It takes only a few small mistakes or a few big plays to produce results, whether they are desired or undesired. In the case of Wisconsin's 30-23 defeat of Penn State, both teams saw a bit of both, allowing the game's course to twist and turn like a mountain road.
Turnovers and small mistakes plagued both teams during the first half, as the Badgers and the Nittany Lions each capitalized on loose balls. An early first quarter sequence is a good example. The Nittany Lions were marching down the field when freshman wide receiver Donnie Johnson fumbled the ball at Wisconsin's 20-yard line. Junior defensive lineman Jonathan Welsh picked up the ball but the Badgers quickly gave it back after junior tailback Anthony Davis, back in for the first time since his injury against UNLV, fumbled the ball on his first carry. PSU, though, could only manage a 36-yard field goal on the ensuing possession.
UW answered Penn State's field goal with a 30-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Lee Evans. On the next drive, late in the first quarter, Wisconsin held Penn State and the Nittany Lions prepared to punt. Senior linebacker Alex Lewis made contact with the punter Jeremy Kapinos, resulting in a first down for Penn State. The Nittany Lions sustained the drive throughout the rest of the first quarter and well into the second. A 31-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Michael Robinson to senior tight end Matt Kranchick brought the ball down to the five-yard line and senior fullback Sean McHugh finished the job with a one-yard touchdown run, putting PSU ahead 9-7. Again, a small mistake hindered the Nittany Lions, as Robinson fumbled the snap, forcing Penn State's holder to scramble unsuccessfully.
To make matters worse for Penn State, it fumbled again, this time on the kickoff following a UW field goal that put the Badgers ahead. Lewis picked up that fumble but the offense could not capitalize on its excellent field position and junior kicker Mike Allen missed a 42-yard field goal.
For the Badgers, things were not looking up either, as junior tailback Anthony Davis limped off the field midway through the second quarter. With a crucial piece missing in Wisconsin's well-oiled machine, Penn State could have taken advantage of the situation. However, the Nittany Lions fumbled for their third turnover of the day, which eventually resulted in a UW touchdown when sophomore wide receiver Brandon Williams caught a 20-yard pass from senior quarterback Jim Sorgi. The mistake gave UW an eight-point advantage heading into the half.
For both teams, second-half play resulted in smoother transitions, bigger offensive plays and more points scored. For UW, the prolific running game took over and freshman running back Booker Stanley became the go-to man after both Davis and sophomore running back Dwayne Smith left the game with injuries. Stanley racked up 119 yards and one touchdown almost entirely in the second half. The aerial attack, on the other hand, was extremely quiet. Quarterback Jim Sorgi threw two touchdown passes, but completed only nine of 26 passes.
Penn State, unlike Wisconsin, relied heavily on its passing game, as Robinson connected on huge passes to receiver Tony Johnson, Kranchick and junior receiver Gerald Smith. Smith and Kranchick both caught touchdown passes that kept Penn State in the game. Robinson finished with 379 yards passing. Penn State's leading rusher was Austin Scott, with 22 yards.