USA Today Sports

Scouting Report: An Insider's Take On The Badgers

Badger Nation expert Benjamin Worgull answers our five pressing questions as No. 6 Wisconsin prepares to face No. 7 Penn State in the Big Ten Championship game.

To suggest Penn State is facing an unfamiliar opponent in Saturday’s Big Ten championship game would be an understatement.

Beyond not playing in the 2016 season, the Big Ten East champion Nittany Lions (10-2, 8-1) and Big Ten West champion Wisconsin (10-2, 7-2) have not squared off on the gridiron since 2013. 

Back then, Bill O’Brien’s struggling Penn State team pulled off a stunning 31-24 upset of Gary Anderson’s No. 14 UW squad.

Three years later, James Franklin is coaching the Lions and Paul Chryst is leading the Badgers.

Since Penn State fans have not seen Bucky in so long, we decided to go to THE expert on Wisconsin football — Benjamin Worgull of Badger Nation — for a Scouting Report. Read on as he tackles five pressing questions and gives a game pick.

1. Penn State has not faced Wisconsin since Paul Chryst became head coach. Are things much different with the Badgers' approach now as opposed to what fans around the Big Ten had come to expect (and respect) about the program through the years?

Penn State fans should think more Bret Bielema's and Barry Alvarez's Wisconsin from an offense standpoint than what Gary Andersen created in his brief two-year stay in Madison. The ultimate goal of Chryst, who coached under both Alvarez and Bielema, is to establish the run behind its beefy offensive line and hit teams over the top with the play-action pass and/or rely on the tight ends. 

UW is much more equipped to do that now than it was in September and early October, as this team really didn't turn a corner with its running game until it ran for over 200 yards against Ohio State. The quarterback play is not considered a strength of the offense.

Defensively, Chryst has kept Andersen's 3-4 approach that was first built by current LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda — now reportedly the highest paid assistant coach in the country — and has seen it upgraded under Justin Wilcox, who has coordinated defenses at USC, Washington, Tennessee and Boise State. The switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 prior to 2013 has developed rave reviews, as the Badgers have turned from a bend-but-don't-break defense to a unit that is dominant against the run and above average against the pass. 

Special teams have even been improving, as Chryst chose to hire a special teams assistant coach rather than what Bielema did (split the four units between four coaches) or Andersen (have a tight ends/special teams coach).

Max Siker/BadgerNation

2. Can you explain the positives and negatives of the two-QB system the Badgers have been using? And as an aside, if Alex Hornibrook (above) is unable to play this week, what impact will it have?

The two-quarterback system has appeared to have a bigger negative impact on the redshirt freshman (Hornibrook) opposed to the fifth-year senior (Bart Houston). After Houston started the three nonconference games, Hornibrook has started every Big Ten game and was the quarterback exclusively for road games against Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State.

During those three games, Hornibrook averaged 165.7 yards per outing. In the six games working in the two-quarterback system, Hornibrook averaged just 93.8 yards. Naturally, his production would decrease with fewer series, but it's evident watching him that he's struggling to find that early-season mojo.

On the same accord, Houston has been a huge spark for the team down the stretch. He was the lone bright spot on offense in the first half last week against Minnesota, leading a 10-play, 80-yard drive on his first series, and led the offense on four scoring drives in the second quarter against Purdue two weeks ago.

UW initially brought in Houston to run a specific set of plays (mostly zone-read option and other designs to showcase his marginal mobility), but Chryst has stuck with him when he shows he has the hot hand.

If Hornibrook doesn't play (he did return to practice Tuesday), I don't think it will have a gigantic effect. Houston is confident in his abilities and did quarterback the team to a win over then-No.5 LSU in the season opener. The real intrigue will be if Hornibrook doesn't play and Houston gets injured, because UW only has two other quarterbacks on the roster and they both are true freshmen who are redshirting.

Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

3. Wisconsin is playing some great defense. What sorts of offenses have given the Badgers the most trouble?

To be honest, Wisconsin has seen pocket-passing quarterbacks running power and option quarterbacks running the spread and the Badgers have been able to shut both down. Wisconsin has allowed only two teams to score over 17 points this year (Ohio State had 30 in overtime and Purdue had 20 after a garbage-time touchdown against the backups), and only LSU's Leonard Fournette to break 100 yards against them in the opener.

