September 4, 2008

Big Ten: Michigan sticks with Threet, Sheridan

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It's a tale of two square pegs being jammed, forced and shoved into round holes. Everyone figured that neither Nick Sheridan nor Steven Threet was a good fit for new Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez's spread-option offense. Their performances in the Wolverines' season-opening 25-22 home loss to Utah validated the fears of Michigan fans.

And it looks like Rodriguez is going to ride these two miscast quarterbacks all season. The school has announced that freshman quarterback Justin Feagin will redshirt, even though he's a better fit for the attack. Feagin isn't physically ready for prime time, according to Rodriguez.

Sheridan started last week, but don't be shocked if Threet gets the nod this Saturday against Miami University. Threet looked better running the ball than Sheridan, and Threet also has the superior arm and pocket presence.

"As coaches, it starts with us to keep impressing on them the techniques and getting them coached up to do things at a certain level," Rodriguez said. "The players are very, very conscientious. That's one thing I think we do have, is a bunch of guys who are conscientious to understand what we need to get better at, and at the quarterback position in particular."

Yes, the Wolverine defense is strong and might carry the team to some victories. But uneven quarterback play could doom Big Blue to a second-division Big Ten finish. And that means Michigan's impressive streak of 33 bowls in a row - the longest run in NCAA history - might come to an end.

It didn't matter whether Sheridan or Threet was under center last Saturday. The offense went thud. Sheridan finished 11 of 19 for 98 yards passing with a touchdown and interception. Threet went 8-for-19 for 69 yards passing with a touchdown. Neither was any better running. Sheridan carried five times for 2 yards and Threet ran five times for no yards. Neither will be confused with Pat White, the star West Virginia quarterback Rodriguez groomed.

The Michigan running game also struggled, gaining 36 yards on 25 carries. It didn't help that the Michigan coaches shuffled a series of backs. The root of the struggles can be traced to an ineffective offensive line, which has been overhauled. Look for the line to improve as the season progresses. But it's difficult to envision the quarterback play improving much.

"Nick and Steve both, they knew the mistakes they made as soon as they made them," Rodriguez said. "That's the start, and it's simply not repeating them when we go play the next game."

BIG TEN SCHEDULE
SATURDAY
Northern Colorado at Purdue, noon
Eastern Michigan at Michigan State, noon
Marshall at Wisconsin, noon
Florida International at Iowa, noon
Ohio at Ohio State, noon
Miami (Ohio) at Michigan, noon
Eastern Illinois at Illinois, noon
Oregon State at Penn State, 3:30 p.m.
Murray State at Indiana, 7 p.m.
Northwestern at Duke, 7 p.m.
Minnesota at Bowling Green, 7:30 p.m.

The Michigan quarterbacks aren't the only players under scrutiny for a program that lost its season opener for a second year in a row. What needs to be done?

"Playing faster and playing more physical," Rodriguez said. "I can't put it any more simply than that. If they don't want to play faster and more physical, they won't be playing."

  • Best Matchup
  • Watch Oregon State cornerback Brandon Hughes battle any of the Penn State receivers: Derrick Williams, Jordan Norwood or Deon Butler. Hughes is an electric talent and Thorpe Award candidate who many consider to be the best lock-down cornerback in the Pac-10. Look for Hughes to get physical with the smallish Nittany Lions receivers, hoping to disrupt the timing of a Penn State passing game that's still developing. If Penn State can't throw well, the offense may struggle. And that could spell "upset" for Oregon State.

  • Player to watch
  • Penn State QB Daryll Clark. Don't be shocked if Oregon State puts eight men in the box in an effort to mute a strong Nittany Lions rushing attack led by Evan Royster and Stephfon Green. That would leave the fate of the Penn State offense in the hands of Clark, who will make just his second career start. He looked solid in his debut last week, completing 11 of 14 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown in a 66-10 win over Coastal Carolina. An always-salty Beaver defense will be a good test in what's the best matchup for a Big Ten team this weekend.

