football Edit

How Penn State's pass rush dominated an out-of-rhythm Wisconsin offense

It took four drives for Penn State to get a methodical Wisconsin offense off schedule.

Facing third-and-medium for the first time in the game, Jack Coan, starting in place the injured Alex Hornibrook, got his first look at what would become a familiar sight over the next 40-plus minutes.

Shareef Miller barrelled through a hole in the Wisconsin offensive line and drove Coan into the ground, and the quarterback never looked comfortable from that point on.

“There was pressure in his face the whole game,” defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos said with a smirk. “We played really well.”

Shareef Miller had two sacks against Wisconsin.
Shareef Miller had two sacks against Wisconsin.

It didn’t matter that the Nittany Lions were matched up against a Wisconsin offensive line laden with NFL prospects, one that had allowed only 13 sacks all season coming into the game.

Once the Badgers offense was forced to play the game on Penn State’s terms, the Nittany Lions had won the battle.

The Badgers converted on third down just four times Saturday, moving the chains only once when they faced distances of 3 yards or more.

Miller said he saw on film that Wisconsin would be especially vulnerable to Penn State’s pass rush if the Nittany Lions could force the Badgers out of their offensive rhythm. He was proven right to the tune of five Penn State sacks, including three on third down.

“I think it was a thing that we addressed in the meeting,” Gross-Matos said. “They’re a great run team, one of the best in the country and that’s what they’re comfortable doing. You get them in situations that they’re not in a lot, I don’t think they were as prepared.”

Gross-Matos recovered one fumble and forced another with a sack, his fifth-straight game with at least a share of a sack. Miller and Robert Windsor each got to Coan twice.

After hearing about how good the Wisconsin offensive line was all week, Miller said the Nittany Lions came out with something to prove.

“We wanted to make a big statement, just knowing that they kept talking about the offensive line the whole week,” Miller said.

But before Penn State’s defensive line could make that statement, it needed to force the Badgers away from the running game that had proven dominant for them over the course of the season.

Running back Jonathan Taylor came into the game with 1363 yards on the ground through nine games, and after he ripped off a 71-yard touchdown drive on Wisconsin’s first drive of the day, Taylor looked like he might push Wisconsin to victory as stars often do.

And he remained arguably the most productive player on the field, averaging 6 yards per carry even if you take the 71-yard touchdown run out of the equation. But the Nittany Lions held Taylor in check just enough to ensure he couldn’t carry the Badgers’ offense by himself.

Windsor was quick to credit the Penn State offense for that. The Nittany Lions put up 16 points in the first half to jump out to a 16-7 halftime lead.

It forced the Badgers to abandon their run-first tendencies in the second half. And from there, the Penn State defensive line went to work.

“It really made it easier on the secondary,” safety Jonathan Sutherland said. “Pressuring the the quarterback and everything, making him uncomfortable to throw. They did a really good job.”