Wisconsin contained Michael Robinson for most of the game. They shutdown the Nittany Lions tailbacks. Scott Starks and Levonne Rowan did a number on Penn State's receivers early in the game. Penn State's tight ends, though, were a different story entirely.
With 1:44 left in the third quarter Robinson hit Matt Kranchick at midfield on a seam route. Kranchik caught the pass in stride behind the coverage of Wisconsin strong safety Ryan Aiello and raced down the sideline. Aiello lunged at Kranchick's legs inside the ten-yard line but could not bring the tight end down. The play covered 73 yards and narrowed Wisconsin's lead to 23-16.
"We were in the huddle and he just told me to ‘throw it up and I'll beat him,'" Robinson said. "We have trust in him—he's doing a great job."
The 6-8, 254-pound, fifth-year senior was only seeing action because Penn State's top tight end, Casey Williams, is injured. Kranchick, the team's third-string tight end, is a converted receiver who put forth a stellar performance Saturday. Kranchick caught four passes Saturday for 136 yards.
"He came in as a walk-on and the whole bit," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. "He's hung in there and he has been on and off. He's not really natural in the sense of football but he can run and he is obviously someone we are going to have to do some more with."
"Well, we couldn't match up," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. "He's a nice player. The safety should be able to run as fast as the tight end normally."
Wisconsin could not run with Kranchick throughout the game, resulting in a late game substitution that brought reserve safety Robert Brooks into the game in place of Aiello.
Though Robinson and the Nittany Lions receivers made plenty of plays down the stretch, early in the contest Penn State's tight ends were the team's most dynamic weapons.
Four of Robinson's first eight completions were to tight ends. Mike Lukac caught three passes on out patterns for 27 yards, and Kranchick had a 31-yard catch on a seam pattern that gave Penn State a first-and-goal at the six. That play set up the Nittany Lions first touchdown, a one-yard run from fullback Sean McHugh.
Starks answers the challenge
Penn State started its second possession at the Badgers 24-yard line following Anthony Davis' fumble on Wisconsin's first play. On first down, the Nittany Lions attempted a deep post to Tony Johnson, but Badger corner Scott Starks timed his jump perfectly and came over the top of Johnson to break up the pass.
Two plays later, on third-and-four from the 18, Penn State tried to test Starks again, this time with Michael Robinson throwing a fade to Tony Johnson. Starks had perfect coverage, though, and again knocked the pass away.
Early in the second quarter, Penn State tried to go deep to Gerald Smith but again Starks was there, running stride-for-stride to impede the pass.
Late in the third quarter, Robinson went deep for Maurice Humphrey. Again, Starks had solid coverage and Robinson's pass sailed beyond Humphrey's reach.
Starks, though, was called for pass interference on a deep pass intended for Tony Johnson in the fourth quarter.
Penn State connects on hail marry pass
Starks was also one of the members of the secondary responsible for Wisconsin allowing a 53-yard completion to Tony Johnson on the last play of the game. The Badgers defensive backs tried to intercept the pass rather than knocking it down. Instead of picking it off, though, the pass bounded pack toward Penn State's receivers and Tony Johnson corralled it. Levonne Rowan helped avoid disaster, tackling Johnson at the 16.
"I'm not going to correct anything tonight," Alvarez said. "I'm going to celebrate a victory. But we'll correct that. You're supposed to drive the ball down."
Depth develops on defensive line
Prior to last week against Illinois, Barrett had played solely in Wisconsin's short yardage defense. Cochart, meanwhile, had been easing back into the rotation after missing two games with a sprained ankle suffered against UNLV.
Barrett recorded a tackle and, for the second consecutive week, broke up a pass. Cochart did not record a tackle. The duo's real benefit, though, does not appear in statistics.
"We have to continue to develop depth there," defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove said. "We are able to move some guys around a little bit, which keeps them fresh. So when it comes down to games like this when you have to win it in the fourth quarter you need fresh guys."
The Badgers continue to rotate Chris Catalano and Kareem Timbers at the drop linebacker position. Timbers received the bulk of playing time against Penn State and recorded three tackles, including two for loss and one sack. Catalano played the ‘adjusting backer' position in the nickel defense Saturday, but did not crack the stat sheet.
Elliot Goode also received significant playing time spelling Alex Lewis at eagle linebacker. Kyle McCorison gave Jeff Mack breathers at mike linebacker and filled in for Mack when the captain went down for a time in the second half with an ankle injury.
Changes on nickel
Due to recent injuries to corner Brett Bell and strong safety Joe Stellmacher, Wisconsin has established a new core group on the nickel defense.
When the Badgers add an extra defensive back to the mix, corner Levonne Rowan slides to the slot as the nickel back and Chuckie Cowans enters the game, playing right corner. Catalano plays ‘adjusting backer' with Jeff Mack manning the other linebacker position. Though the team has moved away from using Alex Lewis as a rush end, he was in that role late in the game Saturday.