UW v. Penn State, five things to watch

BadgerNation.com's keys to UW's matchup with the Nittany Lions Saturday in State College

Big Ten Championship: Saturday's matchup is about as close as the league gets to a title game. The atmosphere for a Penn State football game at Beaver Stadium is always impressive. It could be awe inspiring Saturday, with an overflow crowd expected. Emotions will run very high. It is senior day for a class of Nittany Lions who have seen their program fall toward the depths of the league and rise back up to the top.

And, of course, the game is crucial in the Big Ten title hunt. The winner is in the driver's seat for the league's automatic BCS berth. The Badgers are eliminated from contention for that spot if they lose Saturday. If Penn State loses, the Nittany Lions would still have a chance to secure the automatic bid, but they would need a good deal of help.

Expect each team to ride a wave of emotion from kickoff to final whistle. Whichever team does a better job handling the momentum swings that will occur, will likely win.

Containing Robinson: The Badgers are confident they have fixed the holes in their defense and are ready for Penn State's versatile offense. Wisconsin must keep Nittany Lion quarterback Michael Robinson under wraps to have a chance to win.

For the Badgers, this task starts up front, where the defensive line must find a way to get pressure against a good, veteran PSU offensive line. The trick with Robinson, though, is that the defensive linemen also need to do whatever they can to keep him from breaking containment. When Robinson looks to run, UW's linebackers and secondary need to swarm in and converge. But they also have remember their responsibilities in coverage, or else Robinson will burn them time and again with his arm.

For his part, Robinson expects the Badgers' defense to play well and to challenge him to make the right decisions with the football.

"Wisconsin is a very well-coached team," Robinson said. "They pretty much line up and play what they are going to play. They are going to challenge you to take what they give you and kind of chip and dump all the way downfield. We just can't get impatient. We just got to take all the opportunities they give us and not make mistakes. They've been winning games off teams really turning the ball over, playing carelessly and we just have to take care of the football, play efficient football and play Penn State football and hopefully things will go our way this Saturday."

Containing Calhoun: Wisconsin's offense has been balanced this season, but tailback Brian Calhoun makes the team go. His 1,218 rushing yards are 72.4 percent of UW's total this season, and his 36 receptions for 439 yards are 27.1 and 23 percent, respectively. Most impressively, he has 21 touchdowns in just nine games, putting him on target to break the Big Ten record of 26. The rest of UW's team has 26 touchdowns.

Calhoun has been terrific all season long, but Penn State presents a unique challenge for the Badgers' offense. Few teams in the nation can say with confidence that their linebackers match up fine with Calhoun, but the Nittany Lions can boast just that. Dan Connor, Paul Posluszny and Tim Shaw are athletic enough to hang with Calhoun when he runs off tackle. Typically this season, Calhoun on a linebacker in the passing game has been a recipe for a big play. That will not necessarily be the case this week, though the Badgers will still like their chances whenever Calhoun has an opportunity to work in space.

Penn State did an amazing job dismantling Minnesota's fantastic rushing attack. If the Nittany Lions can gum up the works versus Calhoun, the Badgers will have a tough time coming away with a win.

Tony Hunt: Penn State's running back is an under-rated player who can take over a game. The Badgers have struggled immensely in Big Ten play to stop opposing running games, whether it be a scrambling quarterback or a powerful tailback. Penn State has both. If Hunt can get going and have success against the Badgers, it will open up all sorts of options for Robinson, both running and passing.

First-year field-goal kickers: This should be a very close, extremely competitive game and a field-goal attempt or two could end making the difference. Penn State will trot out true freshman Kevin Kelly, while UW uses true sophomore Taylor Mehlhaff. Like Kelly, Mehlhaff is in his first season as his team's field-goal kicker. Neither player is a fresh-faced rookie at this point and both have enjoyed successful seasons to-date. But Beaver Stadium Saturday could be a pressure cooker, with each player making, or missing, the biggest kicks of his career.

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