Penn State vs. Wisconsin: Gameday Grades
In a game that no one gave Penn State a chance of winning, Christian Hackenberg etched his name into program history with his performance at Camp Randall Stadium. The true freshman from Palmyra, Virginia, completed 21 of 30 passes for 339 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Hackenberg cut up a Badgers defense that ranked fifth in the BCS in points per game allowed (13.4) and kept them guessing for the entire game. The Penn State signal-caller was also very successful on play-action and bootleg plays, showing much more mobility than earlier in the season. As his freshman year comes to a close, the Penn State fan base expects more greatness to come in the near future.
Running Backs: B-
This was initially a much lower mark, before Zach Zwinak's play late in the fourth quarter. On a third-and-long deep in Penn State's territory, the Nittany Lion workhorse took a delayed handoff up the middle for 62 yards and a much needed first down. Zwinak ran the ball 22 times for 115 yards, for an average of 5.2 yards per carry. Without that run, his totals go down to 53 total yards and to a 2.5 average. Bill Belton carried the ball three times for seven yards and caught one pass for three yards. Akeel Lynch did not see action for the offense.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A
A few no-calls on pass interference and controversial incomplete rulings kept the Lions receiving numbers lower than they could have been. Three different Lions found the end zone, including redshirt freshman Geno Lewis, who scored two touchdowns. However, his first trip to the end zone was not without controversy. With Penn State on the Wisconsin two-yard line, Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen sprinted down the field to call a timeout to realign the defense. With no Badger around for 20 yards, Hackenberg hiked the ball quickly and threw it to Lewis, who walked into the end zone for six, before the official could call the timeout. His second TD was a bit more impressive, hauling in a 59-yard bomb from Hackenberg. Tight end Adam Breneman scored on a 68-yard catch and run in the first quarter, for his third touchdown in three games. Jesse James also scored on a seven-yard pattern in the back corner of the end zone. Allen Robinson padded his own records with eight catches for 122 yards.
Offensive Line: D
This is a grade that I'm sure right guard John Urschel has never gotten before, but the big guys on offense had an atrocious game. Eight false start penalties (four called on left tackled Donovan Smith) killed the offense's momentum on several occasions. However, the unit kept Hackenberg upright and held the Badgers' pass rush without a single sack, while opening up a huge hole for Zach Zwinak's draw play in the fourth quarter to regain control of the clock.
Defensive Line: B
CJ Olaniyan had a career-game, as the front seven were constantly in the face of Badgers quarterback, Joel Stave. The D-Line lost the battle in the trenches in the first half, getting gashed by running backs Melvin Gordon and James White. But in the second half, Penn State's lead and an injury to Gordon forced Wisconsin to throw the ball, letting the defense tee off on Stave. Olaniyan intercepted the Badgers signal caller and came up with a big fourth-down sack, while they were driving late. Defensive end Anthony Zettel and tackle Kyle Baublitz each brought down Stave, keeping him off balance the entire game.
Mike Hull and Glenn Carson each had “Linebacker U” quality games, delivering haymakers to Stave whenever they got the chance. The unit had a much improved end to its season, after much scrutiny over Bill O'Brien's “thud” tackling offseason program, squaring up on Melvin Gordon and James White and keeping them from breaking any rushes over 14 yards.
Defensive Backs: B-
While the unit had two fourth quarter interceptions, (Trevor Williams and Ryan Keiser) it was helped out drastically by poor execution. Several times Joel Stave could not get the ball to a wide-open receiver, or a Badger dropped a ball with plenty of room to run. The unit also had trouble getting off the field, allowing completions on a few third-and-longs. However, the secondary bent, but did not break, after allowing 465 total yard of offense. Keiser's INT was hauled in on a Hail-Mary in the Penn State end zone with one second left on the clock.
Special Teams: D-
Kicker Sam Ficken's junior season didn't end with the same magic his sophomore campaign did. He had one short kick blocked and missed another wide-right, that would have put the game away for Penn State (with a 10-point lead and less than a minute to play). Alex Butterworth had a punt blocked for the second straight game and didn't have a single punt land inside the 20. Jesse Della Valle had nothing in the return game, but recovered a crucial onside kick attempt by the Badgers late in the game.
Bill O'Brien's decision to kick the field goal with thirty seconds left was a head scratcher, and nearly cost the Lions the game. However, Penn State would have never gotten that far if it weren't for his call on the draw to get them into the Wisconsin red zone. O'Brien coached to win, even after nearly giving up a 17-point fourth quarter lead.
Overall Game Experience: A-
Far too close for comfort, but this game had all the elements of a classic Big Ten upset. Penn State was a 24-point underdog going in, and fought the entire game to finish with its second straight winning season under Bill O'Brien with a final record of 7-5.
Kristopher Rogers is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Morry Gash)