Big Ten

Big Ten preview: Will Nate Sudfeld return Hoosiers to 2013 passing numbers?

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Big Ten preview: Will Nate Sudfeld return Hoosiers to 2013 passing numbers?

Two seasons ago, Indiana had one of the most explosive passing attacks in the country, perhaps the most explosive in the Big Ten.

What a difference a year makes.

Nate Sudfeld — who helmed that prolific passing game back in 2013 — was injured in the team’s sixth game, and the Hoosiers were forced to turn to inexperienced backups Chris Covington and Zander Diamont. That dropped them from the conference’s best passing offense in 2013 to the conference’s worst in 2014.

Yes, a season after averaging 306.7 yards per game through the air and leading the league, Indiana averaged just 141.4 yards per game through the air and ranked dead last in the Big Ten in that category.

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Jordan Howard gives Hoosiers quality Tevin Coleman successor]

The swing can be blamed almost entirely on the injury to Sudfeld, which derailed a junior season in which he still managed 1,151 yards in just five games and change. In 2013, he ranked fifth in the Big Ten with 2,523 yards and threw 21 touchdowns to nine interceptions in just eight starts, though he appeared in all 12 games.

The Hoosiers were caught fairly unprepared when Sudfeld went down, as Covington and Diamont were thrown into the fire after not seeing a single college snap prior. Covington completed three passes before going down with his own season-ending injury. Diamont completed just 48.5 percent of his passes and threw just one touchdown in six starts to finish the season.

But now Sudfeld’s back, and he’s ready to reestablish the Hoosiers as one of the Big Ten’s preeminent passing teams.

“Even without an injury, you kind of have nerves for that first game, just, ‘Hey, let’s get that first hit going.’ But especially a little bit more (for me following the injury),” Sudfeld said last month during Big Ten Media Days. “But our athletic trainers have been unreal helping me out this whole offseason. That spring semester was tough. With my rehab, I had a 6:30 a.m. lift. I’d be there by 5, rehab for an hour and a half, go lift and go have treatment afterwards. Those guys … they’ve helped me so much. (Head trainer) Craig (Tweedy) did such a great job, and it’s a testament to them how well I’ve recovered.

“What Craig has done is after player practice he’s had me put on a shoulder pad and helmet, and he’s been hitting me. He’s been having bags, hitting my shoulder, hitting my back as I’m throwing, things like that. And it’s felt great. Running through the gauntlet, where you have to lower your shoulder and run through and then falling on bags and things like that, it’s felt great. So that’s really kind of helped me with the nerves. I feel like could’ve taken hits a while ago, but especially now I feel almost stronger than I’ve ever been.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Can inexperienced secondary turn around Hoosiers' pass defense?]

Coming back from the injury provides plenty of its own pressure. But Sudfeld will be tasked with potentially having to do it all for the Indiana offense. Last year, the Hoosiers relied almost exclusively on Tevin Coleman to carry the offense, and he had a remarkable season, one of the best ever for a running back. But Coleman’s gone, and though Indiana added an accomplished rusher in Jordan Howard, there are question marks in the running game. And seeing what the passing game couldn’t do once Sudfeld went down, there are certainly non-quarterback question marks there, too.

Thankfully, the Hoosiers have a strong offensive line, which Sudfeld said makes everything easier.

“As a quarterback, you can’t do anything if you don’t have time to throw the ball. Receivers are not going to get any touches when you can’t protect for a little bit. And running back aren’t gonna run for very much without a hole. It’s really the foundation, the base of everything,” Sudfeld said Sunday during the team’s media day. “If the O-line’s really clicking well, I think we’re gonna have success in other aspects of the game. It’s really what coach Wilson emphasizes, great O-line play. They’ve answered that call, and they’re doing extraordinary.”

The good news, too, is that Sudfeld has improved his game immensely since his statistically impressive sophomore season. Coaches said he’s done a lot to better his quarterback play, and Sudfeld attended the Manning Passing Academy this summer, too. All in all, it ought to make for a much improved passing attack from last year’s last-place finish, and it ought to make Sudfeld a leader for the Indiana offense and the Hoosiers as a whole.

“I really just see a different focus, a different drive, a different sense of urgency than he’s ever had in his career,” offensive coordinator Kevin Johns said. “Early on when he was a freshman, I would challenge him and say, ‘Can you keep this focus for two straight hours of practice?’ And a lot of times he couldn’t. And I see a kid now out there that every rep he is on it like the game is on the line. And I think the other guys they see that and they feed off that.”

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.