Game Preview: Penn State vs. Wisconsin
Coming fresh off a 31-17 drubbing courtesy of Northwestern two weeks ago, the Wisconsin Badgers (6-3,4-2) rebounded at Camp Randall Stadium, flipping the script with a 31-17 victory of their own over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
While being injured in the Northwestern game, quarterback Alex Hornibrook came back healthy for the Badgers, yet played less than spectacularly for an offense led by its rushing attack. Against lowly Rutgers, Hornibrook completed only seven of 16 passes for 92 yards, in addition to tossing an interception, his eighth of the season.
Hornibrook has seen a significant drop in production compared to his successful sophomore campaign last year, as he has thrown for only 11 touchdown passes in eight games. Equally frightening for Badgers fans is how Hornibrook has fared against legitimate competition such as the Michigan Wolverines, where he completed seven of 20 passes for 100 yards with most of the output coming on a meaningless fourth-quarter drive.
Nonetheless, this Badgers offense lives and dies on its rushing attack, led by sophomore sensation Jonathan Taylor and his NCAA leading 1,363 yards rushing. While a good number of the Wisconsin Badgers have regressed statistically, Taylor has held true to his freshman year totals, keeping up with his impressive 6.6 yards per carry.
Expect the New Jersey native to show up at Penn State, as he totaled 208 yards in the last contest. He and the rest of the Wisconsin offense should pose the type of rushing attack the Nittany Lions have yet to see thus far in the season.
Meanwhile, the Penn State Nittany Lions have seen their fair share of struggles recently, dropping three of their last five contests and, most recently, a 42-7 drubbing by the Michigan Wolverines in the “Big House”.
Few players have seen such absurd statistical drops as quarterback Trace McSorley, who entered this season as a fringe Heisman Trophy candidate. Instead of finding his way to New York, McSorley found himself on the bench in Ann Arbor, Michigan, conceding to backup quarterback Tommy Stevens as a result of what was arguably McSorley’s worst statistical game as a Nittany Lion: five of 13 passing, 83 yards and an interception.
If Penn State is going to succeed against the Badgers, not only will they have to solve their passing woes one way or another, but they will also need to figure out their running game.
Running back Miles Sanders has cooled off in recent weeks, most notably rushing for a meager 14 yards on seven carries this past weekend in Michigan. Sanders has yet to top 100 yards since the Michigan State game when the majority of his 162 yards came on two long runs.
Aside from that, Sanders has seen a noticeable dip in production, failing to combine for 100 yards in the past two games. Not to mention, Sanders has received little help at running back with the disappearance of highly touted freshman Ricky Slade.
Against a stout Wisconsin run defense, not only will Penn State likely struggle to run the ball once more, but also struggle with protecting the quarterback. Matt Limegrover’s offensive line conceded five sacks to the Wolverines and will need to find a change prior to this Saturday’s matchup.
In a contest that pits two teams that began the season with much higher aspirations than battling it out for a spot in the Outback Bowl, one must wonder which team is more motivated.
On the one hand, Wisconsin enters off a win over Rutgers, which while boosting confidence, doesn’t do a whole lot. Meanwhile, Penn State finished minutes away from their first shutout in 17 years, drawing serious concerns and criticisms of their offense.
On paper, the home Nittany Lions should be expected to pull out the victory, but don’t expect this one to be pretty. In a close one, Penn State grinds out its fourth Big Ten victory against a ho-hum Wisconsin team.
Final score prediction: Penn State 20, Wisconsin 17
Andrew Destin is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.