Saturday was scrimmage day around the Big Ten, as teams from State College to Minneapolis engaged in several forms of game-like simulations. Though no Big Ten team has officially held a spring game -- five are on tap Saturday -- these scrimmages are often just as important, if not more so.
Nine of the 11 Big Ten teams provided media access and/or statistics from Saturday's scrimmages. Michigan's official Web site has some video and tidbits from Saturday's 115-play closed scrimmage, and Mgoblog has a few reports as well. Iowa's official site also has some video and interviews from Saturday's scrimmage.
Here are some tidbits from the other nine scrimmages, from reports around the league:
Illinois let its quarterbacks get hit Saturday, but the offense delivered most of the damage. Nathan Scheelhaase continued to make a strong case for the starting job with a 40-yard run, a 30-yard touchdown pass to Zach Becker and a 22-yard pass to A.J. Jenkins. Jacob Charest also remains very much alive in the QB race and connected on several long passes, including a 50-yarder to Jenkins. The running game also looked good as Mikel Leshoure had a 65-yard run. Cornerback Tavon Wilson provided a defensive highlight by picking off a Scheelhaase pass. It's encouraging to see this type of progress from Illinois' offense, which lost several key pieces from 2009 and returns virtually no experience at quarterback.
Defense is the primary focus for IU this spring, and the unit stepped up in Saturday's scrimmage, holding the offense to only one touchdown. Defensive tackle Adam Replogle recorded two sacks and three tackles for loss, and linebacker Jeff Thomas, a junior college transfer, forced a fumble. Safety Kyle Dietrick recorded the lone interception of the scrimmage. The Hoosiers continue to see good things from freshman running back Antonio Banks, who had 42 rushing yards and a touchdown Saturday. The backup quarterback competition continued as Dusty Kiel recorded a touchdown pass and a 35-yard completion, while Edward Wright-Baker completed 8 of 10 pass attempts. Nick Zachery, who moved from safety to wide receiver just last week, had four catches for 46 yards.
The Spartans' defense rallied to win the jersey scrimmage as a secondary that struggled mightily last fall saw two players, Marcus Hyde and Mitchell White, return interceptions for touchdowns. Hyde picked off starter Kirk Cousins, while White intercepted an Andrew Maxwell pass and raced 40 yards for a touchdown. Cornerback Chris L. Rucker also had a big day with an interception, a pass breakup and a tackle for loss. Michigan State's defense got a big lift from end Denzel Drone, who stuffed Edwin Baker on fourth-and-1 from the 1-yard line to seal the win. Cousins completed 19 of 30 passes for 188 yards with two touchdowns, including a 30-yarder to Keith Nichol, and two interceptions. Maxwell, who played some with the first-team offense, threw for 199 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Wide receivers Keshawn Martin (12 catches, 109 yards), Bennie Fowler (nine catches, 84 yards, 48-yard rush) and Nichol (four catches, 70 yards) stood out.
All eyes were on the quarterbacks Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, and for the most part, all the candidates stepped up. Returning starter Adam Weber completed 10 of 15 passes for 98 yards, while MarQueis Gray went 7-for-12 for 70 yards with an interception. Moses Alipate, who worked with the second-team offense, completed 3 of 4 passes for 20 yards and a touchdown. Minnesota's running backs also stepped up late in the scrimmage, as DeLeon Eskridge had three runs of 10 yards or longer. The Gophers' offensive line also seemed to get stronger as the scrimmage went on.
The Wildcats held a light scrimmage (68 plays) and saw some decent signs from an offense replacing All-Big Ten quarterback Mike Kafka and two starting wide receivers. Junior quarterback Dan Persa, the projected starter, completed 8 of 10 passes for 40 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Redshirt freshman Evan Watkins got a bit more work, completing 7 of 16 pass attempts for 135 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Watkins also showed good mobility with 42 rushing yards on six carries. Running back Arby Fields, the leading candidate for the starting job, was playing baseball Saturday, so Stephen Simmons (10 carries, 47 yards) and Jacob Schmidt (14 carries, 47 yards) led the way on the ground.
The specialists were in the spotlight as Ohio State held its biannual kick scrimmage in Ohio Stadium. Devin Barclay and Ben Buchanan didn't do much to ease fans' concerns about the place-kicking duties, as they combined to go 16-for-29 on field-goal attempts. Barclay entered spring practice as the frontrunner but struggled from long range on Saturday, going 1-for-7 from beyond 40 yards. Buchanan has all but locked up Ohio State's starting punter spot but also could be the team's top kicker if he continues to push Barclay. He seemed more comfortable from long distance but missed from 35, 38 and 40 yards, so Ohio State could end up using two kickers this fall.
Penn State shuffled its offensive line for Saturday's coaches clinic scrimmage, as Stefen Wisniewski moved from center to right guard and Lou Eliades shifted from right guard to right tackle. De'Ontae Pannell worked at left guard but remains a good possibility at left tackle. Quarterbacks Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin reportedly looked shaky on their throws, although McGloin had some nice deep passes to Graham Zug and Shawney Kersey. Freshman Paul Jones, an early enrollee, didn't see many reps in the scrimmage. Linebacker Mike Yancich had a strong scrimmage and should be in the mix for a starting job, and true freshman running back Silas Redd also turned in an impressive performance.
The Boilers' offense technically won Saturday's scrimmage 36-32, but the defense carried the day by forcing six turnovers. After Purdue's turnover problems last season, so many giveaways is a bit of a troubling sign. The good news is that Robert Marve, the likely starter at quarterback, didn't have any of Purdue's four interceptions Saturday. Caleb TerBush and Rob Henry each had two passes picked off, and defensive lineman Kawann Short returned a TerBush pass 30 yards for a touchdown. Marve completed 16 of 24 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns, though the defense held the offense out of the end zone for much of the scrimmage. Cornerback Josh Johnson had a nice day with seven tackles and three pass breakups, and fullback Jared Crank stood out for the offense with 45 rushing yards and a touchdown on six carries and a 24-yard scoring reception from Marve.
The Badgers' offense came out hot, steamrolling the defense in first-down drills as it moved the chains seven times on eight attempts. Running back Montee Ball found room to move, and tight end Lance Kendricks and wide receivers Nick Toon and David Gilreath all had big gains. Toon made a circus catch over corner Devin Smith, and Kendricks went for 52 yards on a pass. The defense picked up its play later in the scrimmage, as linebacker Culmer St. Jean forced a fumble from Ball and cornerback Marcus Cromartie recorded two interceptions.