Highs and Lows: Penn State stifles Wisconsin
PLAYER OF THE GAME:
Matched up against one of the best running backs in college football in Jonathan Taylor, Miles Sanders showed out in his own way. The Nittany Lion running back hurdled a couple defenders on his way to a 159-yard day, finding the end zone once. Sanders also secured his first 1000-yard season as a starter, leading Penn State to a 22-10 win.
PLAY OF THE GAME:
After Wisconsin produced an explosive touchdown run on its first drive of the day, the Nittany Lions needed an answer against a solid Badger defense. Trace McSorley provided it, connecting with DeAndre Thompkins on a 14-yard touchdown in the right corner of the end zone, sparking a bounce-back day for the Penn State offense after it was shut down against Michigan.
Given a clean pocket to work with by his offensive line, McSorley stepped up on third-and-17 to fire a bullet through coverage to Jahan Dotson near the first-down marker. Dotson made a few Badgers miss to grab 13 yards after the catch and pick up the Nittany Lions’ biggest play of the first half.
The conditions Saturday weren’t conducive to explosive plays through the air, so Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor made one happen on the ground. On the Badgers’ third offensive play from scrimmage, Taylor took a handoff up the middle 71 yards to the end zone, bursting through the Penn State front seven and outrunning the Nittany Lions’ defensive backs for the score.
The Nittany Lions' wideouts didn't do anything spectacular against the Badgers, but they handled the elements well, limiting the drops as Penn State chose not to dial back its passing game on a cold day at Beaver Stadium.
The first victim of the conditions was Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan, making his second career start. He couldn’t handle the snap from center Tyler Biadasz, and Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos fell on the football to generate a turnover for the Nittany Lions.
It took a little more than a quarter for the Penn State defense to force the Badgers into an obvious passing situation on third down. Once that happened, the Nittany Lions made the opportunity count. Shareef Miller made an inside move from his position on the left end and had a free run at the quarterback, bringing him down to force a punt.
There was a small hole for Wisconsin’s Danny Davis to work with early in the third quarter. Micah Parsons closed it. The true freshman linebacker met Davis with speed at the line of scrimmage and drove him back with a powerful blow, holding the Badgers for no gain on the play.
There wasn’t much real estate available when Sanders took a handoff late in the first quarter, but he created some of his own. The Penn State running back went airborne over a Wisconsin defender to make something out of nothing and collect 6 yards on the ground.
Penn State kicker Jake Pinegar made the most impressive kick of his young career in the first quarter, booting a 49-yard kick through the uprights despite kicking into a gusty wind. The kick tied his career long and gave the Nittany Lions a 10-7 lead.
Pineger followed up the best effort of his career with arguably his worst. He pushed an extra point attempt wide right after Penn State scored its second touchdown of the game, keeping the Nittany Lions’ lead at 16-7.
With the Badgers facing fourth-and-20 at the end of the game, Nick Scott sealed the game with an interception at the goal line, jumping in front of Coan's final pass of the day and alertly hitting the ground once he had the ball secured.
Penn State’s special teams didn’t make any big plays in the return game, but the Nittany Lions did get creative with their punt team to pick up a crucial first down in at the start of the second half. Johnathan Thomas took a direct snap on fourth-and-1 and plunged into the line, earning just enough yardage to keep the drive going.
It would have been easy for James Franklin to punt the ball away early in the first quarter, with a freshman kicker facing a 49-yard attempt on a cold day. But Franklin elected to show faith in Pinegar, and he was rewarded for it as he drilled the kick.
With the game seemingly in-hand late in the fourth quarter, Penn State went to its ‘Lion’ package, and disaster struck. The ball was snapped with Sanders still in motion, interfering with Tommy Stevens’ ability to catch the snap. The Badgers recovered to give themselves new life.
MOST TELLING MOMENT:
After leaving the game the game injured for the second time in three weeks, McSorley once again came out of the tunnel at halftime and took the reins of the Penn State offense, and proved effective from the start, leading the Nittany Lions down the field for a field goal.