Wisconsin Badgers vs. #21 Penn State
The beaten-up Lions return to St. Joe Memorial Stadium (formerly Penndot) at Beaver Field to take on the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday at noon. Yes, that’s right, noon. The season has come to that. ESPN/ABC find us so unappealing that we get the ho-hum noon kickoff this week and probably, henceforth. Nevertheless, some PSU homeys still think this team is hot shit!
The two combatants have identical overall season records of 6-3, but the Badgers have a better conference record, 4-2. Penn State is 3-3. ‘Sconsin’s two losses were to Michigan and Northwestern, and their non-conference loss was to BYU. Next week, they face resurgent Purdue.
The all-time series is tied at 9-9. So, this is the rubber match for slim-ass bragging rights next year.
Because you didn’t ask, the menu at The Cave will be exactly what the title of this article states: beer and bratwursts. I’ll see if I can find some of the latter with badger meat, but no promises. We typically pay homage to our opponents with the menu and the drinks, so we’re going full Wisconsin here. As a special treat, Artificially Sweetened will be baking her secret Ukrainian family recipe soft pretzels. And there will be cheese, lots of Wisconsin cheese! These noontime kickoffs are worthy of tailgate food, kimosabe, and we’re going to do just that. As my German grandma would have said, “Besser als in die Hose geschißen!”. (Better than shitting in your pants!)
This game is relatively unimportant, as are the rest of the games this year, so we must look toward the sidelines for amusement. The question is, what head-up-the-ass fourth quarter call will come out of Franklin’s sorry ass THIS WEEK. (I’m still pissed off by stupid calls in the tOSU and Moo U. games, and then he did the musical quarterback number on us against Michigan and double-talked us in the presser. How many ways can you spell D-U-M-B-A-S-S?)
The Badgers are having an atypically bad year in what has turned out as a wide-open Western Division of the Big Ten. Most recently, they beat Rutgers 31-17. All-Everything sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns against the Scarlet Knights.
Some Relevant Stats
Wisconsin’s passing game with Alex Hornibrook at the helm sucks the bone, ranking 11th in the B1G. This is now exacerbated by the questionable status of Hornibrook’s health. However, the Badgers’ rushing offense is tops in the league, averaging 273 yards per game. Jonathan Taylor leads all FBS running backs at over 150 yards per game and is top rushing yards gainer in the entire FBS with 1363 yards through nine games. Michigan held Taylor to “only” 101 yards, although Northwestern did better (46). Meanwhile, Penn State ranks 10th in the conference and 79th nationally in rushing defense. Something’s got to give.
The predictological geniuses at BWI simplistically think that if Hornibrook is hampered, the Badgers can be beaten easily by containing their offense, which will be reduced to “one-dimensional”. All but one said geniuses pick Penn State to win. But given the Nittany Lions withering second-half showings in games against strong opponents, I call bullshit!
IITOP, Man! Gut check!
The Badgers’ defense is about on par with the Nittany Lions’. However, with the ground game going strong, Wisconsin is poised to establish a IITOP advantage. (That stands for Increasingly Irrelevant Time of Possession, my knock on some journalists who declare that it doesn’t matter anymore). Wisconsin ranks fourth in the B10 in time of possession (32:45 – 15th nationally) while Penn State ranks DEAD FUCKING FOURTEENTH AND LAST BEHIND EVEN FUCKING RUTGERS (26:51 – 122nd nationally). Increasingly irrelevant, my German-Jewish ass! And Wisconsin completes 45.2% of third-down opportunities (23rd nationally) vs. Penn State’s 34.2% (110th). Ach, du Lieber! Oy vey!
I guess the whole deal with what is purported to be “increasing irrelevance” is predicated on last year’s quick-strike Penn State offense. Alas, with the departure of Joe Moorhead, the quick-strikeness has turned into a lot of three-and-outs. Ricky Rahne’s offense is not working, to say the absolute least. This year, the long play is not bailing PSU out and the defense is wearing down from being on the field too long.
