I’ve always held a simple rule for the weekly MVP pick - select one individual whose contributions stood out above the rest for that particular game. But after the totality of the masterful performance by the Nittany Lions defense to earn an extremely hard-fought week one victory in hostile Madison, there’s enough praise to go around for every member of the defense who stepped on the field on Saturday.
Time after time, Penn State’s defense rose to the occasion when the moment required it. It was a true team performance, where each player continually made significant contributions to hold the Badgers to a measly 10 points. They were called upon throughout the afternoon, as the Badgers defense was doing their own part to keep the Penn State offense in check.
There were several players who could lay claim to the best performance of the afternoon. Jaquan Brisker offered a gritty performance that will be remembered for years - making big plays all over the field despite battling with injuries throughout the afternoon. Ellis Brooks put on a show before being ejected on a questionable targeting call in the fourth quarter. Arnold Ebiketie looked like he should have been given #11 when arriving from Temple.
Jesse Luketa adjusted from defensive end to middle linebacker seamlessly after Ellis’ departure, helping keep the Badgers from seizing the lead. PJ Mustipher helped create negative plays throughout the game. Tariq Castro Fields again looked like a future NFL starter after a 2020 plagued with nagging injuries. Ji’Ayir Brown left no questions he’s up for the task of taking the role opposite Brisker.
They did the things Penn State fans had be pleading for the last few seasons - a consistent pass rush, creating turnovers more regularly, and having players who step up in the moment when a play needs made.
Anyone who took the field to keep the Badgers out of the end zone on Saturday ultimately played a significant part in this victory.
The defense did all this despite being on the field for an eye-popping 42:24 of the ballgame. It took an immense amount of character to come out on top of this game that felt like a pivotal late-season battle, and this defense proved to have the heart and leaders needed for a potentially special season in Happy Valley.
WR Jahan Dotson - It was evident that Dotson was the best player on either side of the field on Saturday. I wonder how many times we’ll say that this season? The star receiver provided the spark needed to get the Nittany Lions on the scoreboard, finishing with five catches for 102 yards and a touchdown - numbers that could have been much higher if not for a couple misfires when Dotson had nothing but green grass between him and the end zone.
RB Noah Cain - Cain was his methodical self in the second half, making Badgers miss and keeping plays alive for extra yardage that seemed nearly impossible for much of the afternoon. He made several key plays on Penn State’s second half scoring drives, finishing with 75 hard-earned yards from scrimmage and a score.