  • Who's hot
  • Illinois quarterback Juice Williams turned heads by passing for 451 yards and five touchdowns in a loss to Missouri. But let's hear it for Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis. In a season-opening 31-13 romp over Western Kentucky, Lewis ran nine times for 185 yards (20.6 ypc) with scoring runs of 75 and 62 yards. Lewis also completed 17 of 27 passes for 144 yards and two TDs, moving past Antwaan Randle El as Indiana's all-time leader in touchdown passes (44).

  • Who's not
  • The Iowa quarterbacks. The Hawkeyes used Jake Christensen, a junior who started last season, and Rick Stanzi, a sophomore who had four career attempts entering the season, in a 46-3 romp over Maine. Neither wowed, as Christensen went 9-for-15 passing for 122 yards with a touchdown and interception. Stanzi was 9-for-14 for 90 yards. Sub-par quarterback play has hurt the Hawkeyes during their swoon. Kirk Ferentz said he'll again use both on Saturday vs. Florida International. How soon will one emerge? Ferentz won't say, but it better happen soon because a visit from Iowa State on Sept. 13 looms. Ferentz is 3-6 vs. the Cyclones. And he can't afford to lose another.

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • "The good news is I think overall, we have competition. We've had situations, sometimes where we haven't had that. One guy's kind of been there and nobody else has been involved at all." -- Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz on playing two quarterbacks

    "I think (walk-on Josh) Hull, for a guy that had a lot of pressure on him to play and really run the show up front, I think he did well. I think maybe (Bani) Gbadyu and (Navorro) Bowman played well. (Tyrell) Sales, at times, played well. A couple of the younger kids that we stuck in there played a little hesitant. But, overall, I thought it was a good first outing for them." -- Penn State coach Joe Paterno on his linebackers

    "The spread seems to be kind of thrown around so much. Ohio State, you could say they're a spread team, but I bet you they got some fullbacks and some tight ends that could mirror what we're doing." Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst on how difficult his (non-spread) offense is to prepare for.

    "This year, I don't think we have those (big-play) guys from a reputation point of view. I'm not saying we don't have big-play guys on our roster, but we don't have guys who've played that much with the exception of Greg Orton." Purdue coach Joe Tiller on his offense after the departures of WR Dorien Bryant and TE Dustin Keller

  • ETC.
  • Don't expect Ohio State running back Chris Wells to play vs. Ohio. Wells is coming off a toe injury in the Buckeyes' season-opening 43-0 win over Youngstown State. OSU will need Wells at full strength for a showdown at USC on Sept. 13. With Wells likely out, look for Maurice Wells, Brandon Saine and Dan Herron to carry the load. Michigan running back Kevin Grady will play Saturday after his suspension for breaking team rules has been lifted. Let's give Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor a big round of applause for his collegiate debut. The nation's most watched and hyped freshman completed four of his six attempts for 35 yards and ran nine times for 52 yards and a touchdown in the Buckeyes' opener. Look for Wisconsin tight end Travis Beckum to debut against Marshall after missing the opener against Akron with a hamstring injury. Illinois will unveil renovated Memorial Stadium when it welcomes I-AA Eastern Illinois during what's dubbed the "Illinois Renaissance Celebration." The Illini also will wear throwback jerseys from LB Dick Butkus' era (1962-64). Butkus and many other former Fighting Illini greats will be on hand. Star Indiana defensive end Greg Middleton will debut against Murray State after being suspended for the opener. Middleton led the nation with 16 sacks last season. Joe Tiller begins his 12th and final season Saturday, as the Boilermakers play host to Northern Colorado. Tiller needs two wins to pass Jack Mollenkopf as Purdue's all-time leader in victories. Close losses are commonplace for Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio. All seven of his defeats as Spartans coach have been by a touchdown or less, including last week's 38-31 loss at Cal. Expect a blowout win for MSU this Saturday against Eastern Michigan. Minnesota will be the first Big Ten team ever to visit Bowling Green. Tropical Storm Hanna could have an impact on Northwestern's game at Duke, which kicks off at 7 p.m. ET. Storms are possible with 15-20 mph winds.

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    Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.




     

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