Big Ten Championship Preview
Brian McLaughlin, Will Dessautelle, Jack Raynor and Travis Sutton look at this weekend's matchups between Penn State and Wisconsin. You can listen to the Big Ten Championship live on ComRadio on December 3 at 8:00 p.m.
The No. 8 Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2, 8-1 B1G) and No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers (10-2, 7-2 B1G) continue their Cinderella storylines into this week’s Big Ten Championship. As the Blue and White travel to Indianapolis for Saturday’s primetime showdown, both teams are reeling from their improbable climb to the top of the formidable conference and their respective divisions.
Before the stakes of “The Game,” Penn State’s White Out upset over the Ohio Buckeyes and Wisconsin’s early stance against top-10 teams, these two teams were predicted to be pretenders instead of contenders. Before Saturdays meant tailgates and the changing of the leaves, Penn State was expected to fall to fourth in the East behind Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. Wisconsin was predicted to fair slightly better in the West by just falling behind Iowa and Nebraska. Who thought that the Big Ten Championship would be clad in Blue, White and Red?
The last time the Nittany Lions saw the Badgers on the gridiron, Christian Hackenberg was still at the helm of the offensive scheme. Their 2013 showdown evolved into a Blue and White 31-24 upset; Hackenberg had a day with 339 yards and four touchdowns.
This ultimate showing will be a battle of the seasoned Badgers and the new-era Nittany Lions. While the Badgers will make their fourth appearance on the Big Ten’s grand stage, the Nittany Lions find themselves exploring new and promising territory with their first appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game.
With history and experience aside, fans should expect an intriguing battle between Penn State’s electric offense and Wisconsin’s formidable defensive unit. The team who can exploit and infiltrate the opposition’s strongest asset will find the most success.
The Badgers’ defense is a two-headed monster with the ability to make their presence known against the running and passing game. They allow just 100.8 ground yards per game and lead the country with 21 interceptions. Trace McSorley needs to prepare for their dangerous secondary; safety Leo Musso has had four interception in the last three games to tie him with teammates D’Cota Dixon and Sojourn Shelton. The Nittany Lions’ injured offensive line will also have their hands full with T.J. Watt; the brother of Houston Texans defensive marvel J.J. Watt has cemented eight solo sacks on the season. Overall, their defensive scheme ranks them as seventh in FBS and third in the Big Ten in total defense with 292 yards per game.
While Wisconsin has a question mark looming over its quarterback duo of Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston pending Hornibrook’s injury status, they still have a 1,000-yard rusher in Corey Clement and average 28.5 points per game. Although Wisconsin’s defensive unit seemingly creates the more imposing presence, its offense’s commendable ability to run the clock and maintain possession does volumes for the resting defense. The Badger’s offense currently leads the nation in time of possession with a 35:12 average per game.
The Nittany Lions’ defense needs to rush this offense into turnovers or force the opposition’s defense into more field time. Garret Sickels will need to cement an imposing presence on the line if the Blue and White want to upset their offense’s ability to maintain possession.
Like Wisconsin’s defense, Penn State’s electricity and diversity on offense will need to be a commanding force in this high-stakes matchup. During its current eight-game winning streak, the Blue and White have scored 323 points and averaged 40.4 points per game. While Barkley has carried a majority of the load, McSorley has a plethora of other producing targets; especially playmaker Chris Godwin, who averaged about 30-yards per reception against the Michigan State Spartans last week.
Although the running backs Andre Robinson, Mark Allen and Miles Sanders have all proven themselves as effective weapons on the ground, Barkley’s status after suffering an injury in last week’s game will be the game’s greatest X-factor. A dominating Barkley not only exposes defenses, but also motivates the entire offensive scheme.
With Bowl games and the College Football Playoff on the line, fans on both sides of the ball should expect the unexpected because with these two teams, anything can happen.
The Penn State Nittany Lions travel to the Lucas Oil Stadium for the Big Ten Championship this Saturday at 8 p.m. against the Wisconsin Badgers.
Madeleine Balestrier is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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