One could argue that even after the first half, the Badgers' defense still felt pretty good about their performance, despite being down by 17 points. The defense allowed scoring drives of 16, 19 and 51 yards, as turnovers and bad special teams allowed Penn State to start three times on its 40-yard line or better.
When the final gun sounded, it shot down that false sense of confidence.
Sixth-ranked Penn State marched up and down the field on the Badger defense, scoring 24 points and racking up 254 second-half yards (193 of which came in that third quarter) to pound Wisconsin into submission.
The third quarter turned off Wisconsin's glimmer of hope. On their first drive of the second half, the Nittany Lions went 76 yards in only six plays for a touchdown. Their ensuing drive was even better, going 82 yards in seven plays as Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark hit a wide-open Deon Butler for a 44 yard touchdown.
In a span of seven minutes and 30 seconds, the Badgers gave up 158 yards, 14 points and let Clark go 8-for-10 through the air. To put that in perspective, Wisconsin's quarterbacks did not complete their eighth pass until 1:42 left in the fourth quarter.
"When we started the second half and they were able to score on their first drive and it really made it a difficult day from that play forward," head coach Bret Bielema said. "We really saw the momentum swing at that point and it was never really going to come back."
The big play hurt Wisconsin's in its last two losses and it reared its ugly head for the third-straight week. Wisconsin allowed only two plays over 20 yards in the first half. In the third quarter, Penn State had eight plays that went for double digits. On Penn State's second third-quarter touchdown drive, the defense gave up four plays that earned 20 yards or better.
"There were a couple times when we had them backed up in their territory and two long (plays) just killed us," senior linebacker DeAndre Levy said. "(The big plays) have been something we've struggled with this entire year. We said we can't win like that and it's catching up to us. We need to correct it somewhat."
In terms of finishing games, Wisconsin thought they had corrected its mistakes heading into this week. The Badgers' first loss was a product of not turning mistakes into points. Its second loss was the result of breakdowns on the final drive.
This one? Penn State is clearly better than Wisconsin, no questions asked.
"Well, I thought we'd win, (but) I didn't think we'd win by 41," Penn State head coach Joe Paterno said. "I was nervous earlier in the week and then as the week went on, I wasn't. I just knew these guys were ready to play."
Battered and beaten in their first three conference games for the first time since 2002, Wisconsin has received its reality check. Gone are the chances for a national championship, a BCS bowl, a conference championship and likely a January 1 bowl game.
The difference between the Badgers making plans for a bowl game for a seventh straight year or seeing this season spiral out of control will be how the team responds over the next seven days. With Iowa, Wisconsin's next opponent, winning a conference road game by 36 points, the Badgers now know that nothing is going to be easy the rest of the way.
"We just need to come out and keep trying to move forward and keep grinding through it," Levy said. "This really tests our character here. We're 0-3 and it's an even bigger test for us. It's something that's going to have to turn us into men."