Game Day Grades: Penn State

MADISON - Thought to be a four quarter game in the week of preparation, No.15 Wisconsin made it a one half game against No.20 Penn State, dominating the Nittany Lions in all three phases to earn a spot int he inaugural Big Ten championship game. Badger Nation publisher Benjamin Worgull gives the grades from the 45-7 victory.


Was Russell Wilson's double stiff arm run for a 20-yard gain and him eluding tacklers with spin moves and shiftiness for 19 yards and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year moment? Well if you can't have a Heisman moment, that's the next best thing.

Wilson got my vote for offensive player of year for what he's done to invigorate the UW offense. His first half against Penn State once again set the tone – completing 15 of 21 passes for 149 and two touchdowns – and finished with 186 yards.

Wilson now has the most total yards and most passing yards for a senior in a season in UW history, is in second place on UW's all-time single-season passing yards list and is in 14th place on UW's all-time passing yards list. Yes, in 12 games, Wilson is in the top 14 all time.

"I knew Russell was going to come in and do the things that he's done, so I didn't expect anything different," said senior Nick Toon. "Obviously we're very happy to have him as a part of the Wisconsin family."

Wilson has thrown at least one TD pass in 36-straight games, tying the NCAA record held by Graham Harrell of Texas Tech. Wilson extended his Badger record for TD passes in a season to 28 (old record was 21 by John Stocco in 2005). I'd bet a year's subscription to if he doesn't break the NCAA record on Saturday. How could he not with the amount of weapons, like the seven receivers that caught a pass against Penn State, at his disposal.

"We have a lot of talent on offense and Coach [Paul] Chryst does a great job of exposing the defense," Wilson said. "No matter what it is, running the football or throwing it, we can do a lot of different things. In terms of the offensive line, they did a great job of blocking up, especially against that defensive line that they have; Penn State's is pretty good. In terms of our defense, they did a great job. They stepped up and made some great plays."

Bielema said he thought Wilson would bring his A++ game. I have to agree, especially with no turnovers.

Grade: A++

Running Backs

Did Montee Ball play his last game in Camp Randall? The wishful thinker says no while the realists says yes but either way, he went out with a bang. Ball embarrassed the lauded front seven of Penn State with 156 rushing yards, no lost rushing yards, a 6.2 yards per carry average on his 25 carries and four touchdowns.

Just look at the records Ball broke Saturday:

Ball has scored at least one TD in 18-straight games and has at least two TDs every game this season. That breaks an NCAA record of 11-straight two TD games held by Barry Sanders … Ball's 29 rushing TDs on the year are a new Big Ten record, breaking the mark of 26 held by Anthony Thompson (Indiana, 1988) and Ki-Jana Carter (Penn State, 1994) … Ball's 34 touchdowns are now second-most in NCAA history and trailing only Sanders' 39 TDs in 1988.

"It will be a really good day if I'll get there," Ball said of 39 scores, "but I'm not really looking forward to that."

Like his teammates, he's looking forward to Michigan State.

"Of course it stung a little bit, but we did a great job of just staying in it and make sure that we take the 1-0 mentality (into every game) and beat every team from here on out."

James White was also fairly productive in rushing for 73 yards (56 in the second half) but broke UW's streak of 855 carriers, caught 74 passes and returned 38 kickoffs without a lost fumble when he coughed up the football on UW's last drive of the game with a little more than a minute left. Ironically, Bielema said UW would have taken a knee on the next play.

The last lost fumble came by White in the second game against San Jose State in 2010. Still, that was the only turnover by UW in the rainy conditions.

Grade: A-


Jared Abbrederis caught his sixth TD pass of the season (ninth of his career) and led the team in catches (7) and yards (93), but the story of the day was Toon.

Toon caught his ninth TD pass of the season to move into a tie for second place on UW's single-season list (tied with father, Al Toon, and Lee Evans). He has 17 TD receptions in his career, fifth-best in UW history and two behind his father (and Jonathan Orr) for a share of third place.