If I had to pick two things that have showed some chinks in the armor: The Badgers have had some issues against spread quarterbacks. Ohio State's J.T. Barrett gashed UW a couple times and Minnesota's Mitch Leidner had 50 rushing yards on the Gophers' opening drive last week. The other is the pass defense. While the Badgers have a FBS-leading 21 interceptions on the season and have only allowed eight passing touchdowns (third-best in the country), the depth between starters Sojourn Shelton and Derrick Tindal is inconsistent because of the lack of experience at corner. Since UW does play in the nickel quite a bit, teams have been trying to pick on Lubern Figaro (31) and Natrell Jamerson (12), and had some opportunities for success. That having been said, safeties Leo Musso (above) and D'Cota Dixon have been tremendous and have combined for nine interceptions this year.

Brandon Harrison/UW Athletic Communications

4. Most folks are expecting a tight game Saturday. That would seem to add to the importance of special teams' play. Can you give us a scouting report on the strengths and weaknesses of the Badgers' special teams?

Wisconsin hasn't got much out of its kickoff return and punt return units this season — which Penn State fans can relate to — but the Badgers have receiving a nice boost from the kickoff and punt units.

Sophomore kicker P.J. Rosowski is a weapon and has booted 46 of his 68 kicks for touchbacks (67.6 percent), while true freshman punter Anthony Lotti (above) has put half of his 44 punts inside the 20 and can confidently nestle a punt inside the 5-yard line. The only issue with Lotti is he hasn't been able to unleash that massive leg strength yet and flip field position consistently, which has caused some short fields for UW's defense to work with.

The field goal unit has an unknown element to it. UW lost its ace — junior Rafael Gaglianone — in the nonconference season and has had to rely on senior kicker Andrew Endicott, who had never attempted a field goal up until late September. He's been better the last three games (3-for-3 under 40 yards) but there was a stretch where he missed 5 of 9. Can he handle a pressure situation? 

Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY Network

5. How do you see this game unfolding and what is your score prediction?

I don't see a shootout for a couple reasons. First, I think Wisconsin's defense is too good. Second, the Badgers' offense leads the nation in time of possession at 35:12 per game. Considering what I said about the quarterbacks, the running game makes this number what it is. I'm curious how Wisconsin will handle Penn State's terrific young quarterback and Saquan Barkley, who the Badgers will be preparing for. And while I think they will be able to stop the run, McSorley being on his game could be a difference-maker.

Wisconsin hasn't need to throw the ball to win a big game, so the question is if that instant occurs on Saturday, can they do it and who will do it? We'll discover that answer together.

I'm going to pick Wisconsin. There's something about this team — overcoming injuries, the tough schedule, the adversity — that makes you believe they can handle the challenge. Penn State is playing really good football over the last two months, but Wisconsin's defense has been doing it the whole season. They are the difference makers on Saturday. 27-20 UW.


Fight On State Top Stories

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1. Penn State has not faced Wisconsin since Paul Chryst became head coach. Are things much different with the Badgers' approach now as opposed to what fans around the Big Ten had come to expect (and respect) about the program through the years?

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Penn State fans should think more Bret Bielema's and Barry Alvarez's Wisconsin from an offense standpoint than what Gary Andersen created in his brief two-year stay in Madison. The ultimate goal of Chryst, who coached under both Alvarez and Bielema, is to establish the run behind its beefy offensive line and hit teams over the top with the play-action pass and/or rely on the tight ends. 

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UW is much more equipped to do that now than it was in September and early October, as this team really didn't turn a corner with its running game until it ran for over 200 yards against Ohio State. The quarterback play is not considered a strength of the offense.

\n

Defensively, Chryst has kept Andersen's 3-4 approach that was first built by current LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda — now reportedly the highest paid assistant coach in the country — and has seen it upgraded under Justin Wilcox, who has coordinated defenses at USC, Washington, Tennessee and Boise State. The switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 prior to 2013 has developed rave reviews, as the Badgers have turned from a bend-but-don't-break defense to a unit that is dominant against the run and above average against the pass. 

