What was an effective Big Ten Championship elimination game here Saturday proved to be a one-sided affair.
Penn State bludgeoned Wisconsin's high-octane offense, holding the Badgers to 121 total yards in the first three quarters and -11 rushing yards for the game. Heisman Trophy candidate Brian Calhoun was bottled up, held to 38 rushing yards on 20 carries.
Calhoun did score the Badgers' first touchdown, two minutes, 33 seconds into the fourth quarter. But it was way too little, way too late.
By the time Calhoun trotted across the goal line from 1-yard out, Penn State had already put 21 points on the board and had salted away most of the game with a dominating defensive performance. Quarterback Michael Robinson and tailback Tony Hunt each ran for over 100 yards for the Lions, and Robinson connected with Deon Butler for a pair of deep touchdown passes.
"They create a lot of problems for you, both offensively with a lot of weapons, particularly Robinson, who can make things happen with his feet and with his arm," UW head coach Barry Alvarez said. "Defensively, you have to earn everything. Their front can put a lot of pressure on you with four guys, and they did."
With the loss, No. 14 Wisconsin (8-2 overall, 5-2 Big Ten) is eliminated from contention for the Big Ten's automatic BCS berth. No. 10 Penn State (9-1, 6-1) can clinch the BCS berth and at least a share of the Big Ten title with a win at Michigan State Nov. 19.
"They out-played us and that's the bottom line," Calhoun said.
Penn State's offense started fast and its defense set the tone. In the game's first 45 minutes, the Badgers managed just 10 first downs on nine possessions — they punted six times and turned the ball over three times.
"They are a veteran defense," quarterback John Stocco said. "They're smart and they played us hard. They just played a great game all around."
Meanwhile, the Lion offense was sharp early. Penn State scored just 1:38 into the game, when Robinson hooked up with Butler for a 43-yard touchdown pass.
In the first quarter, Robinson ran for 45 yards on eight attempts and was 6 of 10 passing for 110 yards. The Badgers struggled to tackle him, and Robinson also made them pay when he dropped back to pass, spreading the ball around with precise throws.
"He's the key to that offense," Alvarez said. "You can have everything boxed in and he can run through tackles. He can move the pile. He can out-run you. I thought he was hot the first part of the game, coming out of the shoot he was hot throwing the ball."
"They tried to spot me with a linebacker and I don't think there is a linebacker in the country that could win that matchup against me," Robinson said. "Our offensive line did a great job pushing those guys out of the way and giving me some room to run."
On the first play of the second quarter, Hunt took a handoff on a draw play and scooted nine yards into the end zone. He was effectively untouched on the play, giving the Lions a 14-0 lead.
The Badgers nearly cut the lead in half on their next possession, but came up empty.
Stocco opened the drive with a 44-yard strike to receiver Brandon Williams up to the PSU 35-yard line.
In what was a rarity Saturday, UW had success on the ground, with Calhoun rushing for 8, 6, 5 and 2 yards on successive carries to set up second-and-goal at the 5.
Stocco then play-faked to Calhoun and was flushed out of the pocket to the right. With Lion players in close pursuit, Stocco saw tight end Owen Daniels open in the back of the end zone. But the pass was delivered a bit late and a tad too low, allowing cornerback Alan Zemaitis to make an impressive, athletic play to leap up and intercept it in the end zone.
"I was just trying to make a play and things broke down," Stocco said. "I tried to keep it high for him, where only he could get it, but the guy made a nice play on it."
"I had the same view that John saw," Alvarez said. "They dropped off. There were some holes in there. It looked like Owen was open. The kid made a good break on the ball. He really fell back on it, made a nice play on it."
Penn State then marched 80 yards on seven plays to take a commanding 21-0 lead on fullback BranDon Snow's three-yard touchdown plunge.
"I don't think it was a 14-point swing because they had to earn it," Alvarez said. "We didn't get anything. One of our things was if we got in the red zone we wanted to come out with points. You don't like for that to happen."
Wisconsin was left with nothing offensively for most of the game. Stocco was sacked nine times; Hali, a defensive end, had seven tackles for loss and four sacks alone, which forced the Badgers to adjust their offensive game plan around trying to simply give their quarterback a chance. Posluszny, a linebacker, led the Lions with 12 tackles and chipped in five tackles for loss and a sack.
"They are a veteran defense," Stocco said. "They're smart and they played us hard. They just played a great game all around."
When Stocco did have a little time he was fairly effective. A big fourth quarter gave him 313 yards and one touchdown on 19 of 34 passing. He threw two interceptions in the first half, though, as the Badgers failed to take advantage of two Robinson interceptions.
"We didn't do anything on offense," Calhoun said. "And it showed."
After allowing 305 yards in the first half, the Badgers' defense stiffened, pitching a shutout in the third quarter.
On its first possession of the second half, Penn State marched 59 yards down to the UW 2, but the drive stalled there, with fullback Snow held to a one-yard gain on third-and-goal. The Lions elected to kick the field goal from the UW 1, but a delay of game penalty pushed them back to the 6. The snap and hold were off on the ensuing 24-yard attempt, and kicker Kevin Kelly pushed it wide left.
PSU was forced to punt on its two additional third-quarter possessions, but the Badger offense continued to stall until Stocco found Williams for a 20-yard pickup to open the fourth quarter. That sparked the drive that culminated in Calhoun's touchdown run, pulling UW within 21-7.
"I thought we played much better in the second half defensively," Alvarez said. "I really did. I thought we missed a lot of tackles, we rubbed off a lot of things in the first half. But I thought they battled second half. I liked the way they responded."
The Badgers would draw within two touchdowns once more in the fourth quarter, when Stocco found Brandon White for an 18-yard touchdown to make it 28-14.
Penn State recovered the onside kick, however, and Hunt ran five straight times for 41 yards. His 10-yard touchdown run provided the final margin.
Hunt finished with 151 yards and two touchdowns rushing. Butler caught five passes for 125 yards and the two scores. Robinson added 125 yards rushing and 238 yards passing as UW gave up more than 500 total yards for the fourth time in five games.