Penn State 16, Wisconsin 10
Like chicken soup, I don’t know whether this game portends well for the season, but it couldn’t hoit. After a scoreless first-half puntfest in which the Badgers dominated “increasingly irrelevant time of possession” (IITOP), the Nittany Lions wound up winning.
Wisconsin fans are now officially calling for quarterback Graham Mertz’s head after he committed three game-changing turnovers, including two INTs in the closing moments. The Badgers had two excellent chances to win this one late, but their offensive screwups, coupled with Penn State’s staunch red zone defense, slammed the door shut.
Was it just Mertz’s opening night jitters? Whatever the case, the Badgers dominated the stats, but Penn State put up the numbers where they count — on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, Mertz had a horrendous day, winding it up with a QBR of 18.5. How LOW can you GO?
Gotta Have Explosive Plays
In the QB battle, though, Sean Clifford wasn’t exactly Joe Montana. His big redemption was finally hitting Jahan Dotson for a 49-yard TD early in the third quarter. Some of his other throws were wayyyyyyyy off the mark. However, it looks like the Franklin Era “we gotta have explosive plays” doctrine is in full effect. That and defense are what won this game for the Lions.
What certainly came close to losing it for them was their chosen all-purpose kicker, Jordan Stout. Jordo has a lot of distance in his leg, as exemplified by his typically unreturnable kickoffs and his long punt of the day being 76 yards. However, his short game is like mine used to be on the golf course: he missed a couple of easy chip shots, including an extra point. What happened to the more accurate Jake Pinegar? I’m told he is still on the team.
Wisconsin’s staunch defense was predictable, which is why “we gotta have explosive plays”. Running up the gut proved to be nothing but frustrations for the Lions, who “amassed” a putrid 50 yards rushing all day long. The passing game was a better bet against the Badgers’ D, with Dotson beating the coverage consistently — if only Clifford could have hit him when he did. Clifford wound up 18-33 for 247 yards and a TD, still a credible effort. Dotson had five catches for 102 yards and a TD. Clifford only hit four different receivers all day, and one of them was Noah Cain coming out of the backfield.
Special Teams Giveth, Special Teams Taketh Away
Jordan Stout owed a debt of gratitude to Jaquan Brisker for his interception of Mertz on fourth-and-goal from the PSU 8 with a couple minutes left in the game. Although they had sucked from scoring position all day, my heart had sunk, believing that the Badgers would surely score in this situation. Big-time college football kickers don’t flub extra points, so I saw a 17-16 loss and a disgraced Jordan Stout on the near horizon. I felt relieved when Brisker snagged that INT.
However, my euphoria was short-lived. The damn game wasn’t over yet. Once again, Penn State couldn’t move the ball, so they wound up punting the ball back to the guys in red. It was like deja vu all over again as the Jerry Sandusky prevent defense bent but fortunately did not break. In fact, it was Mertz’s suckage that ended the game on a sour note for Wisconsin fans, tossing the ball to our own Ji’Ayir Brown with no time on the clock. It was a horrible throw, but the safeties did well today.
For having to be on the field continuously, the Penn State defense was tired but solid. They need to improve. Wisconsin had 174 yards on the ground, which we all would have predicted if asked.
How Irrelevant is TOP?
Is TOP increasingly irrelevant? As I mentioned, the Nittany Lions’ defense was on the field a lonnnnnnnng time, given that the Badgers held the ball for 43 minutes. They managed to keep it together for this game, but as the season wears on, the defense will wear out at this rate. Penn State was able to convert only three of thirteen third downs and no fourth downs. Do we need “explosive” plays? You betcha! Did it take a gift from either God or Graham Mertz to win this one? Yowzah! Can we keep on winning with this imbalance in TOP? Methinks not. Fix it, Yurcich!
I imagine that the Sanguinarians will now think a playoff berth is inevitable. But it’s a lonnnnng season.
(I’ll be back during the week with a prediction of the big showdown with Ball State. I’m not sure, but does their team logo cardinal have teeth, like Louisville’s? Who the hell ever heard of a bird with teeth? But I digress…)