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Special teams have even been improving, as Chryst chose to hire a special teams assistant coach rather than what Bielema did (split the four units between four coaches) or Andersen (have a tight ends/special teams coach).

\n
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\"\"Max Siker/BadgerNation
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2. Can you explain the positives and negatives of the two-QB system the Badgers have been using? And as an aside, if Alex Hornibrook (above) is unable to play this week, what impact will it have?

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The two-quarterback system has appeared to have a bigger negative impact on the redshirt freshman (Hornibrook) opposed to the fifth-year senior (Bart Houston). After Houston started the three nonconference games, Hornibrook has started every Big Ten game and was the quarterback exclusively for road games against Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State.

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During those three games, Hornibrook averaged 165.7 yards per outing. In the six games working in the two-quarterback system, Hornibrook averaged just 93.8 yards. Naturally, his production would decrease with fewer series, but it's evident watching him that he's struggling to find that early-season mojo.

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On the same accord, Houston has been a huge spark for the team down the stretch. He was the lone bright spot on offense in the first half last week against Minnesota, leading a 10-play, 80-yard drive on his first series, and led the offense on four scoring drives in the second quarter against Purdue two weeks ago.

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UW initially brought in Houston to run a specific set of plays (mostly zone-read option and other designs to showcase his marginal mobility), but Chryst has stuck with him when he shows he has the hot hand.

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If Hornibrook doesn't play (he did return to practice Tuesday), I don't think it will have a gigantic effect. Houston is confident in his abilities and did quarterback the team to a win over then-No.5 LSU in the season opener. The real intrigue will be if Hornibrook doesn't play and Houston gets injured, because UW only has two other quarterbacks on the roster and they both are true freshmen who are redshirting.

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\"\"Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports
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3. Wisconsin is playing some great defense. What sorts of offenses have given the Badgers the most trouble?

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To be honest, Wisconsin has seen pocket-passing quarterbacks running power and option quarterbacks running the spread and the Badgers have been able to shut both down. Wisconsin has allowed only two teams to score over 17 points this year (Ohio State had 30 in overtime and Purdue had 20 after a garbage-time touchdown against the backups), and only LSU's Leonard Fournette to break 100 yards against them in the opener.

\n

If I had to pick two things that have showed some chinks in the armor: The Badgers have had some issues against spread quarterbacks. Ohio State's J.T. Barrett gashed UW a couple times and Minnesota's Mitch Leidner had 50 rushing yards on the Gophers' opening drive last week. The other is the pass defense. While the Badgers have a FBS-leading 21 interceptions on the season and have only allowed eight passing touchdowns (third-best in the country), the depth between starters Sojourn Shelton and Derrick Tindal is inconsistent because of the lack of experience at corner. Since UW does play in the nickel quite a bit, teams have been trying to pick on Lubern Figaro (31) and Natrell Jamerson (12), and had some opportunities for success. That having been said, safeties Leo Musso (above) and D'Cota Dixon have been tremendous and have combined for nine interceptions this year.

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\"\"Brandon Harrison/UW Athletic Communications

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4. Most folks are expecting a tight game Saturday. That would seem to add to the importance of special teams' play. Can you give us a scouting report on the strengths and weaknesses of the Badgers' special teams?

\n
\n

Wisconsin hasn't got much out of its kickoff return and punt return units this season — which Penn State fans can relate to — but the Badgers have receiving a nice boost from the kickoff and punt units.

\n

Sophomore kicker P.J. Rosowski is a weapon and has booted 46 of his 68 kicks for touchbacks (67.6 percent), while true freshman punter Anthony Lotti (above) has put half of his 44 punts inside the 20 and can confidently nestle a punt inside the 5-yard line. The only issue with Lotti is he hasn't been able to unleash that massive leg strength yet and flip field position consistently, which has caused some short fields for UW's defense to work with.

