18 TDs, 27 INTs) with the New York Giants in 2013, when he was sacked the most in his career. (And Manning was sacked 39 times in 16 games; Hackenberg has been sacked 37 times in 10 games.)

“You get gun-shy because you can’t step up anymore and then you start doing other stuff that throws off your timing. That goes for anyone, even Peyton Manning,” Shonka said. “But, with Hackenberg, I think this is just a bump in the road right now. He’s just got to work through it.”

Added Micky Sullivan, Hackenberg’s high school coach: “When you have two seconds to throw it versus three-and-a-half or four seconds, it changes your reads. He hasn’t regressed; his physical attributes haven’t disappeared.”

Sometimes, that’s hard to see on the field. Against Temple, broadcasters chided the sophomore for throwing a pass behind intended target Mike Gesicki – who flipped the ball up shortly before it was intercepted. James Franklin acknowledged afterward that Gesicki, a true freshman, simply ran the wrong route. There have been countless plays like that this season, where a Hackenberg mistake is actually a teammate’s gaffe. Granted, not enough to explain away 14 picks – but the fact is he’s playing better, especially given the circumstances, than what it appears on paper.

He’s a great quarterback in a not-so-great situation. And, for as animated as he has been on the field, he has been calm and thoughtful during postgame interviews. He hasn’t railed against this offensive line or criticized the bad drops and wrong routes by his receivers. He just hides his eyes under his ballcap and walks out of the locker room every week prepared to answer the same question: Whatever happened to the Hackenberg of old?

Turns out the answer is pretty simple: He never left.

Big Ten recruiting: By the numbers 

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
10:00
AM ET
We are in week 13 of the regular season and only a few months away from signing day. That means that programs have most of their recruiting done and are trying to fill in the last spots of the class.

This is a good time to take a look at the Big Ten recruiting efforts, where some teams are having success and some need help. The numbers below help show the makeup and statistics behind the recruiting classes within the conference.

Commits from different states:

Big Ten morning links

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
8:00
AM ET
Since Ohio State stormed Spartan Stadium on Nov. 8 in the Big Ten’s regular season game of the year, the Buckeyes have dominated headlines in the league -- well, aside from the Melvin Gordon Heisman push.

Urban Meyer’s team deserves the attention.

Yes, it has more talent on the bench than most Big Ten teams feature in their starting lineups. But OSU rise behind freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett rates as a truly unexpected story of national significance.

Take a moment, though, as Michigan State honors 18 seniors on Saturday, to appreciate the legacy of Spartans like Jeremy Langford, Tony Lippett and Taiwan Jones.

It’s shame that their careers are closing on something of an anticlimactic note.

They’ve anchored the most consistent and most winning program in the conference over the past four years and traveled various paths, as Matt Charboneau of the Detroit News writes, to earn a shot to equal the 2013 senior class as the best in school history.

If they beat Rutgers on Saturday, Penn State next week and notch a win in a bowl game -- perhaps among the New Year’s Six -- the MSU seniors would finish 42-12.

These seniors have already won two Big Ten crowns and three bowl games, including the Rose Bowl last season. The News article shows that Michigan State's senior classes since 2010 have posted the five highest win totals in program history. It’s an incredible accomplishment. And all but Jones, who did not redshirt, have been there in East Lansing with each class.

They deserve a share of the spotlight this month.

Decisions ahead

Staying with the Spartans, coach Mark Dantonio made an interesting comment Thursday on his radio show about quarterback Connor Cook as a future team captain. That would, of course, only happen if Cook returns next season for his senior year.

Cook is considered a potential early-round selection if he declares for the NFL draft. No Big Ten quarterback has been selected in the first round since Kerry Collins in 1995.

Cook could end the drought.

MSU junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun also faces a decision. Calhoun, ranked on Mel Kiper's 25-player Big Board, said this week that he had not reached a decision.

"My primary focus is this season," Calhoun told MLive.com, "and this season isn't over yet. I'm just trying to do great things to help my team win."

These decisions figure to factor heavily in the bid of the Spartans' senior class of 2015 to match the accomplishments of the five that came before it.

Seeing double

As Gordon has nearly pulled even with leader Marcus Mariota in the Heisman Watch and Barrett continues to surface in conversation for out the award, what could it mean for the Big Ten to send two finalists to New York for the ceremony?

It wouldn't exactly change the suffering national perception of the league, but it couldn't hurt, what with the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC unlikely to produce more than one finalist apiece.

Only the SEC, with Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, can match the Big Ten with two potential finalists.

Just as important, when Gordon and Barrett play during this stretch run of the season, it's a must-see TV event.

Wisconsin and Gordon, after his 408-yard explosion against Nebraska, visit Iowa (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) on Saturday. And the Hawkeyes are taking notice.

Barrett stays home to face Indiana. That could get out of hand.

Around the rest of the league:

East Division
West Division

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