Shoddy quarterback play has Big Ten scrambling for answers

Illinois coach Bret Bielema wanted one phrase to reply whether or not he thought-about altering quarterbacks final weekend.


Essentially the most oft-repeated query in soccer has made a convincing resurgence across the Huge Ten after one other weekend stuffed with lower than stellar quarterback play.

“We will internally name a starting quarterback Tuesday when we talk to our guys,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said Monday, two days after Aidan O’Connell replaced Jack Plummer and led the Boilermakers to the game’s only touchdown in a 13-9 victory over the Fighting Illini.

Everybody should stay tuned.

As league play begins in earnest, quarterback quandaries, as usual, are starting to emerge as the make-or-break point for underperforming teams.

Bielema appears to be leaning to keeping Brandon Peters as the starter despite a second straight poor performance since returning from a left shoulder injury and amid pleas from fans to give Artur Sitkowski, the Rutgers transfer, another shot. Illinois (1-4, 1-2 Big Ten) has lost four straight as it prepares to face Charlotte this weekend.

Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck also faced the question after Tanner Morgan went 5 of 13 for 59 yards with four sacks and two interceptions in a stunning 14-10 home loss to Bowling Green. The Golden Gophers (2-2, 0-1) will try to rebound at Purdue (3-1, 1-0) this weekend.

“I have to play way better,” Morgan said.

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So does Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz, who threw a career-worst four interceptions and had two returned for scores in a blowout loss to Notre Dame. The worst game of Mertz’s career also came against his predecessor, Jack Coan.

Since opening last season with seven TD passes and no interceptions in two wins, Mertz has gone 3-5 with three TDs and 11 interceptions. Yet coach Paul Chryst will stay the course and Mertz said he is confident he can turn things around this weekend when the unranked Badgers (1-2, 0-1) host No. 14 Michigan.

“I will never lack trust in myself,” Mertz said. “As soon as that goes, you lose everything.”

Sometimes, a switch works out.

No. 11 Ohio State (3-1, 1-0) held out injured quarterback C.J. Stroud against Akron and Kyle McCord responded by throwing for 319 yards and two scores in a 59-7 rout. McCord was named Big Ten freshman of the week. Coach Ryan Day said Tuesday that Stroud, if healthy, will start Saturday against Rutgers (3-1, 0-1).

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald benched Hunter Johnson against Duke and the Wildcats still lost. Ryan Hilinski started the next game and led Northwestern past Ohio.

Nebraska coach Scott Frost believes Adrian Martinez seems to have learned from last season’s struggles, though his quarterback has been sacked 18 times and sputtered in the red zone this season. The Cornhuskers (2-3, 0-2) host Northwestern (2-2, 0-1) next.

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“I benched Adrian last year when he was not playing well enough and he is playing at an elite level right now with some of the things he is doing,” Frost said.

There are myriad reasons for what’s gone wrong this season.

While nobody has blamed Peters’ struggles on his injury or Plummer’s on a depleted supporting cast, Morgan and Minnesota are still adapting to life without running back Mohamed Ibrahim, their best offensive player.

Defenses also are adjusting.

When Purdue was missing all-conference receiver David Bell (concussion protocol), Bell’s backup, Mershawn Rice (foot) and their top two running backs, Bielema decided to get physical.

“This is the game we wanted to play,” he said. “We wanted to keep the ball in front of us, bang their receivers around, make them play a brand they don’t execute all that much. We wanted to bang their receivers.”

Different Huge Ten groups are dealing with related challenges.

No. 14 Michigan and No. 17 Michigan State are contending with extra defenders on the line of scrimmage after robust floor video games led each to 4-0 begins. The consequence: Two surprisingly shut calls final weekend.

Rutgers shut out the Wolverines within the second half as Cade McNamara accomplished 9 passes in a season-high 16 makes an attempt however missed some open receivers together with one in the long run zone. He’ll nearly definitely face an analogous scheme this weekend towards a rugged Wisconsin protection.

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Spartans quarterback Payton Thorne completed with 183 yards and one TD in an extra time win over Nebraska but in addition had one interception and was sacked 3 times when the ‘Huskers dared him to throw deep. He may need to do more this weekend as his defense deals with Western Kentucky’s high-scoring offense.

“I’m prepared for the problem,” Thorne stated.

Indiana’s Michael Penix Jr. may give Thorne a scouting report after throwing for 373 yards and working for a landing in a 33-31 victory over the Hilltoppers final weekend. The Hoosiers (2-2, 0-1) go to No. 4 Penn State (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday.

However the true query stays what number of groups are keen to yank a starter if issues do not get mounted.

“When you’re switching guys out and in of the offense, you’re on the lookout for the fitting substances,” Bielema said. “I’m no ‘Master Chef,’ but I know what’s good.”


AP Sports activities Writers Eric Olson in Omaha, Nebraska, Larry Lage in Detroit and Mitch Stacy in Columbus, Ohio, additionally contributed to this report.


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