Badger junior starting QB Alex Hornibrook was in the concussion protocol for the second time in three weeks after getting hurt in last week’s 31-17 victory over Rutgers. If he is not ready to go on Saturday, sophomore backup Jack Coan will be pressed into service. Coan was 20 of 31 for 158 yards and a touchdown in the 31-17 loss to Northwestern two weeks ago in his first career start due to another Horny concussion. In that game, the Wildcats shut down the Badgers’ running game, holding Jonathan Taylor to 46 yards on 11 carries. It is probably upon that performance that the BWI geniuses formulate their predictions.
This turkey, however, suspects that the Penn State defense will not be able to contain Taylor, even if they sell out on the run. While unlike the offense, they’re showing improvement week-to-week, at least in first halves, later they still get run over. If the offense cannot put up points, the game will be lost in the second half. “We’re a second half team.” Yup. Second half losers. Burp!
Almost Elite Team?
Remember what James Franklin said after the tOSU loss? We were beaten by an elite team and we’re not there yet, but we’re a great team. Well, I’m calling extreme Franklin bullshit there again. Ohio State is not elite, at least not this year. We almost were beaten by non-elite Appalachian State and Iowa. We ain’t great by any means, and I’m not looking optimistically at this week’s Super Bowl.
We’re looking at good ol’ November in da Big Beave! How’s about a high of 36° with snow flurries? Cold hands on the field, and cold asses in the stadium seats.
Whither Penn State? Da Bottom Line
This offense suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks, which makes it even more of a mystery that the oddsmakers opened shop favoring PSU by 8. The over/under is 55. Possibly on the basis of Hornibrook’s potential game missage, the margin has widened to 9 points in early betting.
Anyone want to venture a crappy prediction? Why does everyone think this will be an easy win? Home field, yeah, I know, right? But Penn State fans are fair-weather fans. Many of them won’t be braving the cold to see what they cynically predict to be yet another loss. After all, the Nittany Lions usually mope after a big loss and Michigan was a biiiiiiiiiiiiggg loss. One must hope the remaining stalwart, die-hard fans will provide enough inspiration to the team, who might well be hung over from the carnal devastation at the behest of Big Blue. Now not only can’t we catch, but also we can’t run or throw, either, and our defense gets run over in the second half. Above all, the playbook and the offensive play calling have been known to bite the big one this year, thanks to James Franklin and Ricky Rahne.
My cynicism is readily apparent here. What I’m doing is setting myself up for taking a dose of shit from my homeys if the Lions do well on Saturday. I’m a masochist, as you all know, because I’m either being flogged by the team’s performance or jeered by those who think I’m full of shit. Well, bring it on!
Let’s get on with it…
Where does this all lead? To my prediction of what would nominally be an upset if the odds don’t swing toward Wisconsin’s favor. At 9 points to the good, that is an impossible swing. The bettors must see something I don’t, because they’re looking for a 32-23 PSU victory over the Badgers.
Plenty fodder for pessimism in what has happened in the season so far and in what the stats above reveal. My glass is half-empty at this point. Those who tell us Penn State is just a few points away from being 8-1 don’t look at the other side of that coin. They’re also a few points away from being 4-5.
The Lions will let Jonathan Taylor run for 200 yards. Alex Hornibrook will show up and will have an exceptionally good day behind an offensive line that averages 6’5.4? – 322 lbs, tiring out the Penn State defense, who will do their usual number of keeping it close in the first half. Alas, they will ultimately give up their third home loss and the once proud Nittany Lions head for the infamous Toilet Bowl in Kohler, Wisconsin, where they can drink beer and suck down bratwursts and still be home for Christmas. The over/under on yellow puddle magnitude around James Franklin’s feet in the fourth quarter is two quarts. Wisconsin 31, Penn State 23.
I’ll be back to either wipe the egg off my face or gloat about the prognosticational efficacy of my well polished crystal balls.
Big Al says
Actually, State is also a few points away from being 3-5. They are 3-2 this year in games decided by one touchdown or less. Reversion to the mean (i.e. winning 50% of one touchdown games) is the general rule. Therefore, I’d go with Wisconsin if this turns out to be a game decided by one score.
