Five Keys to Victory: Penn State

Hoping to close out the year with a 10th win, No.14 Wisconsin hosts Penn State on senior day at Camp Randall Stadium. BadgerNation breaks down the matchup.

First a quick review of last week's Five Keys: BadgerNation edges to 11-0 on the season as we predicted a solid UW win. Joel Stave had some difficulty near the goal line and Jared Abbrederis dropped a key pass. This kept the Badger score at 20. BadgerNation's No.1 Key to victory illustrated the very poor Minnesota passing game. This did prove to be a major factor as the inability of the Gophers to catch passes or make them kept them out of the end zone all day. UW harassed QB Philip Nelson and he and his teammates committed costly turnovers.

For the final game of the regular season UW faces Penn State.

1, Home-Field Advantage

Penn State has been a terrible football team away from Happy Valley in 2013, which includes giving up 44 points at Indiana and 63 points at Ohio State. Expect a similar offensive output from the Badgers this Saturday. The Nittany Lions are again ineligible for post season play, meaning any early UW lead might have them packing up a little early.

2, Cornerback Sojourn Shelton vs PSU's junior receiver Allen Robinson

Robinson has averaged 119 yards per game as a receiver, so expect the flashy young Badger defender to be on him all game. (PSU's second-best receiver, Brandon Felder, averages 24 per game.) It will be Shelton's most substantial test of the season and will show just how far he has developed as a shutdown corner. Shelton had a good game last week against Minnesota.

3, Passing the Ball

Penn State's Christian Hackenberg gets lots of press, but in truth has pedestrian stats. He ranks eighth in the Big Ten in QB ratings with 127, but UW sophomore quarterback Joel Stave is third at 141.6. Hackenberg will need to be more accurate and to find other options than Robinson to pull off the upset. This does not seem likely, as UW's front seven has picked apart QBs (mostly rated above Hackenberg) during its long winning streak. The key match up here is difficult to predict as UW defensive coordinator continues to be predictably unpredictable. BadgerNation will call for senior Brendan Kelly to have a big game as a pass rusher. He played one of his best games of the year against Minnesota.

4, Penn State's rushing offense

That unit is 58th in the nation. In the game against Ohio State (which of all PSU's games most closely resembles the situation facing them this Saturday) the Nittany Lions were held to 120 yards. Expect UW to improve on that number. Should the Badgers stuff the PSU running game it will make its passing game all the more predictable and allow safeties Dezmen Southward, Michael Caputo and Tanner McEvoy easier coverage assignments on long-yardage downs. Key matchup: UW linebacker Chris Borland vs. PSU leading rusher Zach Zwinak. Borland did not get to face PSU last year and needs just one forced fumble to become the Big Ten's all-time record holder. We'll go out on a limb and predict he knocks one loose from Zwinak.

5, UW's offense

The running game needs no further explication, but the passing game needs to improve from its most recent outing. Stave remains inconsistent, sometimes going 6-for-6 on a drive, sometimes missing a wide open receiver. Consistency is the key for Stave. UW's offense needs to be able to predict his ability to hit passes on second down and third down as needed. Penn State has given up 228 passing yards per game, so there will be open receivers, especially as Penn State will most certainly follow the trend of all UW opponents and crash the safeties into the line of scrimmage as run defenders. Key matchup: Joel Stave vs Joel Stave.

Final Prediction: Wisconsin wins 49-10. Penn State will hit a few big passing plays but in general UW will look sharp. Should Stave not be able to connect with Jared Abbrederis, Jacob Pedersen and his other receivers it may limit UW's score, but should not results in a loss. The Badgers defense has a swarming quality that overwhelms. Should it stuff the PSU run game early our estimate of 10 points for PSU will prove too high.


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