A Tale Of Two Wins Over Wisconsin

Before I begin, I’d like to say that I realize taking down Wisconsin in 2016 had a lot more weight behind it than the game this past weekend. I’m focusing entirely on play style in comparing these two matchups.

Whenever I need a pick-me-up, I watch the highlights of the 2016 Big Ten Championship game. Without fail, I’m ready to run through a wall when those highlights end. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Nittany Lions’ victory over Paul Chryst’s program was the most exciting Penn State game I’ve ever watched.

Part of the reason I love this highlight video so much is because Joe Moorhead’s offense was absolutely on fire. After falling behind 14-0, McSorley hit Mike Gesicki for a 34-yard back-shoulder bomb. Penn State’s first play from scrimmage in the second half was a 70-yard touchdown pass from McSorley to Saeed Blacknall. 

There was even a signature defensive play in that crazy game when linebacker Brandon Bell leaped over a blocker and strip-sacked Wisconsin quarterback Bart Houston. For the purpose of this argument, you can ignore that play, but it was also incredible.

Saquon Barkley’s iconic touchdown on a wheel route to put Penn State up 35-31 in the fourth quarter is simply a work of art. TJ Watt, look away.

Two years have passed since that big victory, and Penn State has left that big play mentality in the past. Following the loss to Michigan State earlier this season, I thought Penn State was accidentally straying away from its identity of taking shots down the field. 

It became abundantly clear that Rahne was taking this offense in a different direction entirely during Penn State’s 22-10 victory over Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions even ran a couple bubble screens — I thought Franklin had ditched that look along with John Donovan. 

McSorley’s completions went for an average of 6.4 yards on Saturday. No. 9 threw one touchdown and had 160 yards through the air. In that Big Ten Championship game, McSorley tallied four passing scores, 384 yards, and an average completion of 12.4 yards.

The coaching staff must not have the same confidence in throwing the ball up the seams of opposing defenses; they’ve clearly reined in McSorley’s arm throughout the course of this season.

I’m not sure a single offensive play from this season’s meeting between the teams would look like it belongs in that Big Ten Championship highlight package.

A win is a win at this point in the season, and the Nittany Lions need as many as they can get. But, there was nothing at all from that game that I’ll remember like I remember those big plays from the last time Penn State beat Wisconsin. 

Maybe that risky style of offense has taken a back-seat for personnel reasons, but I sure hope it makes a comeback. Not only did playing like a Big 12 team put Penn State back on the map, but it made football in Beaver Stadium incredibly fun again.

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About the Author

Derek Bannister

Derek is a senior majoring in Economics and History. He is legally required to tell you that he's from right outside of Philly. Email Derek compliments and dad-jokes at [email protected].

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