Penn State heads in to the final week of the regular season with a chance to play for the Big Ten championship on the line. The winner of today’s game in Madison between Wisconsin and Penn State will send the winner to the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis next week.
Wisconsin entered the season as the Big Ten favorite, thanks in large part to the addition of transfer quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson leads the Big Ten pass efficiency with a rating of 199.3, more than 50 points higher than Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and eighty points higher than Penn State’s Matt McGloin. Wilson leads the conference in passing touchdowns, with 26 and is third in passing with 2,506 yards while completing 73.6 percent of his pass attempts, by far the best in the Big Ten. Wilson is also a threat to run with the football as well, with 289 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns.
But Wilson is just one half of Wisconsin’s dynamic duo. Running back Montee Ball has scored a Big Ten record 30 touchdowns, including 25 on the ground. Ball has been building some Heisman hype in recent weeks as the Big Ten’s leading rusher with 1,466 rushing yards and averaging 6.6 yards per carry. With Ball and Wilson it is no wonder Wisconsin is fifth in the nation in scoring and top ten in rushing.
Penn State’s defense has been steady all season long, but this may be their toughest challenge from an opposing offense yet. Wisconsin has scored no fewer than 28 points in a game this season and they have 29 and 31 points in their two losses this season. The key for Penn State’s defense will be to recognize that Wisconsin is going to have some success and move the football, and get on the scoreboard but limit the big plays. Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still, a finalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy Outland Trophy will have his work cut out for him this weekend against a Wisconsin offensive line that is traditionally very good, although they have shown some cracks in the second half of the season.
Wisconsin has a pretty solid defense as well, led by Mike Taylor and Chris Borland, who are 1-2 in the Big Ten in tackles per game. Wisconsin has allowed just 15.9 points per game this season, and they have allowed 17 points or less in each of their last three games. This means that Penn State’s shaky offense will have to find a way to move the football and get some points on the scoreboard. Last week Penn State excelled running the wildcat offense, and head coach Tom Bradley says there may be more in the works for this weekend.
“We'll have a couple of things maybe we haven't done in the past,” Bradley said during his weekly press conference this week. “We'll put them in. We'll take a look at in the next couple of days, and we'll have a game plan going into the game. How much we use certain things last week the Wildcat was in early. It was in our script early. I think it was in two or three times for the first 11 plays. So each week's different.”
Much has been made about where Penn State will be heading this bow season, or whether or not they should accept a bowl invitation. Of course they should accept an invitation, when it comes (and it will). But a win today will send Penn State to the Big Ten championship game, with an automatic trip to the Rose Bowl on the line. After all these players have been through this season, it would be the justified reward for them, but they will gladly accept any bowl trip that comes their way.
Penn State kicks off in Madison with Wisconsin at 3:30 p.m.