Despite the fact that Wisconsin is ranked 19th and has a 2-1 record in the Big Ten, the Badgers are still the underdogs as they head into Happy Valley for what should be a very competitive Big Ten matchup.
Although there have been some off-field incidents in State College, PA this week—causing some minor players to miss playing time—I think I'll do everyone a favor and focus on what will happen on the field this Saturday.
PSU Run Offense vs. Wisconsin Run Defense
It looks like former uber-recruit Austin Scott won't play another down for Penn State, but that doesn't mean the Lions will miss a beat.
That's because senior Rodney Kinlaw and freshman Evan "Rolls" Royster combined for well over five yards-per-carry against Iowa last week. Although Penn State's runners were less effective against Michigan and Illinois, Wisconsin's run defense was generous against MSU and Illinois.
The good news for the Badgers: They did much better against Iowa's running game, which is more comparable in style to Penn State's.
PSU Pass Offense v. Wisconsin Pass Defense
This is where Penn State can really hurt Wisconsin.
The Badgers gave up big numbers to MSU through the air (9.0 yards per attempt), and the Citadel's Duran Lawson gained 7.3 YPA. That's the same average he had against Citadel's I-AA opponents.
Even Juice Williams, whose season YPA is 5.07, threw for 6.4 YPA when the Badgers visited Champagne.
It looks like Anthony Morelli and his 7.1 season YPA could have a big game.
Morelli, who has been under much scrutiny thanks to his lack of production against Michigan and Illinois, bounced back with some good deep throws against Iowa. His YPA for the last two games has been above his season average, but he threw five picks between those two games.
If Morelli can stay away from the turnovers against the Badgers, he should find enough big play opportunities to win one for Old State.
Wisconsin Run Offense v. PSU Run Defense
P.J. Hill has been a workhorse for Wisconsin, but his performances in Big Ten games hasn't been outstanding. Most noticeable is his 3.9 yards per carry against an Iowa team that couldn't slow down Rodney Kinlaw and Evan Royster.
Although PSU's run defense struggled against Illinois, that team can run on everybody.
More significant in this matchup was the ability of the Lions to hold Mike Hart to 3.5 YPC. I know P.J. Hill is tough, but they don't call it "Linebacker U" for nothing.
After a terrible game in the win against Iowa, Wisconsin's Tyler Donovan produced against MSU and Iowa.
Despite two INTs in each game, he played very well, with YPA of 10.3 vs. MSU and 8.0 vs. Illinois.
This is alarming for PSU, because they haven't played against a QB this good. Both Michigan and Illinois ran the ball a heavy majority of the time, and Iowa's Jake Christensen hasn't looked good against the better defenses he's faced.
Travis Beckum has been T.D.'s favorite target, with 41 catches for 485 yards.
Luke Swan is second on the team with 25 catches—and almost as many yards as Beckum!—but word is he will not be playing against Penn State.
Kyle Jefferson and/or Garret Graham will have to step up in the No. 2 WR role.
This game is going to come down to Penn State's pass rush against Tyler Donovan and Wisconsin's receivers.
PSU is comfortable blitzing with LB's Dan Connor and Sean Lee, but they can also drop them back and let the line apply pressure.
However, as I said before, T.D. is the first really good QB the Lions have faced this year. I don't see P.J. Hill being effective enough to pick up first downs all by himself. Donovan will need to make plays on third downs.
On the other side of the ball, I'm really intrigued by PSU's new Kinlaw/Royster combo. They looked great against Iowa.
Although Morelli has a few good wideouts to throw to, he's become more dependent on the running game to set up play-action. I think Penn State's offense would be more successful with less four-WR sets and more I-Formation to sell the play fakes.
This is a tough one to pick because we really don't know how PSU's defense will handle Donovan. However, evidence from last year suggests that Penn State can contain some of the Big Ten's best QBs.
There's some reason to believe that Morelli will have success in the air like he did against Iowa last week.
If his aim is true (and that's a big "IF"), there's no reason the Lions shouldn't win by a touchdown.