Some hint of redemption or abject failure. Those are the Badgers' options.
Sure, they played a strong Ohio State close, but that wasn't the story among the Badger faithful. Nope. It was how the Badgers let another one get away. And let's be clear: we did. Just like the week before at Michigan.
So here comes Penn State. Always a stout defense. This year's spread offense is going gangbusters and has the Nits at 6-0 and #6 in the country. And this is the team that embarrassed the Badgers last year in Happy Valley, 38-7. UW is looking at an 0-3 start in league play. Ouch.
On the other hand, Wisconsin played Ohio State very close last week under the lights at Camp Randall. This team doesn't suck. So what's it going to be?
When Penn State's offense takes the field, the Badgers will see another first-year starter dual threat quarterback running the spread. Darryl Clark isn't the freak of nature that Pryor is, but nor is he a true freshman. In addition to being a good decision maker, he's got nine TD passes to only 1 INT; he's efficient. Joining him in the backfield, Evan Royster is having a solid year, averaging an astonishing 7.8 yards per carry. It's not rocket science: the Penn State offensive line is seasoned and solid. They make their presence felt. The Badger front 7, though solid and quick, will have their hands full, and better get their calls in on time. Newkirk, Shaughnessy, Chapman, Levy and Casillas will all have to have career days to contain the Penn State running game.
In addition, Deon Butler and Derrick Williams are both dangerous receivers who stretch the field and can make a big play anytime they touch the ball. Unlike last week's servicable receivers, these receivers are very dangerous. Although Allen Langford has been playing better than ever at corner, likely the Badgers best chance in the backfield is to get very physical with Williams and Butler, with Jay Valai leading the hit parade. As two sidelined Buckeyes will tell you, Valai packs a punch for a little guy. But is it enough?
When the Badgers have the ball, the battle royale will be in the trenches. Penn State doesn't like to use its linebackers on blitzes -- because they don't have to. Their front four are beastly. Of course, they are going against the best part of the Badger offense, the line, who are athletic, experienced; probably the best Badger line in at least four years. John Clay is working his way into more carries, which bodes well for the Badgers running attack, as he's proven to be the biggest threat carrying the ball. The Penn State linebackers are always good, but lack the star power they usually have. The Badgers should be able to establish the run, but won't get more than 150-175 yards on the ground.
Fundamentally, the Badgers have to pass better to have a chance. It will help to have our best "traditional" tight-end, Garrett Graham, back in the lineup for the first time since breaking his foot against Fresno State. He's a real asset in Chryst's offense which relies heavily on tight ends (and H-backs, a la Travis Beckum). But Beckum and Graham can't carry the passing game by themselves. Gilreath, Moore, Jefferson, and Toon need to catch the balls that find them, and Evridge needs to get them there. These are recurring problems, and it's hard to believe they will be cured this week against a talented Nit defense, with Scirrotto roaming back there to defend passes and land big hits.
Special teams are more or less a draw. Gilreath is a dangerous returner who could spell trouble for the Penn State kick0ff coverage, which has been subpar. On the other hand, Williams has gone the distance on two kickoffs for Penn State. Both teams have good punters, but Penn State's Kevin Kelly has been excellent kicking, whereas Welch has been good, but not great, on field goals for Wisconsin.
Although Penn State is unbeaten and #6 in the polls, I'm not entirely convinced they are the juggernaut they are made out to be. They had an excellent win over Illinois, but it wasn't a blowout and Illinois's defense isn't much to write home about. They only scored 20 against Purdue, and folks, Purdue's defense has nothing on the Badgers. In truth, this is the first solid defense Penn State will face. The Badgers are a little better under the lights at Camp Randall, and these teams are both Jekyll and Hyde at home versus on the road. The Badgers are much better at home, and the Nits are much worse on the road. So, the Badgers have a chance.
In a hard fought game, the Badger D will keep Penn State in better check than anyone has so far, and a couple of turnovers will keep Wisconsin in it. It won't be enough. Miscues on offense will continue to haunt what could have been a great Wisconsin team, and Penn State's playmaking wide receivers will be the difference. 27-17, Penn State.
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