It is rare that two teams enter a Big Ten game in November knowing that the final result of the contest will not have a direct impact on the immediate future.
Tomorrow afternoon, that situation applies as the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-4, 5-2) will face the Wisconsin Badgers (7-4, 4-3) at Beaver Stadium. A win by the Badgers will put them ahead of the Nittany Lions in the Leaders Division standings, and they will go to Indianapolis to represent the division in the Big Ten Championship game. A victory by the home team will keep the Blue and White ahead of the Badgers, but still, Bret Bielema’s squad will head off to the title game while the season concludes for the Nittany Lions.
One could take a quick look at the previous paragraph and reach the false notion that Saturday’s game does not truly matter. That conclusion could not be more incorrect. The Badgers do have additional and more important football to look forward to, but to the Nittany Lions, this is it until winter workouts and spring practice begins. This is it for the college career of Matt McGloin, who in a unique was has become one of the most storied signal-callers in program history.
This is the end for several seniors including Jordan Hill and Stephon Morris who both acknowledged earlier this week that it will be difficult to hold back tears. To say tomorrow will be an emotional Senior Day would be a huge understatement, but raw emotion is not going to make sure this season ends on a high note for the Nittany Lions. Controlling those feelings and stopping the Badgers’ vaunted running game will.
Let’s take a look at a few important players on this Wisconsin team.
Montee Ball #28 — Anyone who follows college football slightly should know about this senior running back by now. Last season, he was a Heisman finalist with 39 touchdowns on the year, and 4 of those scores came against the Nittany Lions. This season, the 5-11 215 lb. back has 17 touchdowns and has run for over 190 yards in his past two games. It is next to impossible to completely shut him down, but in three of the team’s four losses, he has been held to below 100 yards on the ground. The Nittany Lions run defense has been strong for most of the season, and holding Ball in check will play a huge role in determining the outcome of this game.
Curt Phillips #10 — After being led by current Seattle Seahawks starter Russell Wilson last season, the Badgers’ quarterback situation is a lot messier this year. Three different guys have seen significant snaps, and this senior is the most recent of them. His completion percentage is a very pedestrian 56.3% through two starts, but he has yet to throw an interception, and will attempt to continue this tomorrow.
James White #20 — While his teammate Ball gets most of the attention, White has scored 9 touchdowns and ran for 680 yards on the season. Listed at 5-10 197 lb., the junior running back is a good complement to Ball, exceeding 100 yards on the ground in three conference games so far.
Jared Abbrederis #4 — The 6-2 188 lb. junior has 41 receptions for 729 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns on the season. They may not be Allen Robinson numbers, but they still look pretty good as the former walk-on was nominated for the Burlsworth Trophy along with McGloin. The unstable quarterback shuffle has hurt Abbrederis’ numbers a bit, but he will be the main target regardless of who is throwing the ball.
Chris Borland #44 — The junior middle linebacker leads a defensive unit filled with upperclassmen. On the season, Borland has registered 83 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. He will be a challenge for the Nittany Lions’ offensive line and Zach Zwinak out of the backfield.
A few things to watch from the Penn State side:
McGloin’s Play — McGloin struggled against Wisconsin last year, only throwing for 97 yards with 44 of them coming on one play. He will need to play better this time around while at the same time staying within himself and not forcing throws in his final collegiate game.
Mike Hull Stepping Up — Hull has left little doubt this year that he can excel playing linebacker for the Nittany Lions. Now, with Michael Mauti out, he will see more snaps against one of the best running backs in the nation. It is a tough first start, but Hull’s play-making ability throughout the season would suggest he is ready for the challenge.
Zach Zwinak — It is now three straight games of at least 130 rushing yards for the sophomore who burst onto the scene after being buried on the depth chart when the season got underway. Zwinak will look to keep the Badgers offense off the field and hit the century mark again while also avoiding a costly fumble that has led to points for the opponent in the past two games.
Allen Robinson — After last week’s record-setting performance against Indiana, what can Robinson possibly do for an encore? The sophomore wide receiver is 22 yards away from the 1000 yard mark for the season. He has found the end zone in six of the eleven contests so far and will look to close out a great season with one final standout performance.
With the chance of snow flurries in Happy Valley tomorrow, this game has all of the elements to make it a memorable one. After facing a pass-heavy Hoosiers team last weekend, the Nittany Lions defense will need to adjust quickly to a much different style to contain the Badgers’ rushing attack. If they are able to do that, it will be a happy regular season finale for the Blue and White.
By The Numbers: McGloin has thrown for more than 200 yards in every game this season aside from the loss to Virginia where he missed a few series due to injury. The Badgers have not exceeded 200 yards through the air since Joel Stave did it against Illinois on October 6th.
Blast From The Past: If it feels like Wisconsin has not come to State College in a while, it is because they have not. The last time the Badgers visited was October 13, 2007. The final result was a 38-7 victory for the Nittany Lions.