Welcome to the FOS Game Week Blitz for Penn State's final matchup of the season against the Wisconsin Badgers.
The Blitz was one of the most popular features at the old PSU Playbook, the grass-roots site which was a big part of the entities that united to create FightOnState.com back in 2004. Though the name of the site changed, we kept right on blitzing.
The idea behind The Blitz? Former Playbook scribes (and current FOS staffers) Mark Harrington and Nirav Dalal provide a fans' eye breakdown of the upcoming game. They discuss and debate pertinent issues, matchups and injuries, and — of course — provide their predictions. They also take an overview of the entire weekend in college football.
Like a pair of (undersized and very slow) outside linebackers, they pin back their ears and get after it. Sometimes they come through with big hits, other times they miss. But they always enjoy themselves.
As an aside, in keeping up with the times, we are converting The Blitz from a pdf format to an online story.
ND: After a big win against Indiana, the talk of the town was the loss. The loss of Michael Mauti tears at the heart of every fan of this team and this university. The Lions now will try to honor him and the rest of the senior class that has meant so much to everyone. The final matchup is against the Wisconsin Badgers, who will be representing the Leaders in the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis. The Badgers are coming off of a heartbreaking overtime loss to Ohio State.
MH: Yeah, you can’t help but feel devastated for Mauti. The guy has so much heart (and talent) and has faced so much adversity, he’s a true legend. And now Penn State turns to Senior Day to honor these men who have helped escort PSu through its darkest period. Wisconsin is a tough closeout and by default is going to Indianapolis. The question is can PSU send them on their way with a parting loss.
Who: Wisconsin at Penn State
When: Saturday, November 24, 2012, 3:30 pm ET, 12:30 pm PT
Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania
Series: Wisconsin leads 9-6
Line: Penn State favored by 2 ½ points
OTHER BIG GAMES
ND: With the Wolverines under new leadership, the Michigan and Ohio State game will once again be a great rivalry. But, the Wolverines have lost 5 straight games in Columbus. Michigan needs Iowa to beat Nebraska to get a spot in the Big Ten title game. Otherwise, they are playing purely for the rivalry. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are trying to complete their perfect season despite being banned from post-season play. Devin Gardner has played exceptionally well in place of often-injured Denard Robinson. But, Denard is healthy and now able to play so it’ll be interesting to see who head coach Brady Hoke turns to. I like the ability of whichever Michigan QB gets the nod to out run and out throw the Buckeyes to win two games in a row.
MH: That should be a fun one to watch. Keep an eye on a few in-state rivalries as No. 5 Oregon goes to No. 15 Oregon State and No. 4 Florida visits No. 10 Florida State. The ducks are coming off a devastating loss to Stanford. But they have no luxury to overlook the Beavers who have two losses by seven total points. The Beavers have not won this game in five years and are looking to reclaim the top spot in the state of Oregon. Florida has a single loss as does FSU. With Miami still in the doldrums this game is for Sunshine State supremacy.
ND: Welcome to the Big Ten, Rutgers. The Knights are ranked 18th in the country and are trying to get a spot in the BCS as the Big East representative. But, the Knights first have to get by Pitt. The Panthers have not been very good this season but they do have a knack of scoring points while the Knights have grinded their way to low-scoring victories. I like the Panthers to win in this game and give Rutgers a nice going away present.
MH: My upset special panned out last week as UCLA knocked off USC. Well, I am sticking with the No. 17 Bruins against No. 8 Stanford. It’ll be a tough one, but the Bruins are at home in the Rose Bowl and have a shot to make this a pretty special season, at least relative to what they’ve seen in recent years.
ND: Allen Robinson and Matt McGloin teamed up for three scores and several highlights this past weekend during an all-out aerial assault of the Hoosiers. This weekend, the Lions will again have to rely on the passing game of the Lions in order to keep the chains moving this weekend. The Badgers are strong against the run so McGloin will have to distribute the ball very well and make good decisions. Zach Zwinack has really emerged as the go-to back on every down but I would like to see Bill Belton get more carries than Michael Zordich. Zordich has done well in spots but the explosiveness and quick cuts of Bill Belton are precisely what the team will need in this game as an alternative to the bruising attack of Zach Zwinack.
In either case, the offensive line needs to come up with their best game of the season. The Badgers are very strong in their front seven and the boys up front have to give McGloin time to make his reads and deliver the football while in the pocket.
Defensively, the Lions have a significant challenge trying to stop the Badgers. Wisconsin brings a big offensive line and a powerful running game with Doak Walker finalist, Montee Ball. The Buckeyes stacked the box last weekend and I imagine that the Lions will do the same. Mike Hull will take Michael Mauti’s spot in the lineup but it will take a tremendous push by the defensive line and all three linebackers to try to contain Montee Ball. I look for Coordinator Ted Roof to creep a safety up towards the line of scrimmage to assist as well. The ability to stop the run is going to be huge for the Lions. I expect Wisconsin to keep running until the Lions stop them so the Lions need to get that stop quickly.
