The Wisconsin Badgers have looked impressive to date racking up an 8-1 record (5-1 Big Ten). Their lone loss was to Michigan on the road. Their most impressive victory is...well...Indiana? Illinois? I think it's safe to say if Penn State had the Badgers' schedule, we would be 8-1 too. Wisconsin is lead by first year head coach Brett Beilema. Last year this matchup was billed as the game for the Big Ten title. Penn State won 35-14 in Happy Valley. Now it's the battle for the Capital One Bowl.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Badger
|Sixth Year Senior|
John Stocco is back at quarterback...again. Isn't this like his seventh year in the league now? The seasoned senior is a smart quarterback having only thrown 4 picks all year. He's completed over 60% of his passes for 1800 yards and 14 TD. He's not very mobile and good pass rushing teams tend to beat him up pretty well. Last year Penn State knocked him silly for nine sacks.
All the rage in Madison these days is freshman running back P.J. Hill. Hill leads the Big Ten in rushing with over 1200 yards already. He's a big kid weighing in at 240 lbs drawing comparisons to Ron Dayne. He's a north/south runner like Dayne, but I suspect if you can get him running sideways he'll go down faster than an Ohio State cheerleader after a couple of margaritas. (The male ones) Hill has been banged up lately and missed the second half of the Illinois game with a neck injury leading Beilema to say he needs to take some "tough pills" after the game. Hill is expected to play, but if his injury is similar to what Maurice Clarrett had in 2002, he could be one hit away from coming out of the game every time he touches the ball. The drop off between Hill and the backups is pretty steep.
|Ugliest of the Big Uglies|
The strength of this Wisconsin offense is the offensive line as always. Somewhere on the campus of Madison, Wisconsin there is a genetics lab cloning giants. Then they turn them over to the agricultural department that feeds them mutant cows and potatoes transforming them into freaks of nature. The Badgers easily sport the largest offensive line in the Big Ten if not the NCAA. All Planet and future top 10 NFL draft pick John Thomas anchors them at left tackle. This guy is so good All American Levi Brown watches him on film to learn. There isn't much fancy in what they do. They just explode off the line and knock you on your ass.
Wisconsin doesn't have many receiving threats. Their leading receiver is tight end Travis Beckum with 37 catches. Paul Hubbard leads the wide receivers with 24 catches, and Luke Swan had a pretty good game against Illinois.
Basically it's a different coach, but same old Wisconsin. Power smash-mouth football. But if you can stop the running game, and that's a big if, you can hold this offense to a low score.
|Wisconsin football is so boring even the players can't wait for the game to end.|
Just like always the Badgers rely on a stingy defense to keep it close for their ball control offense. And just like always they do a fantastic job. There are no super athletes. Nobody is going to win a Butkus or Bednarik award. But they are well coached and play well as a team rarely finding themselves out of position. They are the New England Patriots of the Big Ten. The Badgers are ranked #2 nationally in pass defense and #7 in total defense.
When Wisconsin Has the Ball
The Badgers are going to try to pound it home with the running game. Expect to see a lot of two tight end sets. The passing game will feature a lot of throws to the tight ends to keep the Lion linebackers back off the run.
On defense the Lions are going to try to clog the middle. Alford and Johnson will play the guards straight up. The defensive ends will take inside moves. The goal will be to try to make Hill bounce outside. Once they get him going sideways the linebackers will rotate out and the safeties should be able to come up to drop him for no gain or even a loss. The wide receivers don't appear to be much of a threat, so the Lion corners shouldn't have to play the ridiculously soft zone coverage we saw against Notre Dame and Minnesota. In third and long situations I expect to see at least one linebacker blitzing to take advantage of Stocco's poor mobility.
When Penn State Has the Ball
Penn State looked pretty pathetic against Illinois. The entire offensive playbook consisted of running between the tackles, bubble screens, and 5 yard out patterns. Illinois jumped on these plays with unbelievable success. After the game Deon Butler suggested the coaches had not taken advantage of the aggressiveness of the Fighting Illini by throwing to the middle of the field.
Against Purdue, we saw many of those same plays, but the coaches worked some new plays into the mix with great success. TE Andrew Quarless became Anthony Morelli's favorite target catching a career high three balls over the middle. Rodney Kinlaw was called upon to run a sweep or two. One play that worked extremely well was a draw play to Hunt that was set up by fake bubble screen featuring a beautiful pump fake and spin by Morelli. Each time Penn State ran the play they picked up at least ten yards. Against Wisconsin, Penn State will have to run a balanced attack that keeps the Badgers guessing and takes advantage of over aggressiveness.
Place kicker Taylor Mehlhaff is a good one who has been nominated for the Lou Groza Award. Wisconsin's kickoff return team is pathetic as they are ranked #118 in the NCAA with a return average a little over 15 yards. Punt returns aren't much better averaging less than 8 yards.
|Beckum uses the Matrix|
I like the way the Penn State defense matches up with the Badgers. They are a one dimensional team and I believe if they can stop Hill or Hill gets hurt Wisconsin isn't going to score many points. The wide receivers are pretty average and should be contained by the Lion corners allowing the safeties to cheat up on run support. Last year the Lions held the Badgers to 11 yards rushing and the Badgers had no answer. This year Michigan showed if you stop them from running the ball, Wisconsin really struggles. I expect the same kind of results on Saturday. I expect the Lion linebackers will blitz in passing situations and they will have success running around the big linemen and getting to Stocco.
Unfortunately, I don't like the way the Penn State offense matches up against Wisconsin's defense. Teams have had moderate success running against Wisconsin so Hunt may find some room to run, but he is going to struggle to break 100 yards. He might, but I think he is going to average less than 4 yards per carry. The wide receivers are going to have trouble getting open and when they do Morelli is going to have trouble getting them the ball.
Reasonably Certain Predictions
Tony Hunt will have over 25 carries for 85 yards and 1 TD
Wisconsin will be held to under 100 yards rushing
Wisconsin Tight End Travis Beckum will have 6 catches for 50 yards
Anthony Morelli will throw an interception in the third quarter
John Stocco will be sacked at least four times
The combined score will be less than 30 points
We Can Laugh at These on Monday
Kevin Kelly hits the game winning field goal with less than a minute in the game
A.J. Wallace has a 50 yard kick return
Andrew Quarless catches 5 balls for 80 yards
The score will be 3-3 at halftime
The Bottom Line
This game will be a defensive coordinator's wet dream. Both teams will come out trying to run the ball against the strength of the defense. The game is going to hinge on who can put together the best special teams and the closest to average passing game. The Penn State pass rush should be able to disrupt the Badgers passing game and the Lions wide receivers should be able to catch enough balls to open up some running lanes. Special teams should easily go to the Lions, and that will be the difference in this game.