He also wore No.87 in honor of his father's number at UW, who was the Badgers' honorary captain for the game, as well. Wisconsin is now 12-0 when Toon catches a TD pass.

Jeff Duckworth, Bradie Ewing, Ball, Jacob Pedersen and White all caught a pass in a productive day for UW.

Grade: A

Offensive Line

Travis Frederick called Devon Still, ‘a great player who had a great game.' So after holding the Bednarik Award and Outland Trophy award finalists to two tackles and a half-sack, what does that say about the Badgers' front?

"It was a good opportunity for us to measure ourselves," Frederick said. "It came down to the game plan. There were a lot of double teams on him. We'd seen some teams in the past do different things with some of the plays we ran and they weren't effective. We used our size and strength to our advantage, and we played well."

Just two sacks given up by the line and four quarterback hurries, but over 260 rushing yards and 45 points by the offense is more than acceptable, especially against a unit whose season high in points allowed was 27 to No.2 Alabama.

Grade: A-

Defensive Line

The running game for Penn State was non-existent and the Wildcat formation never really got the legs that it did last week against Ohio State. The line never got to Matt McGloin, who wasn't sacked, but Penn State only ran 52 total plays (compared to 78 for UW) and only 25 passing plays. UW's defensive line wasn't credited with a hurry, but didn't allow the quarterbacks out in space and certainly didn't allow much yardage.

Special props to Bielema for getting Greg Russo in on the final defensive series.

Grade: B


You know things are going well for sophomore Chris Borland when he doesn't even have to hit the ball carrier to force a fumble. On a blitz, Borland ran into his blocker, who ran into Silas Reed, who fumbled the ball that changed the momentum.

Borland had six tackles and that play on Penn State's opening drive of the second half that kept the momentum of UW's side.

"We were just fortunate," said Borland, as UW recovered three fumbles. "We knew it was a wet day and the ball would be out on the turf. We got a good shot on their guard and their back bumped into them and stuff like that happens on rainy days."

Mike Taylor finished with a team-best seven tackles and a pass breakup, meaning Taylor led the conference with 12.2 tackles per game. Throw in the fact that Conor O'Neill continues to make strides, finishing with six tackles and a forced fumble-fumble recovery on special teams, expect to see him take Kevin Claxton's place on the defense next season.

Grade: A


Senior safety Aaron Henry took full responsibility for the coverage bust that led to a 44-yard touchdown on Penn State's first drive. That was the only thing wrong with UW's secondary. Shelton Johnson had four tackles and a gimme interception from McGloin that started the turnaround for the secondary. Peniel Jean finished with three tackles, played solid defense and made some great one-on-one tackles that should give him some momentum heading into next season as he battled for the opening cornerback position.

"There's always something to work on," Henry said. "Even coming off a win like this, we'll have stuff to work on, after those two losses, you question yourself about what could we have done better. Could I have done this better, or this better? In order for me to not have those same questions lingering again, it's pretty much going out there and winning it."

After allowing only 119 passing yards between three quarterbacks, UW certainly has the momentum.

Grade: B

Special Teams

UW's two senior specialists certainly made headlines, some good and some not. Nortman continues his great season with a respectable 40.6-yard average and a couple good high kicks to not only allow the special teams to get down on coverage, but made the Penn State returners stare into the rain for an extra second or two, resulting in two fumbles. Nortman had a long of 54 and one inside the 20

Welch kicked a 44-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to put him past Minnesota's Dan Nystrom and Iowa's Nate Kaeding for third place on the conference's all-time kicking points list. Problem was he booted two kicks out of bounds on the kickoff.

White was called for a penalty for running into the punter, which led to Penn State's only touchdown.

Abbrederis returned two kicks for 48 yards, including a long of 30, and two punts for 24 yards, with a long of 17.

Grade: B-

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