Outback deja vu

Tennessee's football players spent 11 months trying to forget their 20-10 Outback Bowl loss to Penn State last January in Tampa. Now they find themselves unavoidably reminded of it.

The Vols are reminded of Penn State every time they watch film of Wisconsin, this year's Outback Bowl foe. Besides being fellow members of the Big Ten Conference, the Nittany Lions and the Badgers share a number of other common traits.

For instance:

Offensively, Wisconsin relies on a power-running game, complemented by a surprisingly competent passing attack ... just like Penn State.

Defensively, the Badgers won't wow you with phenomenal athletes but they are remarkably sound technically and fundamentally ... just like the Nittany Lions.

"They kind of remind us of Penn State," Vol quarterback Erik Ainge said recently. "They have some good players but they don't have that guy that you watch and say, ‘Oh my gosh! That guy's amazing!'

"Every single player they have is good. Some are better than others but they're all good ... kind of like Penn State last year."

The Vols have enough speed on offense to give Wisconsin's defense some problems. The secondary has surrendered touchdown passes of 97, 80 and 71 yards this year. Otherwise, the Badgers are pretty solid.

"They don't make mistakes," Ainge said. "They're always in the right spot and they're talented. But if we go and execute and take care of business we can have a good day."

Wisconsin is a talented and dangerous offensive team. The Badgers feature a mobile quarterback (Tyler Donovan), a superstar tight end (Travis Beckum), a bullish tailback (P.J. Hill) and a couple of rangy, big-play receivers (Luke Swan, Kyle Jefferson).

Donovan has completed 57.9 percent of his passes for 2,452 yards and 16 touchdowns. His passer-efficiency rating (135.20) is almost identical to that compiled by Ainge (134.64) and he has run for nearly 500 yards, discounting sacks.

Beckum, a gifted 6-4, 225-pounder, is the team's leading receiver with 73 catches for 960 yards and six touchdowns. Hill ran for 1,080 yards and 14 touchdowns. Swan averaged 18.0 yards per catch and Jefferson 16.7 yards per grab during the regular season.

Like Ainge, Vol defensive end Xavier Mitchell sees a lot of last year's Outback foe in this year's Outback foe ... with one notable difference.

"I think Penn State's quarterback threw the ball a lot more," he said. "This quarterback (Donovan) will take off with the ball and not think twice about it. That might be the difference between Penn State's offense and Wisconsin's offense. But they both like to run the ball."


Inside Tennessee Top Stories