Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Wisconsin Badgers: Complete Game Preview

Tim TolleyContributor INovember 27, 2013

Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Wisconsin Badgers: Complete Game Preview

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    Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

    Two teams in two totally different places will face off this Saturday in Madison as the Penn State Nittany Lions hope to close the season with a winning record while the Wisconsin Badgers have BCS bowl aspirations.

    Penn State, 6-5, is coming off of its third overtime game of the season, a 23-20 loss to Nebraska on Senior Day.

    Wisconsin raised their record to 9-2 with a 20-7 win over Minnesota.

    The last time these two teams faced each other, Penn State came away with an overtime victory at Beaver Stadium on an emotional Senior Day featuring helmets decorated with Mike Mauti's No. 42.

    Wisconsin's ground game gets the publicity, averaging nearly 300 yards per game and producing two running backs with over 1,200 yards this year. However, the defense has been stellar, allowing just 13.4 points per game and holding seven of 11 opponents under 10 points.

    Penn State has found its footing in the ground game as well, averaging over 224 yards per game during the last four contests.

    A Wisconsin win would solidify the argument that they deserve BCS consideration while a Penn State win would continue the streak of eight consecutive winning seasons.

     

    Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

    Place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

    TV: ESPN

    Radio: Penn State Network Affiliates

    Spread: Penn State is a 24 point underdog this weekend, the largest spread it has faced this year, according to VegasInsider.com.

Penn State Keys to Victory

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    Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

    Air it out

    While the Nittany Lions have wisely spent the last few weeks establishing the ground game, a conservative, grind it out approach may not be enough to stay with the Badgers offense. Wisconsin has the second best pass defense in the conference, but they did give up over 300 yards to both Arizona State and Illinois. Neither of those teams has the receiving weapons (see: Allen Robinson) that Penn State has.

     

    Get creative on D

    Last year, Ted Roof went to a five-man front on defense and was able to limit Montee Ball to just 111 yards on 27 carries. New defensive coordinator John Butler may want to give that a shot, as well as using some new tricks of his own. The Wisconsin ground game is as potent as ever, and if the defense can't get off the field, it could be a long day for the Nittany Lions.

     

    Take some chances

    Saturday seems like a perfect time to break out a well-timed fake punt or onside kick. It's the last game of the year against a superior foe. Pull out all the stops.

Wisconsin Keys to Victory

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    Stick with the plan

    Melvin Gordon is averaging 8.18 yards per rush. James White is averaging 6.54 on each of his carries. Gordon has 13 rushing touchdowns to White's 12. Make Penn State prove they can stop the Wisconsin ground game before you decide to get creative.

     

    Make Christian Hackenberg throw

    Penn State's only real chance of winning may come through the air. Look for Wisconsin to load the box and make Hack throw in the cold, unfriendly environment.

     

    Don't get cute

    Wisconsin has the ability to wear down a thin Penn State defense by running right at them and letting that massive offensive line lean on the defense all afternoon. No reason to get away from that simple game plan. The Badgers would be smart to stay in their comfort zone on Saturday.

     

     

Penn State Players to Watch

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    Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

    WR Allen Robinson 

    It's been a few weeks since Robinson has made a big play down the field. In what could be his last game as a Nittany Lion, look for him to try just a little bit harder at being the best player on the field.

     

    LB Mike Hull 

    When he's healthy, you get a glimpse of the athleticism Hull has, and it's special. He'll be needed sideline-to-sideline this weekend to contain the Wisconsin running backs. If his knee is truly 100 percent, Hull has the ability to be the next great linebacker at Penn State. He could take a huge step in that direction this week.

     

    RB Bill Belton 

    After missing last week's game, Belton is expected to return at full strength this week. He has way more touches this year than he has had before, and a week off may have been just what he needed. Look for Belton to be a little more explosive this weekend. The offense could use a big play from a running back in this one.

Wisconsin Players to Watch

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    WR Jared Abbrederis

    It seems like Abbrederis has been at Wisconsin for a decade, but this is finally his Senior Day. One of the better receivers in the Big Ten, look for him to find success getting deep against the Nittany Lions safeties. With Adrian Amos' status in jeopardy, Abbrederis could be in for a big day.

     

    LB Chris Borland

    Ranking fifth in the conference in tackles per game, Borland is the epitome of a hard-nosed inside linebacker. It will be fun watching him and Zach Zwinak bang heads on Saturday.

     

    RBs Melvin Gordon and James White

    You really can't say enough about these two guys. Combining for over 2,650 yards and 25 touchdowns, Gordon and White are the Big Ten's second and third leading rushers, behind only Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. They are the Wisconsin offense, and they're damn good at it.

What They Are Saying

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    Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

    "This is a big challenge," Bill O'Brien said of #Wisconsin. "These are two good RBs, guys that have each gained a lot of yards."

    — Audrey Snyder (@audsnyder4) November 26, 2013

     

    "When you play for Penn State, you have a lot to play for. Our kids are motivated. They have a lot of pride." - Coach O'Brien at Damon's.

    Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) November 25, 2013

     

     

    Bill O'Brien: "The last three weeks, our defense has played well." #PSU defense has allowed 30 pts in last 10 Qtrs & 1 OT

    — Jeff Nelson (@GoPSUJeff) November 26, 2013

     

    "This is a big challenge," Bill O'Brien said of #Wisconsin. "These are two good RBs, guys that have each gained a lot of yards."

    — Audrey Snyder (@audsnyder4) November 26, 2013

     

    O'Brien: (Chris Borland) is an excellent player. Very stout guy. He's a tough, tough individual. Can't say enough about him.

    — Richard Scarcella (@nittanyrich) November 25, 2013

     

     

    O'Brien on Wisconsin: "They really believe in what they do, and they don't care what you do." O-line a big part of that.

    — ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) November 26, 2013

     

    OB: "We ran a 3-4 in New England when I was there. And it's very difficult [to play against]."

    — Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) November 26, 2013

     

    Hackenberg on anticipated chilly temps in Madison: "At the end of the day you’ve got to deal with the elements, it’s just part of the game."

    — Audrey Snyder (@audsnyder4) November 26, 2013

     

     

Prediction

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    Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sport

    Penn State faces an uphill battle Saturday against a hard-nosed Wisconsin team that is actually better than its 9-2 record indicates. The Badgers possess the best rushing attack that Penn State has faced this year accompanied by one of the stingiest defenses on the schedule.

    Despite that, I think Penn State matches up with Wisconsin much better than the 24-point spread indicates.

    The Nittany Lions have fared well against teams with straight-ahead rushing strategies. Wisconsin doesn't have a mobile quarterback in Joel Stave, and they aren't all that interested in throwing the ball, which is a positive when you consider the Penn State secondary.

    Depth could become an issue as the Wisconsin offensive line averages around 320 pounds, and Penn State has been prone to wearing down late in games, though not lately.

    On the other side of the ball, Penn State's ground game seems to have found its stride, and it should find some success this weekend, despite Wisconsin's stout defense. 

    Christian Hackenberg, Allen Robinson and the tight ends could be the X-factor in this one as the Nittany Lions are going to have to score some points to win.

    In the end, I'm just not sure the Nittany Lions have the fire power that it's going to take to leave Madison as victors.

    Prediction: Wisconsin 31, Penn State 20

     

    All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com