Wisconsin Opponent Preview - No.21 Penn State

Wisconsin Opponent Preview - No.21 Penn State

Football

Wisconsin Opponent Preview - No.21 Penn State

The Badgers defeated the Scarlet Knights to improve to 6-3 and gain bowl eligibility status last weekend, but it wasn’t pretty. Junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook was taken out due to a second concussion in three weeks and sophomore quarterback Jack Coan was again thrust into action. The defense was without starting nose tackle senior Olive Sagapolu but still performed well without his presence up the middle to prevail against Rutgers.

Wisconsin’s next opponent is Penn State, which is coming off an ugly 42-7 loss at Michigan. Senior quarterback Trace McSorley struggled with his injured right knee, unable to get the ball to its target and not able to produce anything on the ground. Penn State was outgained 403-186 and the Wolverines’ running backs had themselves a field day against the Nittany Lions’ defense, rushing for over 250 yards.

Penn State’s run game consists of McSorley and junior running back Miles Sanders, who early on this year was showing skills that were comparable to Saquan Barkley. Last week was not one of those games, as the two combined for 19 carries and eight yards. Junior quarterback Tommy Stevens came into the game and rushed for 52 yards off of 10 carries and scored the Nittany Lions’ only points.

After throwing for 274.6 yards per game last year, McSorley is averaging only 190.1 yards per game this season, which ranks eighth in the Big Ten and a number that could be higher if Penn State’s receivers weren’t inconsistent catching the football. Sanders is averaging 94.2 yards per game and 5.9 yards per carry and hasn’t shown to be as explosive as Barkley.

For Wisconsin’s defense, there wasn’t much production last weekend. While they kept Rutgers under 100 rushing yards, the Badgers allowed 261 passing yards and didn’t force a turnover. Throughout this year, Rutgers had not been impressive throwing the football but generated a handful of chunk yardage against UW. Two of the bright spots were senior inside linebackers Ryan Connelly and TJ Edwards continuing to play at an exceptionally high level, combining for 15 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.

Defensively, Penn State is tied with Michigan for the most sacks in the Big Ten (29) and have a number of players who can get after the quarterback, especially end Yetur Gross-Matos (7 sacks, 13½ tackles for loss) and outside linebacker Micah Parsons (team-best 51 tackles). The Nittany Lions also have a secondary that is decent in coverage, is sound tacklers and can make plays on the football (all four projected starters have at least one interception this season).

The unit has flaws, however, ranking 10th in the Big Ten against the run (172.2 yards per game), 11th in third-down conversions (34.2 percent) and last in time of possession (26 minutes, 51 seconds). Coan improved his performance from his start at Northwestern to his reserve role last week against Rutgers, and this weekend may be an opportunity for him to continue on this hot streak.

Speaking of redemption, sophomore running back Jonathon Taylor made up from his fumbles two weeks ago by rushing for 208 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries. Senior running back Taiwan Deal was second in rushing with 77 yards as the offense finished with 317 rushing yards. After what Michigan’s ground attack did to Penn State, Wisconsin’s offense should be excited about the chance.

This game against Penn State will have the Badgers’ youth going up against the Nittany Lions’ experience. While there has been no official word on Hornibrook’s condition, Coan will likely be the starter and need to step up and handle the pressure that will be put in front of him. He will need the help of his offensive lineman to give him enough time to help build some confidence in himself.

On the flip side, McSorley still has the same offensive line from when they won the Big Ten Championship two years ago against us. There will be times when Wisconsin will have three freshmen on its defensive front. Will Wisconsin’s young defense prevail over the experienced Nittany Lions?  The defense will have to look for the leadership of the seniors out there on the field to rally them. It will also take focus and determination since there is no room for error when it comes to Penn State. It still hurts losing the Big Ten championship to them so emotions will be high and pride will be tested this weekend.

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