Steve Manuel

An in-depth look at Penn State - Wisconsin's opponent this weekend in Indianapolis

Making its fourth title game appearance since 2011, No.6 Wisconsin will face its fourth different opponent in Indianapolis in No.8 Penn State. BadgerNation provides a breakdown of the Nittany Lions

OFFENSE

The Nittany Lions have nine games with 400 or more yards of total offense, including the last five games, the most since the 2008 team had 10 games with 400+ yards.

Sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley serves in the field general role for Penn State, throwing for 2,976 yards through the air. So far, McSorley has completed 184 of his 327 pass attempts, a decent 56.3 percent completion rate. Recruited to Penn State to be a dual-threat on offense, he has proven to be just that, ranking second on the team in rushing yards with 372 and rushing touchdowns with six scores.

McSorley has both a rushing and passing touchdown in five of the past eight games. He has a total of six games with a passing and rushing touchdown this season.

There are several athletic options for McSorley to throw to, but the main receiver to watch in this contest is junior Chris Godwin. Godwin leads the team in just about every major receiving stat line, coming on top in receptions (47), receiving yards (762) and receiving touchdowns (nine). Godwin has made four or more catches in 20 of his last 26 games dating back to 2014. He has at least one catch in 35 of 37 career games. Though Penn State’s offense is one that relies heavily on the ground game, receiving targets such as Godwin and junior tight end Mike Gesicki – a former Wisconsin target - will play critical roles. Gesicki had 64 yards receiving against Michigan State to give him 610 for the season, which broke the Nittany Lion single season mark for a tight end. He previously set the school record for catches by a tight end with 44 and has five catches for at least 40 yards.

Sophomore DeAndre Thompkins (fourth in the Big Ten and 43rd in the FBS averaging 17.2 yards per reception) and senior DaeSean Hamilton (1,867 career receiving yards) are other targets to watch for in the passing game.

In regards to the Nittany Lions’ rushing attack, it basically all rests upon the shoulders of tailback Saquon Barkley. The sophomore has established himself as one of the premier backs in the country and is the other half of what is set to be a battle of great competition against Wisconsin’s Corey Clement. Barkley has had the vast majority of the workload on the ground for Penn State, and it’s not even close. Barkley has carried the ball a team-high 228 times for another team leading 1,219 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.

Additionally, Barkley can contribute to the passing game. Barkley has at least one reception in all but two games and ranks fifth on the team with 21 receptions for 312 yards and two touchdowns. He has 10 receptions for 184 yards in his last five games. He suffered an ankle injury against Michigan State but says he’ll be ready to play.

All of these players have made Penn State one of the best second half offenses in the country. The Nittany Lions rank second in FBS in second half scoring (22.8) and first in fourth quarter scoring (13.0).

DEFENSE

Penn State’s defense is a tough one that can pose a tough challenge for any offense when playing at its absolute best. The Nittany Lions held Ohio State, considered to be one the best offense in the Big Ten, to only 21 points in their victory over the Buckeyes. Likewise the Penn State defense has had its share of poor performances and dealt with a ton of injuries at the linebacker spot, part of the reason why they gave up 49 points to Michigan and 42 points to Pittsburgh to its two losses this season.

Penn State led the nation in sacks a year ago but lost three defensive linemen to the NFL. However, several Nittany Lions are stepping up to fill the void, especially senior defensive end Evan Schwan will be one to watch along the Nittany Lion front line. Schwan has recorded a team-best six sacks on the year in addition to his 25 tackles.

Junior safety Marcus Allen has been extremely impressive, boasting the most tackles on this defense with a career-high 90 total tackles and six tackles for loss. He’s also an impact player on special teams, blocking an Ohio State field goal attempt with just under five minutes remaining that was scooped up by cornerback Grant Haley, who took it 60 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Senior safety Malik Golden is another talented back-end player.

Five Penn State linebackers have been lost for the season with injuries, but the Lions have got senior Brandon Bell and junior Jason Cabinda back for the stretch run. In the six games since they returned from injury, the duo leads the Nittany Lions with 57 and 51 tackles, respectively. Fellow starting linebacker Manny Bowen is third over the stretch with 34. 

Penn State’s defense has forced a total of 20 turnovers on the year (11 fumbles and nine interceptions) and converted them into 76 points. During their eight game winning streak, the Nittany Lions have forced 14 turnovers, resulting in 56 points.

The Nittany Lions allow 22.8 points, 146 rushing yards and 200.5 passing yards per game. Over a four-game span Penn State held Purdue, Iowa and Rutgers to less than 50 yards rushing. The Nittany Lions most recently held Rutgers to 39 yards


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