Wisconsin vs. Penn State: How Badgers Will Spoil Penn State's Senior Day

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Wisconsin vs. Penn State: How Badgers Will Spoil Penn State's Senior Day
Mary Langenfeld-US PRESSWIRE

Penn State's Senior Day should be one of the more memorable celebrations in recent memory when the Nittany Lions host the Wisconsin Badgers Saturday afternoon.

Considering the disaster that began unraveling over a calendar year ago, Penn State players were allowed to transfer without sitting out a season, which led to star running back Silas Redd, among others, bolting for other schools.

Then there are the players who stuck with Penn State through thick and thin—including seniors such as Gerald Hodges, Matt McGloin and Mike Mauti

Those players will undoubtedly hear a roar similar to that of their team's nickname from the Penn State faithful as they are honored on Senior Day.  

But here's the thing—Wisconsin couldn't care less.

The Badgers are fresh off their own Senior Day sorrow, spoiled by the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes, and they aren't in the mood for a feel-good story at the moment.

Both teams stand at 7-4 on the season, and if an ex-Penn State assistant coach hadn't committed such heinous acts throughout his time in Happy Valley, this game would be for the Big Ten Leaders Division title.

Alas, the Nittany Lions are still looking to send their dedicated seniors off on a high note, and the Badgers are looking to play spoiler for the second week in a row.

Those who would expect Wisconsin to rest its players in the regular season finale couldn't be further from the truth, and associate head coach Charlie Partridge confirmed the Badgers wouldn't be taking the Penn State game lightly when asked how his players would react to the staff resting key players (via Jeff Potrykus of jsonline.com):

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I think No. 1 they would be in shock. No. 2 they would want nothing to do with it, and I think we would have some problems. That is just not the makeup of our guys. How do you preach '1-0' and then do something like that? It doesn't fit into our makeup. You have to live by your belief.

The Badgers are coming off yet another brutal defeat, but this Wisconsin team has shown resiliency. This season, the Badgers are 3-0 in games following a loss, which shows how hungry this team is to get back in the win column after tasting the bitterness of defeat.

With the way Wisconsin has lost this season—blowing a double-digit lead to Nebraska and losing in overtime to Michigan State and Ohio State at home—this team could have easily packed it up.

A lot of credit has to go to the coaching staff for keeping their team motivated, and to the players for staving off a mental breakdown. 

That strong mentality will be on full display Saturday afternoon against Penn State from a team that hasn't trailed by more than three points at the end of regulation all season long.

A significant reason for staying within striking distance of its opponent at all times has been Wisconsin's defense, a unit that ranks No. 11 in total defense in the FBS. Penn State ranks No. 30 in the same category.

Besides statistics, a fair way to compare Wisconsin and Penn State is through common games. 

Both teams hosted the Buckeyes and played at Nebraska this season. Against Ohio State and Nebraska, the Badgers pushed their opponents to the brink, losing in overtime and by three points, respectively. 

Mike McGinnis/Getty Images
Despite Chris Borland's absence, Wisconsin shut down the Buckeye offense.

 

Ohio State managed to handle the Lions with relative ease, and Penn State was not the beneficiary of a close call against Nebraska, losing by nine as a result.

While Wisconsin holds the slight edge here, it's hard to separate these two teams. One can pass the ball well, and the other can run the ball well, but one team is better at stopping the run and the pass, and that team is the Badgers.

It will come down to is how effective Wisconsin is at running the football, and how well it can slow the aerial assault of Matt McGloin, one of the most efficient passers in the Big Ten.

Here is why stopping McGloin won't be an issue for the Badger defense.

Wisconsin has already faced two of the top three quarterbacks in the Big Ten as far as passer rating is concerned, and both are dual-threat quarterbacks—Braxton Miller and Taylor Martinez.

Forced to account for both signal callers' abilities to take off running, the Badgers have done a great job of limiting both Miller and Martinez through the air. Martinez completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 181 yards while Miller only completed 55.6 percent for 97 yards.

McGloin is a pocket passer who prefers to stay put, so Wisconsin can focus on dropping back in coverage and rushing four a majority of the game.

The other key will be the ground game, and with Montee Ball hungry to set the NCAA career touchdown record, you can bet he will be running with a purpose against the Nittany Lions.

Matthew Holst/Getty Images
Matt McGloin has put together a solid senior season.

We saw what Ball could do against a quality rush defense last week, rushing for 191 yards and a score. That same passion should be on display on Saturday, especially with such a prestigious record on the line.

And if anyone still had questions about Badgers quarterback Curt Phillips, they were answered when he out-performed a (former) Heisman Trophy candidate last week. Phillips was effective throwing the football, especially on the Badgers' game-tying drive in the fourth quarter.

Even with a loss against Ohio State, Wisconsin is starting to put the pieces together with a new quarterback under center, and a win against Penn State means the Badgers enter the B1G Championship Game with momentum.

Wisconsin's much-improved run game, defense and quarterback play compared to the beginning of the season will be enough to spoil Penn State's Senior Day. 

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