Previewing The Enemy: Penn State vs Wisconsin
By: David Abruzzese and Ethan Kasales
The Nittany Lions travel to Indianapolis this Saturday for the Big Ten Championship game to face a stiff test in the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers.
Plenty rides on the outcome of this game; the Big Ten is arguably the best conference in the country, and its champion has a compelling case for the committee to discuss. With a loss to either No. 3 Clemson or No. 4 Washington, the winner of Saturday’s contest should be included in the final field of four. Take a look at the test the Lions face in Lucas Oil Stadium this weekend.
The household name on Wisconsin’s offense is running back Corey Clement, but the key component here is quarterback Alex Hornibrook. The redshirt freshman has proved his worth in Wisconsin’s two-quarterback system (Hornibrook occasionally splits reps with senior Bart Houston). The lefty’s accounted for 1,243 yards, eight touchdowns, and seven touchdowns after assuming the starting position from the graduated Joel Stave. His job hasn’t been too difficult: disperse the ball when called upon, and hand it off to Clement when he’s not throwing. Though his status for Saturday has been left up in the air, he’ll likely start under center according to James Franklin.
Behind Hornibrook is one of the nation’s best running backs in Corey Clement. He’s tallied 1,140 yards and 13 touchdowns running behind one of the nation’s most stout offensive lines. The Badgers won’t hesitate leaning on the talented senior come Saturday, but expect to see reserve Dare Ogunbowale get a fair amount of carries as well.
Troy Fumagalli and Jazz Peavy — Wisconsin’s top two pass catchers who also have two of the best names — lead the Badgers in the receiving category. Peavy’s tallied 39 grabs for 582 yards and five scores while Fumagalli comes in right behind with 38 catches, 467, and one score. Fumagalli, the Badgers’ tight end, will be a matchup nightmare for whoever is tasked with guarding him given his 6-foot-6, 248-pound frame.
Wisconsin’s stout defense hasn’t missed a beat since Dave Arranda headed to LSU in the offseason. Justin Wilcox has assembled the nation’s seventh-ranked total defense, as the Badgers are only giving up an average of 292 yards per game. They also allowed just 17 touchdowns during the regular season – good for second in all of college football.
Wisconsin leads FBS in interceptions with 21 thus far, while the Nittany Lions have picked off a mere nine for comparison’s sake. Sophomore linebacker T.J. Edwards paces the Badger defense with 75 total tackles, while T.J. Watt – J.J.’s younger brother – has been an absolute freak in the pass-rushing game. Watt boasts a team-leading 13 tackles for loss (9.5 sacks). Safeties Leo Musseo and D’Cota Dixon will also create headaches for Penn State’s passing attack, as the duo has nine interceptions between them.
The Badgers will likely stack the box on defense in hopes of shutting down Saquon Barkley, which leaves Trace McSorley and the Nittany Lion wideouts to take a bunch of deep shots like they did against Michigan State. It should be quite a fun battle to watch between Wilcox and Joe Moorhead Saturday night. Buckle up.