Staff Predictions: Penn State vs. Wisconsin
It’s almost time for the final football Saturday for the Penn State Nittany Lions (6-5, 3-4). The team will take on the No. 15 Wisconsin Badgers (9-2, 6-1) tomorrow afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. The Badgers boast the fifth-best defense and the eighth-best running attack in the nation entering Saturday’s regular season-ending matchup. Here are our staff predictions for tomorrow’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
Wisconsin 34, Penn State 17
The Badgers are ranked as the the No. 15 team in the nation for good reason. They have a nearly impenetrable defense and a pair of running backs that fit every definition of the word dominant. Wisconsin has just two losses, both coming in close games against No. 12 Arizona State and No. 3 Ohio State. To word it as simply as possible: Penn State isn’t nearly as good as Wisconsin.
There’s always a chance for an upset, such is football, but this Nittany Lions team matches up very poorly with the Badgers and the fact that the game will be played in Madison makes matters worse. I see the Badgers coming out to a quick lead and fending off Penn State for the rest of the game. The Nittany Lions will pull of a couple of touchdown drives, most likely featuring some Allen Robinson heroics, but the game will never look winnable for Penn State and the Nittany Lions will finish the season at an even .500.
I hope that the team plays its heart out and proves me wrong, winning what is essentially a bowl game for Penn State in a thriller just like last year, but that would take an absolute miracle.
Wisconsin 44, Penn State 24
I expect Penn State to come out and fight hard, since this is essentially a bowl game for the team, but I don’t foresee the Nittany Lions beating Wisconsin. The Badgers are too tough, and for my money, are the most underrated team in America despite being ranked 15th.
I think the Nittany Lions to watch are Glenn Carson and DaQuan Jones. Not surprisingly, Wisconsin is going to do everything in its power to run the ball down Penn State’s throats, and while I think they do that successfully — they have two fantastic running backs in Melvin Gordon and James White — that will lend itself to huge games for Carson and Jones. Despite this, I expect the Badgers to run all over Penn State and for quarterback Joel Stave to have his usual efficient performance.
On offense, I think Penn State does alright. Wisconsin’s defense is stout, but I think that Penn State’s balance on offense will mean the Nittany Lions have some success against the Badger defense. My one bold prediction is that Allen Robinson catches 11 balls and gives himself 100 receptions on the season. Between that and a steady dose of Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak, I expect Penn State to move the ball, but it won’t be enough.
Wisconsin 30, Penn State 10
Penn State hasn’t really won a road game all season, and I can’t imagine the Nittany Lions picking up their first against a Wisconsin team fighting for a BCS bowl bid. This game can be close for at least a half if the Lions can score first, take the crowd out of it, and silence the Badgers’ offense for a few drives. Penn State won’t be in a bowl game this year, so expect the team to come out with excitement and a chip on its shoulder.
Offensively, Hackenberg hasn’t looked particularly sharp on the road this year. I anticipate this trend will continue against a strong Wisconsin defense. Whichever running back will handle the majority of the carries will need to wear down a large Badgers’ defensive line.
Penn State’s defense was impressive last week against Nebraska. It’ll face an equally difficult task slowing down running backs James White and Melvin Gordon. Glenn Carson and the rest of the linebackers will have to plug the running holes, and an improving secondary needs to slow down a talented Wisconsin receiving corps in order to have a chance tomorrow.
Wisconsin 31, Penn State 17
Wisconsin’s run-heavy offense will wear down Penn State’s front seven and Penn State’s fortunes truly depend on what defense shows up. Joel Stave’s steady play will allow the Badger’s to test Penn State’s secondary, especially with a deep threat in receiver Jared Abbrederis. Penn State’s defensive success will depend on its ability to stop the run early and often.
The offense wasn’t stellar last week against Nebraska and Wisconsin’s defense is at about the same skill level. I expect Hackenberg to struggle, but make a little splash early on with his usual target, Allen Robinson. The running attack may be interesting to watch with Zach Zwinak rushing for over 100 yards again last week, but it won’t be enough to push the Nittany Lions ahead of the Badgers. Penn State has had a decent season, so a .500 record at the end of the year is fitting.
Wisconsin 42, Penn State 14
This could get very ugly, very fast. Wisconsin is one spot away from a top 14 ranking in the BCS and a win against Penn State would help secure this and gain the Badgers a bid for a big bowl game.
On the bright side, Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave has shown that he is inconsistent. If the Nittany Lions defense can maximize the turnovers this game might not be that bad, but the unit needs to play well from the beginning and not just show up in the second half. Hopefully Hackenberg and Co. are going to come out fired up and try to avenge last week’s loss in the final game of the season.
Badgers freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton is nasty and has the ability to shut down or at least limit Allen Robinson, which would make this game a lot longer for the Nittany Lions. And then there’s Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland — one of the best defenders in the Big Ten — who is going to present a challenge for Belton, Zwinak, and the Penn State offensive line.
Here’s to hoping that Bill O’Brien gets creative in his play calling for the offense for the last game of the year.