While returning seven starters on defense seemed to be a recipe for success at the beginning of the year, the Badgers have allowed over 950 yards of total offense and 65 combined points in their last two games. Against Illinois, the Badgers failed to stop the fourth spread offense they've come across this year, wielding a season-high 519 yards of total offense. What's even more glaring is the run defense - a staple of a Wisconsin defense - gave up a season-high 289 yards rushing against an Illinois team with virtually no passing game.
After having the nation's fifth-best defense last season, the Badgers rank 63rd against the run and 50th against the pass.
One of the reasons for the huge drop off in production is the miss tackles, which are leading to big plays offensively for UW's opponents. Against Michigan State, five plays went for 250 offense yards. A week later, the Badgers allowed eight plays that went for 20 yards or more.
"Until we can have some accountability and dependability that we are going to do our job every single play and not go outside what we're supposed to do, we're going to get beat," cornerback Allen Langford said.
But while the defensive issues could potentially be fixed, it was the Wisconsin offense that suffered the biggest long-term blow against Illinois when fifth-year wide receiver Luke Swan suffered a possible career-ending hamstring injury after his left leg was awkwardly bent near the end of the first half.
A walk-on in 2003, Swan didn't see his first extensive action until last season, where he started and had 595 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Through the team's first six games this season, the senior was the team's second-leading receiver this year with 25 catches and 451 yards. In the season opener, Swan registered a career-high 170 yards and scored twice.
Coach Bret Bielema said early indications were there was some separation between the muscle and bone and the surgery this past Wednesday was the only logical solution.
"Luke's a great kid," Bielema said. "He's a great kid in our program. Anytime you lose somebody for a season, but especially when they're a senior, and they've done so many things, it's tough for everybody."
In addition to Swan, Wisconsin will again be without No. 2 tailback Lance Smith, who continues to be suspended for the five regular season road games. On an offense lacking big-play ability, taking away Smith's 7.9 yards per carry only hurts the offense.
While the Badger offense is hurting just as much as their defense, the Nittany Lions are coming off one of their best performances of the season.
Last week in its conference home opener, Penn State had 489 yards of total offense and got its first conference win with a 27-7 win over reeling Iowa. Anthony Morelli threw for 233 yards and a touchdown and backup running back Rodney Kinlaw ran for a career-high 168 yards and two scores, helping Penn State run for a season-high 256 yards.
The reason Kinlaw got the start is Penn State's starting running back, Austin Scott, was suspended indefinitely for violating a team rule and won't play for the second-straight week. Now, PSU's 80-year-old coach said in his weekly teleconference that he was looking into the possibility that some Nittany Lions may have been involved in a fight over the weekend.
All this comes as the Nittany Lions continue to clean up garbage from Beaver Stadium following home games as part of a team-wide punishment after 10 players were disciplined by the university for their roles in an off-campus fight in April. Two of those players -- safety Anthony Scirrotto and defensive tackle Chris Baker -- are scheduled to stand trial in December on related criminal charges.
"I've been alerted there might have been a couple football players involved in a fight. To what extent, to what degree, what happened, I'm not quite sure yet," Paterno said.
Still, the firing coach would rather talk about his matchup with Wisconsin this Saturday then his team's off-the-field troubles.
"Can we talk about Wisconsin?" Paterno snapped after interrupting a reporter when his news conference opened with questions about off-field issues. "We're fine. Let me handle the football team and as soon as I know enough to make some decisions, I'll make them and that'll be it."
A 2006 NCAA report said Penn State's football graduation rate of 83 percent was seventh-best among the 119 Football Bowl Division institutions, and the best in the Big Ten.
"Eighty-five to 90 percent of them are great people [and graduate]. I have no problem with that," Paterno said. "Again, you guys are trying to create some problem that I don't believe we have, period ... It's a waste of my time and your time."
Wisconsin has won five of its last seven contests with the Nittany Lions, including a 13-3 victory last season in Madison. The Badgers had won two straight trips to Happy Valley before a 35-14 defeat in 2005.
"We love road games because the whole crowd is going against the 70 of us," senior captain Ben Strickland said. "Penn State is always a big game. We have to focus on what we need to do to get better and keep a positive attitude."
No. 19 Wisconsin (5-1) vs. Penn State (4-2)
Date/Time - Saturday, Oct. 13, at 2:30 p.m CDT
Stadium – Beaver Stadium, University Park, PA (Natural Grass / 107,282)
Television - ABC (Brad Nessler, Bob Griese, Paul Maguire, Bonnie Bernstein)
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas)
Series – Wisconsin leads 8-4
Last Meeting - Wisconsin won, 13-3, on Nov. 4, 2006 in Madison
Junior Travis Beckum, who leads all tight ends in the country this season with 41 catches and 485 receiving yards, had career-highs in receptions (11) and yards (160) at Illinois. It was the second consecutive week that Beckum went over the 100-yard receiving plateau and was his fifth career 100-yard receiving game
Wisconsin ranks second in the country in time of possession, holding the ball for an average of 33:56 over the first six games. In its three conference games, UW is even better, winning the T.O.P. battle 34:16- 25:44
The Nittany Lions lead the all-time series 3-2 in University Park, but UW has won two of the last three at Penn State
The Badgers have won five of the last seven against PSU overall ... in four of those victories, UW has held Penn State without a touchdown
Since PSU joined the Big Ten in 1993, Wisconsin holds a 6-4 advantage in the series with one or both of the teams has been ranked in nine of the last 11 meetings
The Badgers are 5-0 against PSU when the Nittany Lions are not ranked
After weeks of mistake-prone football, the Badgers finally got hurt by poor tackling, injuries and turnovers. The tackling has been a nightmare, MLB Elijah Hodge, Jay Valai and Kim Royston can't stay healthy, Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant have failed to put together a complete game at the same time and the Badgers seemingly can't force any turnovers. The list goes on and on.
Unless Wisconsin can pull a rabbit out of its hat and somehow correct half the things wrong with this defense, Penn State pulls the ‘upset' over Wisconsin.