Fresh off a 63-run performance, most would expect Wisconsin to turn to the running game when faced with a third-and-two. But under that circumstance at the Penn State 30 early in the first quarter, the Badgers called a play-action pass. Quarterback Jim Sorgi found Lee Evans wide open in the end zone, and Wisconsin had a 7-3 lead.
"We were just mixing it up," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. "We have a script of what we're going to do. We didn't come in here planning on running every snap."
Sorgi completed his first three passes for 57 yards, all on Wisconsin's second possession, culminating in the touchdown throw to Evans. The Badgers passing game, though, struggled for much of the game.
Sorgi failed to connect on his next nine passes after the fast start. Two of those throws were batted down at the line of scrimmage and one was dropped by receiver Darrin Charles. Sorgi, though, deserves some of the blame for the batted down passes and only two of the nine incomplete throws were remotely catchable.
Sorgi, though, regrouped on Wisconsin's last drive of the first half. After Wisconsin claimed possession at the Nittany Lion 23 following a fumbled punt, Sorgi went two-for-three.
The Badger signal-caller found Owen Daniels for 16 yards following a false start penalty to give Wisconsin a first down at the 12. After consecutive blitzes resulted in a knock down and a sack, Sorgi found Brandon Williams on third-and-18 for a 20-yard touchdown pass. He finished the first half 5-for-15 for 93 yards and two touchdowns.
Sorgi's struggles continued in the second half—throwing passes both too high and too low, too far and too short. On two occasions in the fourth quarter, Sorgi attempted to hit a receiver on an out pattern, but nearly threw it to Penn State corner Rich Gardner, who was sitting on the routes and had good jumps on the throws.
Sorgi finished 9-for-26 for 140 yards.
"I thought he missed some throws," Alvarez said. "He had some good throws in the beginning of the second half. But I've seen him sharper."
Stanley answers the call
Wisconsin was not able to establish the running game in the first half against Penn State and top tailback Anthony Davis re-aggravated the ankle injury that kept him out of the bulk of the last three games. Davis finished with eight carries for 35 yards.
With Davis out, the Badgers turned to Dwayne Smith, but after tallying three carries for 21 yards he too succumbed to an ankle injury.
"Anthony and Dwayne couldn't play," Alvarez said. "They tweaked their ankles, I don't know how severe."
Two weeks ago against North Carolina, Davis could not play and Smith went down with a strained groin. In that game, Booker Stanley went from complimentary to featured back and wracked up 119 yards and three touchdowns.
This week, Stanley had not taken a carry when the Badgers effectively put the game in his hands in the second half. Stanley carried 24 times for 119 yards and a touchdown in the second half against Penn State, with the bulk of his carries coming when Wisconsin was obviously turning decisively to the run.
Stanley's touchdown run, a six-yard scamper, culminated an all-run 13-play, 80-yard drive. Stanley claimed nine carries for 59 yards on the drive.
"I really like Booker again, coming in and running hard," Alvarez said. "I thought he played exceptionally hard for a young player."
"I just think that our line did a great job opening holes," Stanley said.
In the first half, Wisconsin attempted 15 passes and 14 runs, gaining 93 yards through the air and 58 on the ground, respectively. In the second half, the Badgers eliminated all pretense of establishing balance, tallying 176 yards rushing on 37 attempts and just 47 yards passing on 11 attempts.