The Badgers' defense easily put together their best performance on the year and they'll need another impressive performance against the Nittany Lions' offense. If Wisconsin can get a similar performance on defense as they did against Minnesota, Wisconsin should be able to slow down the balanced Penn State's offense.
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, James White RB (1): If the weather is similar this coming Saturday, White could see his workload be similar to what it was at Minnesota. The Badgers will rely on the run to help move the football. Even though White had success rushing for 125 yards, he had to earn every yard. White will have to put together a similar performance against the Nittany Lions defense, which is giving up 146.2 yards on the ground. Although Joel Stave targeted White three times on screenplays, they weren't as effective as they have been in past games. Look for offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig to try and get White involved in the passing game to help out Stave.
2, Chris Borland ILB (3): Borland, like always, was all over the field against the Gophers, recovering two fumbles along with forcing a fumble, which tied him with Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan for most in a Big Ten career. Borland is going to have to get after true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Despite Hackenberg's youth, he's still playing well this year. If Borland can consistently supply pressure like he did to Philip Nelson, Hackenberg should struggle and could be forced into a mistake. The Nittany Lions also have the ability to run the football. If Borland can fill the gaps he'll be able to help slow down the balanced Penn State offense.
3, Joel Stave QB (2): With the weather conditions being so poor, Stave struggled in the passing game at times. While he missed open receivers, Stave stepped up when he needed to the most. If the weather is poor again, Ludwig will most likely call for easy short intermediate routes on pass plays depending on the down and distance. If Stave does get a chance to throw the football deep, he'll have to be able to make the throw because he may not get many chances.
4, Jared Abbrederis WR (6): Abbrederis put together a decent game considering the weather conditions. If Abbrederis can put together a similar performance against Penn State, he'll help make sure the offense doesn't become one dimensional. Wisconsin may not get a lot of big plays via the passing game but Abbrederis will have to do a good job of picking up yards after the catch. Abbrederis has had some drops this year and will have to make sure he completely looks the ball into his hands before he starts to turn upfield.
5, Sojourn Shelton CB (4): Shelton may not be responsible in trying to slow down Allen Robinson the entire game but he'll have to try and limit the big play receiver. Robinson has 89 catches for 1,310 and six touchdowns on the year and is clearly Hackenberg's favorite target. Shelton was able to make some nice plays against the Gophers by limiting the passing game. Hackenberg could go after Shelton early on to test him. If he does Shelton will have to win his battle.
6, Melvin Gordon RB (5): Gordon had an early fumble against Minnesota, which affected his carries for the rest of the game. Gordon has to take care of the football better and I'm sure running back coach Thomas Hammock has stressed the importance this week of practice. Teams are also slowly starting to take away the jet sweep and Gordon has become better running the football up the middle. If he can bust a big play or two it should only help Gordon's confidence.
7, Brendan Kelly OLB (NR): Kelly finished the Minnesota game tied for second on the team with four tackles, but he made noise by getting into the Gopher backfield to record three tackles for loss, two sacks and one forced fumble. Kelly should be able to help Borland to supply pressure against Hackenberg. Kelly has been solid all year adjusting to his new position and has been able to supply pressure consistently. That should continue on Saturday; Hackenberg has been sacked 21 times this season.
Others to Note
TE Jacob Pedersen: With Wisconsin most likely relying on an intermediate passing game, Pedersen will be targeted on third downs. You can tell Pedersen is playing with a more sense of urgency then he did earlier this year. During the Badgers six game win streak, Pedersen has caught 24 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns. He has provided another option for Stave and has done a great job in the run game.
LT Tyler Marz: Marz put together a solid game helping protect Stave and keeping him upright. The Badgers will be running toward Marz's side of the line so he'll have to win his battle to help open up holes if it's for White or Gordon. Marz has been consistent this year and has been very solid in both the run and pass.
Safety Tanner McEvoy: McEvoy did a tremendous job in pass coverage (breaking up three passes against the Gophers) and could have recorded his second interception on the year. McEvoy's natural athletic ability helps him at the safety position and will be a good asset in trying to help contain Robinson.
NT Beau Allen: In order for Borland and Kelly to get after the quarterback, it will start with Allen. If Allen can consistently get a good push, it will make the linebackers' jobs easier to get after Hackenberg to see if they can force him to throw an interception.