Penn State takes on the red-hot Wisconsin Badgers and try to play spoiler for their BCS hopes. Penn State (6-5, 3-4) vs. Wisconsin (9-2, 6-1)`
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI
The Line: PSU +24
TV: ESPN Mike Patrick (play-by-play), Ed Cunningham (analyst) Jeannine Edwards (sideline)
PENN STATE RECORD: 14-9, 2nd year
OVERALL RECORD: same
VS. WISCONSIN: 1-0
WISCONSIN RECORD: 9-2, 1st Year
OVERALL RECORD: 39-33, 6th Year
VS. PENN STATE: First meeting
...NOW THE FUN PART
WISCONSIN OFFENSE VS PENN STATE DEFENSE
New coach, same offensive philosophy- run the ball behind a big, physical line. The Badgers have the best running back tandem in the nation with James White and Melvin Gordon III. White is the type of running back that has become synonymous with Wisconsin football. He's a tough runner between the tackles and can also break lose for a long gain. He'll wear down a defense and get better as the game goes on. With one regular season game remaining, he already has 1,281 yards rushing, 13 TDs and a spectacular 6.5 yards per carry average. He's also dangerous out of the backfield, tallying 33 receptions, 258 yards and another 2 TDs through the air. Gordon is more of a speedster/situational back, but actually leads the team in rushing. He's rushed for 1,375 yards, 12 TDs and maintains an eye-popping 8.2 yards per carry. His only flaw may be that he isn't very effective as a receiver. Either way, these two will likely combine for plenty of frustrating third down conversions on Saturday. Or, they may perform so well that the Badgers never even have to worry aboutgetting tothird down. They're that good.
Sophomore quarterback Joel Stave isn't putting up huge numbers, but doesn't need to with the Badgers vaunted running game. He's an excellent game manager and is usually able to move the chains when needed to. He's smart, efficient and knows how to win. He's completed 63 percent of his passes on the season and has thrown for 17 TDs, compared to nine sacks. He isn't much of a scrambler, but has excellent awareness and knows how to dodge a sack.
Senior Jared Abbrederis, who seemingly has started for the Badgers since 2001, is Stave's main target. The former walk-on is one of the premiere wide receivers in the Big Ten, and knows how to create separation. He embarrassed Bradley Roby when Wisconsin took on Ohio State, and is always capable of having a huge game regardless of the opponent. He's one of the better stories in the Big Ten and will be sorely missed next season.
Fortunately, Penn State's defense matches up well against the Badgers offense. However, they have not played a team this season with a running attack nearly as good as this one. They may be able to slow down Wisconsin initially, but the offense will need to sustain drives throughout the afternoon to prevent them from getting completely worn down by halftime.
WISCONSIN DEFENSE VS PENN STATE OFFENSE
You know Indiana's potent offense, the one that smoked Penn State for 44 points? Wisconsin held them to just three points a couple weeks ago. They're damn good. Senior linebacker Chris Borland is the standout of the squad. He plays sideline-to-sideline and is in on the action practically every play.
As previously alluded to, the Badgers defense is just plain stingy. They are allowing a measly 13.4 points per game, good for fifth in the entire nation. Penn State will really need to earn any points that come their way on Saturday.
The last time Christian Hackenberg started in a hostile environment, things got ugly extremely fast. Wisconsin will likely try to put pressure on him to get him out of his element early. The offensive line will have a major task on their hands to keep him upright.
Let's start with the bad news- Wisconsin does an excellent job with returning kickoffs. Combine that with Penn State's major issues covering kicks, and it could be a recipe for disaster. I wouldn't be shocked to see nothing but squib kicks from our kickoff unit. They also do a solid job of covering kicks, so don't expect too much from our tepid return game.
If the Badgers have a weakness it's punting the ball. For the first time in weeks, Penn State will not face a squad who can blast the ball downfield 60-plus yards at the drop of the hat. They'll need to take advantage of a short field should they be given any opportunities.
Wisconsin rarely kick field goals, but why would they when they have backs who can keep the chains moving until they hit paydirt?
WISCONSIN-42 PENN STATE-17
The thing that made the overtime loss against Nebraska such a bitter pill to swallow is that the Nittany lions have such a limited chance of escaping Madison with a victory. Penn State will need to produce an absolute brilliant game to have a shot. They would need at least a couple 7-9 minute drives led by Zac Zwinak, win the turnover margin by at least three and have Hackenberg play far-and-away his best game in a Nittany Lion uniform.
The odds just are not in our favor this week. Wisconsin will be playing at home, where they are always difficult to beat, with a BCS bowl most likely on the line. They will do what they need to do to keep those hope alive and finish with a 10 wins in Gary Andersen's inaugural season in Wisconsin.