Penn State 22, Wisconsin 10
Those of us who had lost faith in the Lions, thinking they couldn’t solve their problems before the end of the year, were treated to a pleasant surprise in the blustery cold of St. Joe Memorial-Irwin Financial Stadium at Beaver Field on Saturday. The #21 Penn State Nittany Lions, much maligned offensive line and all, defeated the Wisconsin Badgers, 22-10, spoiling any hope in Madison that their team would compete for the Big Ten championship this year.
Any notion that Time of Possession is increasingly irrelevant should fly back in to Matt Herb’s ass from whence it came. Penn State won the game because it took care of business, keeping the ball for 34 minutes while the Badgers could manage only 26, quite a turnaround from being dead last in the conference.
Low Offensive Output in Da Cold
The only part of my prediction that turned out to be valid was that Jonathan Taylor would run for close to 200 yards against the Penn State defense. He actually earned 185 yards on 20 carries, including an early touchdown on a 71-yard scamper. Miles Sanders all but matched Taylor’s performance with 165 all-purpose yards, including a touchdown.
The big difference was in quarterback performance. Jack Coan, who had been pressed into service due to starter Alex Hornibrook undergoing the concussion protocol, was haaaaarrrrrrrible for Wisconsin, 9-20 for 60 yards and two interceptions. Meanwhile, Trace McSorley, operating behind a shuffled offensive line that did its job in the trenches more often than not, for a change, was 19-25 for 160 yards and a touchdown. Not great shakes, but it got the job done.
Sloppiness in Da Cold
You want sloppiness? I’ll give ya sloppiness, already, in da cold, already. Although Penn State won the battle of turnovers 4-2, there were far too many. You would think badgers with those claws and their acclimation to the cold would be able to hang onto the ball, but two fumbles lost and two interceptions thrown paint a sorry picture of butterfingered weasels.
The Penn State special teams play suffered sloppiness in da cold, already, too. Problem child Jake Pinegar missed two field goals and one extra point. Wow, does that ever suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!
It Was Good Enough to Beat the Badgers
Not great numbers, but good enough. Encouraging progress by the offensive line, but they’ve let us down before and they’ll let us down again. Tommy Stevens came in, but not to take snaps as a QB, just as a running back or a decoy. We saw one carry by the doghouse denizen Ricky Slade. The offensive brain trust seemed to listen to the outcry from the fans (and from KJ Hamler, himself) as Bugs Bunny was used as a part of the short game, snagging 5 receptions for 35 yards.
So, good on time of possession, getting better on third-down and fourth-down conversions (6-15 & 2-2), and better offensive line play. It was good enough to beat the Badgers and will probably be good enough to beat Rutgers and Maryland. It ain’t going to be good enough to beat LSU in the Capital One Bowl, though.
Around the Big Ten
Meanwhile, the Badgers are themselves looking toward a possible short bowl trip to Kohler for the Toilet Bowl. Because Minnesota beat Purdue and Wisconsin lost, the Northwestern victory over Iowa gives the Wildcats an unassailable lead in the West Division of the Big Ten. Northwestern will play the winner of the Ohio State vs. Michigan game for the Big Ten Championship. The Badgers will be eating cheese.
Penn State’s performance was rewarded by elevation to #16 in the AP poll. Northwestern entered the poll this week at #24. There are four Big Ten teams in the Top 25, including Michigan (#4), Ohio State (#9), PSU, and Northwestern. College Football Playoff Committee ranking will be revealed on Tuesday.
I’ll be back during the week with a look toward Piscataway for an overview of the clash with the mighty Scarlet Knights, one of our forced rivals in the Big Ten.