\n

The field goal unit has an unknown element to it. UW lost its ace — junior Rafael Gaglianone — in the nonconference season and has had to rely on senior kicker Andrew Endicott, who had never attempted a field goal up until late September. He's been better the last three games (3-for-3 under 40 yards) but there was a stretch where he missed 5 of 9. Can he handle a pressure situation? 

\n
\n

\"\"Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY Network

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5. How do you see this game unfolding and what is your score prediction?

\n
\n

I don't see a shootout for a couple reasons. First, I think Wisconsin's defense is too good. Second, the Badgers' offense leads the nation in time of possession at 35:12 per game. Considering what I said about the quarterbacks, the running game makes this number what it is. I'm curious how Wisconsin will handle Penn State's terrific young quarterback and Saquan Barkley, who the Badgers will be preparing for. And while I think they will be able to stop the run, McSorley being on his game could be a difference-maker.

\n

Wisconsin hasn't need to throw the ball to win a big game, so the question is if that instant occurs on Saturday, can they do it and who will do it? We'll discover that answer together.

\n

I'm going to pick Wisconsin. There's something about this team — overcoming injuries, the tough schedule, the adversity — that makes you believe they can handle the challenge. Penn State is playing really good football over the last two months, but Wisconsin's defense has been doing it the whole season. They are the difference makers on Saturday. 27-20 UW.

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","mobileBody":"

To suggest Penn State is facing an unfamiliar opponent in Saturday’s Big Ten championship game would be an understatement.

Beyond not playing in the 2016 season, the Big Ten East champion Nittany Lions (10-2, 8-1) and Big Ten West champion Wisconsin (10-2, 7-2) have not squared off on the gridiron since 2013.

Back then, Bill O’Brien’s struggling Penn State team pulled off a stunning 31-24 upset of Gary Anderson’s No. 14 UW squad.

Three years later, James Franklin is coaching the Lions and Paul Chryst is leading the Badgers.

Since Penn State fans have not seen Bucky in so long, we decided to go to THE expert on Wisconsin football — Benjamin Worgull of Badger Nation — for a Scouting Report. Read on as he tackles five pressing questions and gives a game pick.

Follow @BenjaminWorgull

1. Penn State has not faced Wisconsin since Paul Chryst became head coach. Are things much different with the Badgers' approach now as opposed to what fans around the Big Ten had come to expect (and respect) about the program through the years?

Penn State fans should think more Bret Bielema's and Barry Alvarez's Wisconsin from an offense standpoint than what Gary Andersen created in his brief two-year stay in Madison. The ultimate goal of Chryst, who coached under both Alvarez and Bielema, is to establish the run behind its beefy offensive line and hit teams over the top with the play-action pass and/or rely on the tight ends.

UW is much more equipped to do that now than it was in September and early October, as this team really didn't turn a corner with its running game until it ran for over 200 yards against Ohio State. The quarterback play is not considered a strength of the offense.

Defensively, Chryst has kept Andersen's 3-4 approach that was first built by current LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda — now reportedly the highest paid assistant coach in the country — and has seen it upgraded under Justin Wilcox, who has coordinated defenses at USC, Washington, Tennessee and Boise State. The switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 prior to 2013 has developed rave reviews, as the Badgers have turned from a bend-but-don't-break defense to a unit that is dominant against the run and above average against the pass.

Special teams have even been improving, as Chryst chose to hire a special teams assistant coach rather than what Bielema did (split the four units between four coaches) or Andersen (have a tight ends/special teams coach).

\"\"Max Siker/BadgerNation

2. Can you explain the positives and negatives of the two-QB system the Badgers have been using? And as an aside, if Alex Hornibrook (above) is unable to play this week, what impact will it have?

The two-quarterback system has appeared to have a bigger negative impact on the redshirt freshman (Hornibrook) opposed to the fifth-year senior (Bart Houston). After Houston started the three nonconference games, Hornibrook has started every Big Ten game and was the quarterback exclusively for road games against Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State.

During those three games, Hornibrook averaged 165.7 yards per outing. In the six games working in the two-quarterback system, Hornibrook averaged just 93.8 yards. Naturally, his production would decrease with fewer series, but it's evident watching him that he's struggling to find that early-season mojo.

