"We just got beat by a better team," senior receiver Brandon Williams said. "… They did everything they were supposed to do."
The Badgers entered Beaver Stadium with the Big Ten's top-ranked offense. They left after being completely dismantled by the Big Ten's best defense.
"That defensive football team is as good as any athletically, fundamentally and execution-wise as any defensive football team that I've coached against in the 11 years I've been here," co-offensive coordinator Brian White said.
Penn State's defensive line, especially end Tamba Hali, upset everything Wisconsin set out to accomplish. Hali had four sacks and seven tackles for loss, thoroughly dominating Badger right tackle Kraig Urbik and the assortment of tight ends and running backs who attempted to double team him.
The rest of the Nittany Lion defense got in on the act as well, accumulating an incredible 19 tackles for loss, while holding the Badgers to -11 yards rushing.
The Badgers ran the ball five straight times to open the game, but picked up just 12 yards, including 10 yards on four carries for tailback Brian Calhoun.
"We were going to try to go right at them," head coach Barry Alvarez said. "Because no one had tried and I could see why not. No one has much luck with it. They're very good. We couldn't block them. That's obvious."
Calhoun, who entered the game averaging 135.3 rushing yards per game, was held to a season-low 38 yards on 20 carries. In the second half he lost one yard on eight carries.
"Obviously wanted to play better but we got beat by a better football team and that's as simple as that," Calhoun said.
"You just keep chipping away at it but we never really got Brian going on any of the run game," co-offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. "When it becomes one dimensional it gets harder."
Hali and Co. made sure the Badger passing game struggled too, relentlessly harassing quarterback John Stocco. He was sacked nine times, after being sacked 19 times in the previous nine games combined.
"We knew going into the game that if we were to win this football game we needed to control their front four both in running the ball and in the protection game," White said. "And we didn't. That's a function of their ability. Make no mistake about it. That (defensive line) is why they are an outstanding defensive team."
Hali's dominance and the strong play of tackles Jay Alford and Scott Paxson and end Matthew Rice forced UW to often keep its tight ends and running backs in to block. The Badgers allowed left tackle Joe Thomas to work one-on-one, but gave support across the rest of the line, particularly on Hali.
"We had to because… he was too much," Alvarez said. "He's really a good player."
"We allowed way too many sacks and too many pressures," Thomas said. "We didn't give John enough time to make plays back there."
The extra protection left only three receivers running routes, making things easier on PSU's secondary.
"They are really disruptive," Stocco said. "Especially when you get in situations where they know you are going to pass. They can just pin their ears back and come after you."
Through three quarters, UW had been held to 121 yards total offense, had turned it over three times and had punted six times. The Badgers did get something going in the fourth quarter, with Stocco passing for 193 of his 313 yards and leading two touchdown drives.
It was not nearly enough.
"You don't get many opportunities with them," Alvarez said. "We managed to make some plays but couldn't do anything consistent with them."
The Badgers let a golden opportunity slip away in the second quarter, when they drove 74 yards to the 5. But Stocco's pass for tight end Owen Daniels was intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Alan Zemaitis.
"We needed to get some points out of that drive," Chryst said. "That I think could have helped swing momentum a little bit."