If the Badgers don't come out strong or off to a fast start, Wisconsin likely will be playing from behind; a situation that UW has not fared well in this season. The defense will have to duplicate its performance from a week ago and the offense, once again, will have to be able to strike a balance.
The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week, and need. It was not easy determining who would be important in helping the Badgers to a victory on Saturday.
Last Week's Rankings in Parentheses
1, Curt Phillips, QB (3) - Phillips played well against Ohio State and was able to help the Badgers strike that needed balance on offense. The question is can Phillips do it again against the Nittany Lions? Phillips successfully led the Badgers in the two-minute offense, but didn't quite finish drives at other times. If Wisconsin has good field, the Badgers can leave points on the field, especially on the road in a hostile environment. UW coach Bret Bielema can't be afraid to let Phillips throw it either, as UW appeared far too cautious on third-and-long.
2, Montee Ball, RB (1) - Ball running the football effectively can take a lot of pressure off of Phillips. Ball was running hard and with a purpose against Ohio State, and we should expect the same thing on Saturday. Like virtually every other unit that has faced the Badgers, the Nittany Lions are going to try and slow him down, but Ball showed how hard that can be when he is running with determination. Ball will want to make sure the Badgers don't drop two in a row going into the Big Ten Championship game.
3, Chris Borland, MLB (4) - Borland didn't play against the Buckeyes and there still isn't any word on whether or not he'll play this Saturday. Borland is one of the Badgers' better defenders and can help create turnovers to get the defense off the field. Whether the junior is in the lineup or not, it will be critical for the Badgers to try and come up with at least one take away against Penn State.
4, Rick Wagner, LT (NR) - In order for the Badgers to have an effective running game, Wagner and his linemates are going to have to create holes for the tailbacks. If they can do that, they should help strike a balance. Not only will the offensive line run blocking need to be good, but pass blocking will also be key. They'll need to help Phillips out by giving him some time to throw.
5, David Gilbert, DE (2) - Gilbert played well against the Buckeyes by consistently finding ways to put pressure on Braxton Miller. If Borland can't go Saturday, Gilbert will have to be the one helping supply the pressure on Matt McGloin. If UW can get some pressure on McGloin, it will make him try and attempt some difficult throws. Wisconsin will need to pressure McGloin, who has thrown only five interceptions on the season.
6, Devin Smith, CB (6) - If the Badgers are going to generate a turnover, Smith may have something to do with it. Smith has three interceptions and 11 pass break ups. Smith will most likely cover Allen Robinson for the majority of the game. Robinson has the size advantage over Smith and has been McGloin's most reliable target on the year with 73 catches for 983 yards and 11 touchdowns. If Smith can take Robinson out of the game it will only mean good things for the defense.
7, Jared Abbrederis, WR (5) - Abbrederis only had three catches for 40 yards against Ohio State and has been solid over the last three games but it will be necessary for him to take another step forward against Penn State. If he can't Wisconsin will be one dimensional on offense, but Abbrederis has done a nice job of adjusting to some footballs that may have been underthrown by his quarterbacks. If the Badgers struggle to get Abbrederis involved in the passing game, it will be interesting to see if they try and use him on some reverses.
Others to Note
Cornerback Darius Hillary: If Borland can't go Saturday, expect Wisconsin to line up in a 4-2-5 formation throughout the game. Even if Borland does play, you can expect Hillary to see plenty of snaps in the game. Hillary has been putting together a solid redshirt freshman season and it's easy to see why Bielema is high on Hillary.
Linebacker Mike Taylor: Taylor will have to make sure that he and the rest of his teammates can block out the crowd noise and go about their business. Taylor will have to know his assignments, make sure nobody gets behind him and to be able to fill the holes to stop the running game.
Tight End Jacob Pedersen: Phillips looked to get Pedersen involved in the passing game early last week, which resulted in Pedersen having six catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. I would expect the same again if Abbrederis isn't open. Pedersen has played well over the last three games - catching nine passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns.
Running Back James White: White had a couple of nice runs but was unable to make the same impact he did against Indiana. It only means good things for the running game when White runs the football well, as the junior brings something different to the table with his abilities compared to Ball, White's presence takes some men out of the box, which can open up the passing game, and can catch the ball out of the backfield to register a big play.