Better Know An Opponent: Wisconsin

Alright, this is gonna be super-short compared to previous “Better Know An Opponent” segments but I still have a few things to get off my chest.

Last Time Out: Oct 13, 2007 – Homecoming weekend in Happy Valley, PSU capitalized off an early fumble by Wisconsin deep in the Badger’s own territory, scoring a TD and never looking back in a 38-7 romp in which Anthony Morelli’s passes were surprisingly on target and Evan Royster and Rodney Kinlaw ran roughshod over the Badger defense.

Offense: No surprises here: Wisconsin relies heavily on its ground attack with a combination of PJ Hill and freshman John Clay.  They will have their hands full with a PSU defense that seems to be improving and gelling together with each passing week.  Shut down the Badgers’ running game and you’ll force their struggling QB Allan Evridge to put the ball in the air, which seems to be when trouble starts offensively for Wisconsin. Evridge’s play hasn’t exactly earned him a vote of confidence from his head coach Bret Bielema, who has hinted at backup Dustin Sherer seeing some playing time if Evridge continues to struggle tomorrow night.

This isn’t to say Wisconsin lacks any receiving threats though, as TE/WR Travis Beckum could very well emerge with a few clutch grabs to keep PSU’s defense honest and not just solely focused on stopping the run.  This will be absolutely critical for the Badgers offensive gameplan if they want to put an end to their losing skid tomorrow night.

Defense: Much more balanced here.  They feature a solid linebacking corps led by Jaevery McFadden, the D-line as JoePa himself said this week “Will stop your run” and the secondary isn’t too shabby either, ranking 18th in pass efficiency defense and garnering 7 interceptions thus far on the season.

Obviously, a balanced run/pass attack will be critical to keep the Badgers honest.  Throwing on 1st downs and in other least-expected situations (i.e. 2nd and short) could be key to throwing Wisconsin’s defense for a loop which will open up the running game for Evan Royster/Stephfon Green and even Darryl Clark.

Special Teams: Kicker Philip Welch is a solid field goal kicker (9 for 11) but he hasn’t figured out how to get his kicks sailing far enough into the end zone for touchbacks (only one thus far).  David Gilreath can also be a game-changer with regards to field position, averaging 27 yards per kick return so our kick coverage units had better be prepared or they could be in for a rude awakening.

Prediction: The Badgers are a wounded bunch, they are licking their wounds from last week’s dogfight with the Buckeyes that ended for them in heartbreaking fashion.  Top the Buckeye loss with the clusterfuck at Michigan and one has to wonder just how much more the Badgers can take mentally and whether they have enough left in the tank to endure another 4-quarter dogfight with a quality opponent.

Wisconsin will come into the game fired up and ready to prove to America that they’re not going to keel over and die, which has been a major concern for Badgers fans.  The difficult part will be keeping that same intensity going if they fall behind by a couple of scores.

PSU fans have concerns of their own as well..namely whether the offense will finally open up for a big road game.  It’s PSU tradition to play tight and conservative in games like these but like The Nittany Line, I’m feeling more optimistic than usual about the team and feel that the coaches have so much faith in Darryl Clark and the Spread HD that they’ll open things up enough to jump out to an early lead from which they can build upon.

Meanwhile, the defense will continue to hold steady and look like the increasingly cohesive unit they have become in recent weeks.  No doubt, Wisconsin’s offense will get its share of yards and points, but I don’t feel they’ll be able to do it on a consistent enough basis to win.

Penn State 27, Wisconsin 17

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