Nittany Lion offense v. Badgers defense
Penn State projected starters Wisconsin projected starters
C Dave Costlow (Sr. 6-3, 280) CB Scott Starks (Jr. 5-10, 168)
Penn State: QB Zach Mills (Jr. 6-3, 215), TB Ricky Upton (Sr. 5-11, 226), LG Scott Davis (Jr. 6-3, 291), RT Chris McKelvy (Sr. 6-4, 320), WR Kinta Palmer (So. 6-4, 192), WR Ernie Terrell (So. 6-3, 200), TE Matt Kranchick (Sr. 6-8, 254), TB Tony Hunt (Fr. 6-2, 222).
Wisconsin: DE Joe Monty (Fr. 6-2, 246), DT/DE Nick Cochart (Sr. 6-1, 267), DT Kalvin Barrett (Jr. 6-2, 316), DT Lyle Maiava (So. 6-2, 294), LB LaMarr Watkins (So. 6-1, 216), FS Johnny White (Fr. 6-2, 202), CB Roderick Rogers (Fr. 6-2, 185), LB Kareem Timbers (Jr. 6-3, 209), LB Elliot Goode (So. 6-2, 240), LB Kyle McCorison (Sr. 6-0, 242).
Keys when the Nittany Lions have the ball…
Reserve quarterback Michael Robinson is expected to start in place of injured Zach Mills. Robinson is a more dynamic athlete than Mills and possesses a stronger arm, while Mills is a better all-around thrower with more experience. Each, however, can make plays with his arm and his legs so do not expect Penn State's offense to change too much. With Robinson playing the Nittany Lions will likely move the pocket and call more designed quarterback runs than they would otherwise, but the offensive game plan typically called for getting Robinson the ball in some capacity in any case.
Penn State's other top offensive weapons are receiver Tony Johnson, fullback Sean McHugh and tailback Austin Scott. Johnson, has stepped out of the shadows that Bryant Johnson and Larry Johnson cast and is the team's big play weapon. He has caught 18 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown thus far this season.
McHugh has done a bit of everything for the Nittany Lions. He is second on the team with 11 pass receptions and third on the team with 145 yards rushing. In addition, he is a trusted lead blocker for Scott and reserve tailback Rickey Upton. Scott, a true freshman, was one of the most highly-touted Pennsylvania prep players in history. So far he has not disappointed, running for 343 yards and five touchdowns, averaging five yards per carry in the process.
Penn State's offense has not been highly productive this season, but it does possess big-play ability in the running and passing games.
Defensively, Wisconsin is coming off perhaps its best game of the season against Illinois. The unit has struggled with a number of key injuries—four players at or near the top of the rotation are done for the season, two of which—defensive linemen Erasmus James and Mike Kleber—never took a snap this year. The Badgers defense has held up well to this point considering how thin it has quickly become. The Nittany Lions will pose another test.
The Badgers have done a good job in successive weeks controlling the type of difference-making quarterbacks that had given them fits in recent seasons. The front seven will again be challenged to keep Robinson from breaking contain and making a big play downfield. Meanwhile, Tony Johnson may be the best receiver Wisconsin has faced this season. Cornerbacks Scott Starks and Levonne Rowan had excellent showings against Illinois and will have to be at the top of their games yet again.
Badgers offense v. Nittany Lion defense
Wisconsin projected starters Penn State projected starters
QB Jim Sorgi (Sr. 6-5, 190) DE Matt Rice (So. 6-4, 270)
FB Matt Bernstein (So. 6-2, 273) DT Jay Alford (Fr. 6-3, 268)
Wisconsin: TB Dwayne Smith (So. 5-11, 225), TB Booker Stanley (Fr. 5-10, 207),WR/TE Owen Daniels (So. 6-3, 213), WR Jonathan Orr (So. 6-3, 190), WR Darrin Charles (Jr. 6-6, 210), TE Jason Pociask (So. 6-3, 250), WR Ernest Mason (Fr. 5-11, 180), WR Brandon White (So. 6-3, 182), OT/TE Joe Thomas (Fr. 6-8, 280).
Key when Wisconsin has the ball…
Run, run, run, run, pass to Lee Evans. Anyone see a pattern forming? Is anyone going to be able to stop it? In the Nittany Lions case, and it most cases, probably not.
Penn State's defensive statistics are highly misleading. The Nittany Lions have the best pass defense, and the worst run defense, in the Big Ten as measured in total yards. With the exception of its first game against Temple, however, Penn State has played teams that are extremely run-oriented, and very good at what they do. The vast majority of teams would have poor statistics against the run if they had Nebraska, Minnesota, Kent State and Boston College on their early season schedule. On the other hand, at some point you have to stop it if you are going to win games, and Penn State has not been able to slow down the run.
With Anthony Davis' return and a veritable stable of running backs emerging in his stead, and a passing game that appears to operate on boom-and-bust cycle, Wisconsin's recent pound the ball trend will likely continue.
This, however, does not mean the team will abandon the passing game. They have far too much talent not to take shots downfield with Evans, Williams and company. But if the statistics do indeed bare out, and the Nittany Lions cannot slow down the running game, there will be little incentive to keep from running the ball over and over again.
Special Teams matchup
Wisconsin specialists Penn State specialists
P R.J. Morse (Jr. 6-1, 246) Jeremy Kapinos (Fr. 6-1, 221)
PK Mike Allen (Jr. 6-2, 186) Robbie Gould (Jr. 6-1, 168)
KO Allen Gould
KR Brandon Williams (So. 5-11, 170) Tony Johnson (Sr. 5-11, 206)
PR Jim Leonhard (Jr. 5-8, 183) Calvin Lowry (So. 6-0, 197)
LS Matt Katula (Jr. 6-6, 282) Chris McKelvy (Sr. 6-4, 320)
All eyes will again be on Wisconsin's kick coverage unit, which suffered another near catastrophic breakdown last week. Penn State's return game has not been terribly productive, but it could get healthy in a hurry, and have a huge bearing on the game, if the Badgers' struggles continue.
Wisconsin punter R.J. Morse continues to have a strong season, despite bobbling a snap and taking a loss on one potential attempt last week.
The Nittany Lions have a weapon in kicker Robbie Gould.
Wisconsin's return to power football should continue this week. Penn State's running defense has not fared will this season and this game will be no different. Expect Anthony Davis to run back into Heisman contention.
Michael Robinson will make plays, but the Badgers defense looked like it turned a corner last week.
Prediction: Wisconsin 31, Penn State 17