The Nittany Lions find themselves in a place that no one expected they would be in when the season started, but the 10-2 Lions will take their 8 game winning streak into the Big Ten Championship game against the Wisconsin Badgers.
Penn State has one of the hottest offenses in the nation, averaging 46.4 points per game in their last five games, but they’ll be going up against one of the best defenses in the nation. Wisconsin’s defense is only giving up 13.7 points a game and has one of the best front sevens and a secondary that has intercepted 21 passes this season. Needless to say, it won’t be easy offensively for Penn State, luckily, Wisconsin’s offense has been inconsistent all season, Penn State’s red hot defense will be the key to this game.
Meet The Badgers
Penn State and Wisconsin did not square off in the regular season, so let’s get familiar with the Badgers.
Wisconsin Badgers 10-2, 7-2
Head Coach: Paul Chryst (2nd season, 20-5)
Quarterback: Alex Hornibrook 104-179 1,243 yards 8 TDs 7 INTs
Running Back: Corey Clement 271 carries 1,140 yards 13 TDs
Wide Receiver: Jazz Peavy 39 receptions 582 yards 5 TDs
Linebacker: T.J. Watt 8 sacks 13 TFL
Cornerback: Sojourn Shelton 12 pass break-ups 4 INTs
Points per game: 28.5
Points allowed per game: 13.7
Total yards: 381.1 passing- 179.6 rushing-201.5
Yards allowed: 292 passing- 191.3 rushing-100.8
Wisconsin’s signature win was a 16-14 victory over LSU to open the year. Their only losses are against Michigan and Ohio State. Wisconsin runs a run heavy offense and has trouble finding a consistent passing game. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook is often replaced by Bart Houston if things are going south. Wisconsin’s success lives and dies with their defense, they are the best in the Big Ten at forcing turnovers and they are stingy against the run. Paul Chryst spilt Big Ten coach of the year honors with Franklin, he’s a talented coach and calls the plays on offense for his Badgers. Ohio State quarterback found the key to success on how to beat the Badgers, using his feet. Besides from passing for 226 yards and a score, Barrett ran the ball 21 times for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Trace McSorley will have to duplicate this play to have a chance to win on Saturday.
Location: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana
Time: 8 PM (EST)
Television: FOX, ESPN’s College Gameday will be live from Indianapolis Saturday morning.
Opponent: Wisconsin Badgers (10-2,7-2)
Ranks: PSU-7 Wis.-6
Line: -3 Wisconsin
Last meeting: 31-24 PSU (2013)
Injuries: Penn State: OT Brendon Mahon- undisclosed (Assume out), RB Saquon Barkley- ankle (probable). Wisconsin: QB Alex Hornibrook- head (questionable)
At the beginning of the season, they last thing that a lot of people, including myself, thought was that Penn State would somehow win the East Division over Ohio State and Michigan and have a chance to win the Big Ten title, but here we are. Penn State will ride their 8 game winning streak into this one, but the Nittany Lions do have a couple of concerns. The biggest, of course being the health of Big Ten offensive player of the year Saquon Barkley. Barkley was knocked out of last week’s game with an ankle injury, it looked like he twisted it, but we won’t speculate. Franklin and Barkley both claim that the sophomore running back is fine and he will be able to go on Saturday, Penn State will need Barkley’s best performance of the year as they face one of the nation’s best at stopping the run. The second concern is how well the offensive line will be able to hold up. We know tackles Paris Palmer and Andrew Nelson won’t play, but we also expect tackle Brendon Mahon to miss this game as well, although Franklin won’t comment, it’s becoming clear he is most likely out for the year. Penn State struggled to run the ball last week against Michigan State, that cannot happen again if the Lions want to win this one. The offensive tackles will have a tough time as they will be going up against T.J. Watt, younger brother of NFL stud J.J. Watt, and a Wisconsin alum. The line will have to give McSorley time in the pocket to find his receivers, unfortunately, Wisconsin’s secondary is very, very good. Shelton, as we covered above, has 4 picks, while his fellow corner Derrick Tindal has 3 of his own. Once again, Penn State will have to rely on tight end Mike Gesicki to make big plays and open things up for the rest of the offense. McSorley has to be on his game, especially when it comes to the read option, he has to keep the Badgers honest and hurt them with his feet. Offensive coordinator Joe Moorehead has been creative all season, and I expect that to continue this week, look for some timely trick plays to help lead the Nittany Lions to victory.
On defense, just keep doing what you’re doing. The defense has been great at stopping the run and getting after the quarterback, averaging 3 sacks a game. Franklin and his staff believe that Pennsylvania native Alex Hornibrook will play, but they will also account for Bart Houston who comes in at timely situations to jump start the offense. Running back Corey Clement is the star of this offense, if Brent Pry’s boys can bottle him up and force Wisconsin to throw the ball, Penn State could be in for a big night and a big win. Grant Haley will have the assignment of covering Jazz Peavy, their best wide out, he has 39 receptions, he also is used a lot on jet sweeps, something the Lions struggled to defend against earlier in the year, but have done a better job as of late. Penn State is only giving up 17.8 points per game during the team’s 8 game winning streak, so we could be in for a defensive slug fest in this one. I look for the defense to get a timely interception of Hornibrook that turns the tide in this one. Garrett Sickles and company will look to get off the field on third down by coming at Hornibrook and causing him to throw ill-advised passes.
The keys in this one for me are simple, convert third downs on offense, and stop the Badgers on third down. The Lions will have to protect the ball while being able to get a turnover or two. Lastly, find ways to score, Wisconsin doesn’t give up a lot of points, so punch it in from the red zone, make long field goals, and get a special teams or defensive score, maybe Miles Sanders finally breaks a kick off to the house.
Most people are going with the Badgers in this one, they’re well coached and play great defense, but no team in the Big Ten has been hotter than these Nittany Lions. They are playing perfect in all three phases of the game and I expect that to continue on Saturday. Wisconsin will not roll over, they’ve been in every game this season. They say defense wins championships, but when two great defenses go head to head, then the deciding factor is which team has the better offense, and that’s the Nittany Lions. James Franklin and his staff have done a great job all year coaching this team, specifically in the second half where Penn State has outscored opponents 280-105, so if the game is a one score Wisconsin lead, or any Penn State lead at half time, the Nittany Lions should feel very confident that they will be crowned the champs of the Big Ten.
Prediction: Penn State 24 Wisconsin 20