On the same accord, Houston has been a huge spark for the team down the stretch. He was the lone bright spot on offense in the first half last week against Minnesota, leading a 10-play, 80-yard drive on his first series, and led the offense on four scoring drives in the second quarter against Purdue two weeks ago.

UW initially brought in Houston to run a specific set of plays (mostly zone-read option and other designs to showcase his marginal mobility), but Chryst has stuck with him when he shows he has the hot hand.

If Hornibrook doesn't play (he did return to practice Tuesday), I don't think it will have a gigantic effect. Houston is confident in his abilities and did quarterback the team to a win over then-No.5 LSU in the season opener. The real intrigue will be if Hornibrook doesn't play and Houston gets injured, because UW only has two other quarterbacks on the roster and they both are true freshmen who are redshirting.

\"\"Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

3. Wisconsin is playing some great defense. What sorts of offenses have given the Badgers the most trouble?

To be honest, Wisconsin has seen pocket-passing quarterbacks running power and option quarterbacks running the spread and the Badgers have been able to shut both down. Wisconsin has allowed only two teams to score over 17 points this year (Ohio State had 30 in overtime and Purdue had 20 after a garbage-time touchdown against the backups), and only LSU's Leonard Fournette to break 100 yards against them in the opener.

If I had to pick two things that have showed some chinks in the armor: The Badgers have had some issues against spread quarterbacks. Ohio State's J.T. Barrett gashed UW a couple times and Minnesota's Mitch Leidner had 50 rushing yards on the Gophers' opening drive last week. The other is the pass defense. While the Badgers have a FBS-leading 21 interceptions on the season and have only allowed eight passing touchdowns (third-best in the country), the depth between starters Sojourn Shelton and Derrick Tindal is inconsistent because of the lack of experience at corner. Since UW does play in the nickel quite a bit, teams have been trying to pick on Lubern Figaro (31) and Natrell Jamerson (12), and had some opportunities for success. That having been said, safeties Leo Musso (above) and D'Cota Dixon have been tremendous and have combined for nine interceptions this year.

\"\"Brandon Harrison/UW Athletic Communications

4. Most folks are expecting a tight game Saturday. That would seem to add to the importance of special teams' play. Can you give us a scouting report on the strengths and weaknesses of the Badgers' special teams?

Wisconsin hasn't got much out of its kickoff return and punt return units this season — which Penn State fans can relate to — but the Badgers have receiving a nice boost from the kickoff and punt units.

Sophomore kicker P.J. Rosowski is a weapon and has booted 46 of his 68 kicks for touchbacks (67.6 percent), while true freshman punter Anthony Lotti (above) has put half of his 44 punts inside the 20 and can confidently nestle a punt inside the 5-yard line. The only issue with Lotti is he hasn't been able to unleash that massive leg strength yet and flip field position consistently, which has caused some short fields for UW's defense to work with.

The field goal unit has an unknown element to it. UW lost its ace — junior Rafael Gaglianone — in the nonconference season and has had to rely on senior kicker Andrew Endicott, who had never attempted a field goal up until late September. He's been better the last three games (3-for-3 under 40 yards) but there was a stretch where he missed 5 of 9. Can he handle a pressure situation?

\"\"Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY Network

5. How do you see this game unfolding and what is your score prediction?

I don't see a shootout for a couple reasons. First, I think Wisconsin's defense is too good. Second, the Badgers' offense leads the nation in time of possession at 35:12 per game. Considering what I said about the quarterbacks, the running game makes this number what it is. I'm curious how Wisconsin will handle Penn State's terrific young quarterback and Saquan Barkley, who the Badgers will be preparing for. And while I think they will be able to stop the run, McSorley being on his game could be a difference-maker.

Wisconsin hasn't need to throw the ball to win a big game, so the question is if that instant occurs on Saturday, can they do it and who will do it? We'll discover that answer together.

I'm going to pick Wisconsin. There's something about this team — overcoming injuries, the tough schedule, the adversity — that makes you believe they can handle the challenge. Penn State is playing really good football over the last two months, but Wisconsin's defense has been doing it the whole season. They are the difference makers on Saturday. 27-20 UW.

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