Wisconsin football schedule: Getting to know Penn State

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin takes the field for the regular-season finale Saturday vs. Penn State.

The Wisconsin Badgers will take the Camp Randall Stadium field for the final time in 2013 Saturday as they take on the Penn State Nittany Lions on Senior Day. The Badgers are 7-1 in their last eight senior days, but they'll have to be at their best in order to avoid a loss to the Nittany Lions in the final week of the season -- as was the case in 2012.

Penn State (6-5, 3-4 Big Ten) will come into Camp Randall looking for its first road win of the season, and in order for the Badgers to prevent such an event from occurring, here are a few things Wisconsin should know about Penn State.

Young and fearless

True freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg is not afraid of the spotlight. In his first season of collegiate football, the 6'4 quarterback is second in the Big Ten with 237.8 yards per game and has thrown for 16 touchdowns against 10 interceptions through 10 games. Hackenberg's completion rate is a not-so-impressive 58 percent, but his 362 attempts on the season are the second-highest total in the conference behind only Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase.

In the Nittany Lions' two overtime victories, Hackenberg was the driving force that led them to the left side of the box score. Against Michigan, Hackenberg was 23-of-44 for 305 yards and three touchdowns; in the Illinois victory, he was 20-of-32 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns (one rushing).

Hackenberg and the Penn State offense have no trouble moving the ball up and down the field, as their 430.3 yards per game of offense ranks fifth in the Big Ten. The problem for the Nittany Lions, however, is putting up points as they rank just ninth in the conference in points per game (28.5).

Part of the explanation for Penn State's scoring struggles is its red zone offense. In 46 trips inside the 20-yard line this season, Penn State has turned in just 38 scores (82.6 percent and good for eighth in the Big Ten). 29 of those scores have been touchdowns -- 20 of which have come on the ground -- and the remaining nine were field goals.

Recent series history
Date School Opponent Pts Opp W L T Streak
Nov 24, 2012 Wisconsin @ Penn State L 21 24 9 7 0 L 1
Nov 26, 2011 Wisconsin Penn State W 45 7 9 6 0 W 1
Oct 11, 2008 Wisconsin Penn State L 7 48 8 6 0 L 2
Oct 13, 2007 Wisconsin @ Penn State L 7 38 8 5 0 L 1
Nov 4, 2006 Wisconsin Penn State W 13 3 8 4 0 W 1

The trouble for Penn State has not been the infamous kicking game of Sam Ficken, who has rebounded from a horrendous 2012 to make 14 of his 20 field goals this season. Rather, the problem has been the Nittany Lions' inability to take care of the ball. Penn State has fumbled the ball twice, turned it over on downs twice and thrown one interception inside the 20-yard line this season.

Penn State has a turnover margin of minus-5 (second-worst in the Big Ten, and worse than Purdue) and have lost 12 fumbles on the season (second-worst in the Big Ten, and worse than Purdue).

To add to the Penn State misery, the Nittany Lions are 11th in the conference in third-down conversion percentage at just 34 percent. Don't expect that number to rise Saturday as Wisconsin's defense is third in the country in opponent third-down conversion percentage, allowing foes to pick up first downs just 29.3 percent of the time.

Penn State's passing attack, second in the conference with 251.9 yards per game, will be tested against the third-ranked Wisconsin passing defense, which concedes a mere 179.4 yards per game.

Weapon of choice

Why has Hackenberg been able to have so much success in his first season? The answer is quite simple: Allen Robinson.

The 6'3 wideout is one of, if not the top receivers in the country -- let alone the conference. Robinson is averaging 119.1 yards per game, fifth in the country and first in Big Ten, and he has totaled 1,310 yards on the season, third-highest in the country and again best in the Big Ten. His 8.1 receptions per game also rank No. 1 in the Big Ten.

Through 11 games this season, Robinson has tallied over 100 yards in seven and over 140 yards in four.

On the other side, Wisconsin has allowed an opposing receiver to gain over 100 yards just three times this season and once in Big Ten play (Illinois' Steve Hull had 105 yards). Sojourn Shelton, who has proven time and time again that despite his size he can play against the conference's biggest receivers, would love to get a shot at Robinson to end the season and perhaps defensive coordinator Dave Aranda will give it to him.

Statistics to know:

  • Penn State has allowed 478.25 yards per game in its Big Ten losses (Indiana, Ohio State, Minnesota and Nebraska) this season.
  • Penn State is first in the Big Ten in penalty yards against, yielding just 32.5 yards per game in that category.
  • The last time Penn State went winless on the road throughout an entire season was 2003, when it went 3-9 (0-5 Big Ten) on the road.
  • This matchup features the two Big Ten teams with two of the conference's top-10 rushers. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (125.0 yards per game) and James White (116.5) rank second and third in the conference in rushing yards per game and are also second and third with 12 and 13 touchdowns, respectively. Bill Belton (79.6) and Zach Zwinak (79.5) carry the load for the Nittany Lions with the two receiving about the same number of touches per game with Belton receiving 15.4 and Zwinak getting 17.1. Belton missed last week's game against Nebraska with an illness and his status for this weekend is unknown.
  • Senior linebacker Mike Hull is ninth in the Big Ten in tackles per game with of 7.9.
  • Wisconsin is 9-7 all-time against the Nittany Lions, with Penn State taking three of the last four.

Penn State has struggled on the road this season and its three Big Ten victories to date (overtime victories against Michigan and Illinois, and a victory against Purdue in which the Nittany Lions conceded 21 points) have been less than impressive, to say the least. The Badgers are slowly but surely making their way up the BCS standings and find themselves perhaps one win away from getting a BCS at-large berth. But the Nittany Lions lost last week to Nebraska, 23-20 in overtime, and in Bill O'Brien's two seasons as head coach, Penn State has gone 6-1 in the games following a loss and has an average margin of victory of 19.8 points.

The Badgers open the week as 24-point favorites, and with Jared Abbrederis, Beau Allen, Chris Borland, White and more taking the Camp Randall field for the last time, it's hard to believe they aren't going to leave it all out on the field and leave the Wisconsin faithful smiling when the clock strikes zeroes.

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