As we bring you a deep dive in to the Badgers 2016 Big Ten championship game, there’s no better way to know thy enemy than to go right to the source. In that case we go right to our fellow The Sports Daily site, The Nittany Lions Den.
Editor Kevin McGuire, also of College Football Talk, is here with the fire answers to our questions regarding an opponent the Badgers haven’t seen in three years. Don’t forget to follow The Nittany Lions Den on Twitter and join us there too.
MadTown Badgers: It appears the loss to Michigan was a turning point for Penn State’s season, how did things turn around so quickly?
Nittany Lions Den: When Penn State faced Michigan, they did so on the road without six injured starters on defense. That was tailor-made for a bloodshedding at the hands of the Wolverines and Penn State got it. But then players started to get healthy again, and the impact was noticeable, especially on defense. Penn State also benefitted from the schedule, with the next couple of games coming at home against Minnesota and Maryland. While the Gophers and Terrapins have gone on to become bowl-eligible teams, it was good timing to have those matches to restore some confidence in the team before their next big test; Ohio State.
I would suggest the Ohio State game was the true turning point for the season, because after that night the Nittany Lions have been playing with a level of confidence that has been missing for a few years now (as you can imagine). Penn State seemed to find a way to focus on their week-by-week goals and objectives without letting a big win against Ohio State get to them. To me, this is a sign of maturity and growth for a team that went from learning how to win to expecting to win.
MTB: Saquon Barkley Seems to Be PSU’s Biggest Offensive Weapon, If He’s Shut Down Who Should Badgers Fans Worry About Most?
NLD: He absolutely is the best weapon, but the pleasant development of the season may be the passing game. Trace McSorley may not be the most accurate of passers out there, but he finds a way to make things happen on some deep passes. Ever since his ill-advised deep ball at the end of the Pittsburgh game back in September, McSorley seems to make far more big plays through the air than poor plays. He’s not afraid to take chances, but he has seemed to cut down on taking wild gambles as he did in that moment against Pitt. If McSorley makes some deep passes, that bodes well for Penn State, especially in the second half. He’ll also run too, and he is second on the team in rushing yards behind Barkley with 372 yards and six rushing touchdowns. The kid’s got moxie and has come along as a leader of the offense.
MTB: What is Penn State’s Biggest Secret Weapon?
NLD: Running back depth may be a secret. Barkley gets all of the attention, but the second half of the season has started to see some freshmen running backs get some playing time and opportunities to contribute. Andre Robinson can bring a good burst of power up the middle of the field and has five rushing touchdowns. If Barkley is banged up or needs a rest, don’t be surprised if Robinson gets on the field. Miles Sanders was the headliner of the Class of 2016 and has been used at times to run the ball and on special teams. He’s been close to breaking some huge plays, especially on special teams. He may be due to for a big special teams play.
MTB: If Penn State Wins, It Wins Because Of?
NLD: Penn State struggles to get the offense going out of the gate but always seems to turn things on in the second half. So if Penn State is going to beat Wisconsin it must do one of two things. The first would be to get the offense in gear early on against one of the best defenses they have faced this season. Scoring a touchdown in the first quarter could be a nice boost. I suspect Penn State will find some adjustments to make at halftime, as they have done of the past month, and play better on offense in the second half. But they aren’t going to score 30 point sin the second half against Wisconsin. This leads me to my second objective for Penn State, which is to keep the game within striking distance at halftime. If Penn State is within one possession at the halftime break, I think they have a decent chance to come away with a win given what they have done in the second half of games. Penn State will have to get a feel for what Wisconsin is doing defensively in the first half and then try to take some chances with a deep ball here and there in the second half. This is basically what has gotten them to this point, and I’m not sure the strategy will be much different.
MTB: Prediction and Why?
NLD: Penn State 24, Wisconsin 23
I’m counting on Saquon Barkley being healthy for this game after he had his ankle evaluated last week against Michigan State. I think that helps open things up for Penn State’s offense, which I believe will make some big plays in the second half. I know Wisconsin’s pass defense has been ridiculous this season with 21 interceptions and just eight touchdowns allowed, but McSorley is riding a hot hand right now as the Big Ten’s highest-rated passer and just five interceptions all year. I don’t know that Penn State can shut down Corey Clement, but I think they may be able to limit the damage Wisconsin’s offense can do just enough to give their offense a chance to sneak away with the win.