MH: You absolutely right Nirav. This is the type of game Bill O’Brien relishes – go to the air early and often. McGloin cannot rely only on Robinson, since I suspect we’ll see some tight coverage on him. However, with the targets he has around him a few well-placed delivers should open up things for the sophomore wideout.
O’Brien cannot abandon the run though. Wisconsin has a tough defense, but Penn State’s ground game has shown it is effective enough to grind out yards to keep the wolves…er…badgers at bay. He key is for Zwinak to get a handle on the ball. He’s rolled up big yards, but his recent bout of fumbling has raised a lot of concerns. He prides himself on going old school without the gloves, but he may want to give them a try.
Defensively, I do expect Penn State to stuff it inside to try to trip up Ball. That will take a coordinated effort given Ball’s effectiveness hitting inside lanes. The defensive staff has to be careful though because Ball drawing in secondary support is just what UW looks for to go up top for a big gain. They have disguise their looks and get a good read on what Wisconsin is looking to do with their run game.
SCOUTING THE OTHER SIDE
ND: After a rocky start, the Badgers quickly hit their stride and people have started to take notice of the team from Madison. But, upon closer examination, you would see that the Badgers have only beaten one team all season that has a winning record at this point in the year and that was Minnesota. Obviously, the Badgers are known for their ability to run the ball and with reason. Montee Ball only needs one more rushing TD to become the all-time TD scorer in FBS history. But, don’t sleep on James White. The Badgers like to flash him through the back-field on a fly-sweep look and will even use White in the Wildcat. Both backs are not overly tall but are both fast and physical. The Badger offensive line may be without behemoth right tackle, Robbie Havenstein. Havenstein has a sprained knee that was sustained during the Ohio State game.
The Badgers have fifth-year senior Curt Phillips at QB but this will be only his 3rd start in his career. Phillips was very pedestrian in his start last week. The Badgers didn’t ask him to throw the ball downfield but he was able to get the ball to both their star WR, who is a former walk-on, Jared Abbrederis, and TE Jacob Pedersen. Pedersen has had a great hauling in 24 catches for 330 yards and four TDs. At 6-4 and 242 pounds, he is a matchup problem for the Lions especially since everyone will be keying on Ball and White.
The Badgers have played very well defensively all season and are either at the top or near the top in every major statistical category. Again, they only faced four teams all season that have a winning record so one has to take that with a grain of salt. What is known is that stud linebacker, Chris Borland is still injured and is most likely going to sit out this week again. Mike Taylor, who leads the team in tackles, is the remaining linebacker that will cover the entire field. David Gilbert is an undersized speed rusher off the edge. He, along with Beau Allen, are the two top defensive lineman on this squad.
MH: Nirav, the low stature of the backs Wisconsin uses should be of concern to the PSU defensive front. They are shifty and can dart in and out of their linemen before defenders can find them in the crowd. This is why having impressive linebacker play is important to tripping up the run game. I would really keep an eye on Pedersen. As you said they are not going to air it out all that often, but Pedersen’s big frame gives him a nice play-action target to hit, which can create a mis-match in the flat.
McGlojn has to account for Taylor. He shifts a lot and will use him to create pocket pressure. McGloin has to play smart and be prepared to hit his check-down if things breakdown. The offensive line has to manage the snap surge of Wisconsin’s front. They will through out opportunistic blitz packages to play a risk. The key is getting blocking from the backfield and being able to find the intermediate targets quickly to exploit the gamble.
MATCHUP TO KICK BACK AND ENJOY
ND: Most people would quickly point to the matchup between Penn State’s front seven and Wisconsin’s offensive line as the matchup to watch. But, I believe that Penn State’s ability to stay in this game is going to come down to how well McGloin can move the ball. So, I am excited to see how McGloin performs against the Badger secondary. The outcome of that matchup, in my mind, will drive the outcome of the game.
MH: I am going with a similar look, but focused on PSU’s offensive line and their ability to open up lanes and protect McGloin against the Wisconsin front. If McGloin plays smart and is given some time Penn State should be able to keep Wisconsin on their heels to assemble some early drives.
KEYS TO THE GAME
ND: Between turnovers, bad penalties or errors in special teams, the Lions have to play a focused, efficient game in this one. They cannot leave points on the field and they must play smart throughout the game and minimize errors.
MH: Exactly. They need to protect the ball and minimize the penalties and mental errors. If they hand Wisconsin opportunities the Badgers will exploit them. Keeping their collective heads will be huge to PSU’s success in this one.
ND: I think the Lions will struggle to contain the Badger running game but the inability of Curt Phillips to move and throw will prevent the score from getting out of hand. I like McGloin to throw for a ton of yards and the Lions to pull off a key win at home in front of a small but vocal crowd.
Penn State 31, Wisconsin 27
MH: No doubt a challenging game to close out a tough season, but the emotion of Senior Day should lift up the squad.
Penn State 28, Wisconsin 24
Penn State, Wisconsin
Until next time,
Fight On State!