But I have no idea how the Kitties are going to play this weekend. The Michigan loss may destroyed their faith in “the process” and they might not “come ready to play.” Or they might be highly motivated, rally behind an injured McSorely, and play their best game of the year. If either of the things happen it won’t be a one score game.
Basically this game will be decided by what is shittier – Penn State’s offense or Wisconsin’s defense. If State’s offense and special teams don’t gift Wisconsin with good field position through turnovers and bad punts, the defense can hold the Badgers to 21 points. So the question is: can our offense score more than 21 points without committing turnovers against a defense that usually can’t generate a pass rush from its D line, defend its perimeter, or cover decent receivers.
And my answer is NO. Turnovers, lack of separation, dropped passes, overthrown receivers, and stupid penalties are integral part of the Kitties offensive DNA.. Wisconsin 34 Penn State 20. The Kitties gift Wisconsin with 10 points via turnovers and blow a 20-17 lead in the 4th quarter as the defense gets worn out.
Take the under it’s probably the easiest money you’ll get – at least until the spread for the Rutgers game.
The Nittany Turkey says
I thought perhaps you had disappeared in disgust after the Michigan game, which merely confirmed what you have been saying about this year’s team. Thanks for adding some more insights and observations.
We’re back to Five Traffic Cones — call them the Lime Grove Five, just for variety. But seriously, the inability to gain decent yardage on first down, leading to the shitty third down conversion performance, is confounding. They tend to look like they don’t know what they’re doing out there. McSorley cannot carry the offense on his back, especially if he is not 100% healthy. He’s a positive guy, but all this has to wear on him, especially the crappy play calling.
I’m done beating my fingers on this crappy Microsoft keyboard. Got you for 34-20, Badgers and the under.
Wisconsin 27, PSU 21. Throwin’, catchin’ and kickin’ is tougher when it’s cold and snowing, so the under makes sense to me. Wisconsin’s running performance will dominate the score.
The Nittany Turkey says
Seems like a reasonable prognotimacation to me, Mike. Everybody seems to be on the under, at least the one that relates to the combined score. Got you for 27-21, and I look forward to seeing you here on Saturday, if you can manage to get up in time for this early-ass kickoff.
K. John says
I fully expect Wisconsin to come in and run their usual offense regardless of who starts at QB. Hornibrook gives them their best chance to win but is ultimately a bit player. As usual, Wisconsin brings a load of road grading offensive linemen. That is a problem. For as Miller, Gross-Matos and Givens are as pass rushers and as active as Windsor is at the 1, this is a bad matchup. All of these guys have caved as recently as last week when faced with power running concepts. It is mostly a function of size and we play the biggest baddest bunch in the country. I would expect a lot of runs up the middle, a lot of play action and short passing plays to the tight end and slot receivers which have been an issue all year. We’ll get some stops and force field goal attempts but ultimately, I think they will have a huge IITOP advantage.
Defensively, they are as healthy as they will get during the regular season but are essentially starting backup linemen at all three positions. They are not terribly dynamic and don’t use a lot of stunts, twists or other advanced concepts which is an advantage for us. They are strong enough to hold up at the point of attack and should be able to contain the inside running game. Their outside backers are not great pass rushers but fairly disciplined and have done a good job of stringing plays out. I would expect them to keep Trace in the pocket which is the worst part of his game. Their inside backers are as good as they come which is bound to create problems in the short passing game and will shut down the inside QB run, especially if Trace isn’t 100%. For the record, if his legs are anything less, he should not play. Their secondary is good enough to employ the approach used by Ohio State to take away the deep ball.
Ultimately, we will need to score when we have the opportunity because we might not have many. I am expecting a low scoring game (which means it will be a high scoring affair). If Wisconsin has the lead in the 4th, look out.
Penn State 20
The Nittany Turkey says
I say if the game is tied at the half, look out. I can see a 7-7 halftime score and the usual second-half defensive breakdown while the Badgers pound away with JT.
Thanks for your incisive analysis and I got ya for 21-20 Badgeroos — and the under.
