Game Day Observations: Wisconsin
How about that one? There is almost never a time when, as a Penn State fan, I go into the game thinking we have no shot at winning. Even during some of the dark years in the early 2000’s, I always went into games thinking we had a chance. I’m honest enough to admit that I bought into the Vegas line (and conventional wisdom) and thought we were toast before the game even started. I walked into Camp Randall hoping for Penn State to at least hang for awhile and not get laughed out of town.
What happened, though, was entirely different, and I’ve never been happier to be wrong. Here are my final observations:
- Madison is one of my favorite Big Ten cities to visit and probably the most similar to State College. The campus is located right on Lake Mendota, and the campus infrastructure looks like it’s brand new. There’s a great night scene, and the entire town just gives off good vibes. It didn’t hurt that we won.
- Camp Randall, on the other hand, is one of the worst venues in the conference. Inside the seating bowl is nice, but the concourse was seemingly designed by someone on some type of hallucinogen. Between the narrow walkways, haphazard traffic flow, port-a-potty bathrooms, and meager concession choices, it’s just not a great to watch a game comfortably (although none of this mattered on Saturday after that performance, I can assure you). The field area is beautiful. It’s everything else that sucks.
- If you told me Sam Ficken would miss 2 of 3 field goals, Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton would combine for 61 yards (if you take away Zwinak’s big run at the end), and Penn State would STILL win, I wouldn’t believe you. I still haven’t processed the whole thing yet. There’s a good chance I never will understand how it happened.
- Speaking of the running game, just as frustrating as the lack of production was the play calling. By my count, O’Brien called a simple RB handoff 17 out of 23 first down plays. Obviously that number is a little skewed because of clock management in the fourth quarter, but it’s still a ridiculous indicator of consistency that one of the best run defenses in the country picked up on very quickly. It just wasn’t working, and it was frustrating to watch Penn State keep trying to run it up the gut, even with Hackenberg having a great game and Zwinak failing to get any sort of rhythm.
- Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave and Christian Hackenberg both threw for 339 yards. Hackenberg did it on 23 less attempts. Twenty-three. Insane.
- I knew when the entire Penn State roster participated in “Jump Around” before the fourth quarter while Wisconsin’s squad remained stoic that we were going to pull this one out. The entire experience is definitely one of the coolest traditions in college football.
- The way Wisconsin utilizes its video board is the best I’ve seen at any venue, professional or college. We saw coach Gary Andersen’s pregame tunnel speech (supposedly) live. During timeouts and other breaks, they put up the Michigan-Ohio State or the Alabama-Auburn game. There was at least two replays shown for every play. Rather than just provide another hokey avenue for the corporate sponsors to take over, the video board helped enhance the game experience.
- Student apathy is not just unique to Penn State. Although it would end up filling up to at least 75% capacity, Wisconsin’s student section was in rough shape as the team ran out of the tunnel.
- I mentioned in my column two years ago that Wisconsin fans were “brutal.” Nothing has changed. I’ve been to every away game since Jerry Sandusky was arrested in November 2011, and no fan base comes close to being as disrespectful as Wisconsin’s. Maybe it’s just due to natural insecurities from Bret Bielema dumping them. It probably had something to do with the score — when the outcome isn’t going your way, ad hominem is always a solid fallback — but there’s still little excuse for grown men yelling “PEDOPHILE HURR DURR” at Allen Robinson after he makes a catch. No matter what it is, I heard more child abuse jokes in one weekend than I have aggregately heard all season at every other Big Ten venue. I don’t think Wisconsin has a reputation for being full of jerks, so it was surprising to witness once again. (NOTE: Obviously, most of the folks I encountered were extremely pleasant. That goes for every city I visit. But, more than any place I’ve watched Penn State play, Wisconsin had the largest number of assholes. Twice now.)
- Wisconsin soda/pop/soft drink/whatever is not sponsored by Coke or Pepsi, but RC Cola. When’s the last time you had one of those?
- After more than 100 Penn State games in my lifetime, I finally got to witness a streaker live other than Fitz. I’m not sure how much of this they showed on TV, but just as the kid realized he was surrounded, he ripped his shirt off. Getting his money’s worth, I suppose.
- If you thought the false start penalties were bad to watch at home, it was even worse in-person. Few things feel more helpless than stupid, drive-altering mistakes like the eight Penn State made yesterday. Despite the boneheadedness, Penn State only allowed 45 penalty yards to Wisconsin’s 35.
- The last time Penn State lost two games in a row was at the beginning of last season after that 0-2 start. Every loss has been followed by a win since then. Resilience (and Purdue).
- Penn State’s pep band continues to impress at every away game. It always feels good to hear a familiar tune after a big Penn State play for an important moment in the game. There was not a person in that stadium that didn’t hear our band loud and clear after every big play, even with its limited travel size.
That’s it, folks! My last game as a Penn State undergrad is in the books — it sure was a good way to go out. I hope you’ve enjoyed following my last two seasons of minutiae and observations from throughout the Big Ten and at Beaver Stadium. My student fandom may be over, but you can be assured — no matter where life takes me after graduation, I know where I’ll be every Saturday next fall.
See you in Ireland.