I think I ought to create a new feature late in the season. I can pick three play calls made by the Franklin/Rahne brain trust during the fourth quarter and ask my six readers to vote for the boneheadedest heads-up-the-ass call. Winner would get to dump his or her ticket to the Rutgers game.
The Nittany Turkey says
I suppose the spread widening to 9 reflects bettors’ lack of confidence in Hornibrook starting. However, as K. John so astutely opines, Horny doesn’t make much of a difference one way or the other. Wisconsin will pound us on the ground, grinding it out, eating lots of clock, gaining superiority in IITOP, and wearing out our defense by the second half. The halftime adjustments by Brent Pry and Yellow Puddle Franklin will combine with the weariness of the defense to open the floodgates in the closing stanzas.
The more I think about it, the more I want to agree with all of you that it will be a low scoring game. However, I’ll stick with my prediction, just for shits and grins!
K. John says
Personally, I think we are seeing the beginning of the Franklin death spiral this season. He is a recruiter and that is about it. Even then, his judgement should be questioned given that with few exceptions, the most productive players on the team during his tenure were either Paterno or O’Brien targets. That suggests poor decision making on the recruiting front. The biggest question will be how long does this nonsense play out and where do we go from here?
The Nittany Turkey says
That they were Paterno/O’Brien targets isn’t in itself an indictment of Franklin’s decision making. We don’t know whether he would have identified the same candidates had Paterno or O’Brien not done so. Now, you’re contravening the commonly held treatise that Franklin sucks at everything but recruiting, where he shines. That’s revolutionary, and if true, will entail several years of spiraling downward before Franklin can or will be pronounced dead. In the meanwhile, the program will go to hell in a handbasket.
Alas, in my personal opinion, Sandy and the boys will stick with Franklin til the bitter end. Only one head coach has ever been fired at PSU.
K. John says
That is not necessarily representative of my thinking. I think Franklin’s judgement shouldn’t simply be trusted as so many do but at the same time, I don’t think he stinks at everything he does. I think we have major holes in the roster, especially on offense, that players like Barkley and Gesicki and an offensive mind like Moorhead were able to cover for but with them gone, I think we’ll be on the road to perpetual 7,8 or 9 win regular seasons. I think he is currently the fourth best head coach in the division (I have Dantonio #1) to go with the the fourth best staff, fourth best roster, fourth best QB and so forth. I don’t think he and his staff are as good at player identification as O’Brien’s was overall but they is far from bad. With that said, I don’t think that is good enough to regularly compete for an East title so long as Dantonio, Meyer and Harbaugh are around. People will get sick of 8 and 4 seasons, especially given what he paid. Once it becomes obvious he can’t elevate the team higher, he is done.
The Nittany Turkey says
Good players can indeed offset a plethora of inadequacies. Sometimes, no one sees the inadequacies until the great ones leave, and only then can their value be fully appreciated. The Joni Mitchell Rule “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone” only partially applies. We all appreciate it when we have it and we all miss it when it’s gone. But if the superior players mask the imperfections of what is left behind, we are reduced to wistful retro-cogitation regarding how the holes might have been filled while the hotshots were still around.
I believe that success on the field doesn’t start with the so-called skill positions. The offensive and defensive lines need to be strong. When they are, they make everyone around them look more competent. Just look at the Steelers. They lost huge talent on both sides of the ball — Le’Veon Bell and Ryan Shazier — one of the best running backs and one of the best linebackers in the NFL — but their O and D lines improved, offsetting lesser talent at those position this year.
We’ve fallen off on both sides of the trenches, and the O-line issues have been extant for YEARS. Never mind the occasional flashes of brilliance. They still suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. At least Paris Palmer had some value as a statue, once St. Joe’s shrine was removed to an abandoned Penna Turnpike tunnel.
Whither Franklin? If he doesn’t get those lines beefed up, the fans will want to run him out of town, but I’m not sure the administration feels the same way. They’re all about political correctness, forgiving and forgetting, and pretending there’s no Louis Freeh “Culture of Football” extant at Penn State.