Can you believe the regular season is over in only three days? I know it only feels like yesterday where the Badgers were going to take on UMass and the era of good feelings jumped off, and it's been over a year since the frustration the Badgers felt going into Happy Valley and having the offense implode for most of the final three quarters.
Now? The Badgers are looking to get that last win to get themselves to ten and a potential BCS game, and who would stand in their way? No one but the Nittany Lions.
And they do have a very special talent that the Badgers have to contain. A part of the reason why Christian Hackenberg didn't look completely lost this year is because he has Allen Robinson. The 6'3 receiver is somehow not a Biletnikoff finalist, which is somewhat surprising because he's among the national leaders in receptions and yards. And the value he's provided Penn State? He's caught a little over 42 percent of all their completions and roughly half of Penn State receiving yards.
To say Hackenberg leans on him heavily is an understatement. Brandon Felder, Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Geno Lewis run 2 through 5 in terms of the Nittany Lions receptions. Combined, they don't surpass Allen Robinson's 89 receptions. As such, expect Sojourn Shelton and a safety to attempt to take away Robinson. Easier said than done, obviously. But the were able to quiet a receiver like Cody Williams. So it can be done.
The interesting thing though is that the Badgers will prove to be a sort of end boss for Christian Hackenberg's progress. They didn't face Michigan State, so it's clear that the Badgers are the best passing defense by some distance. Hackenberg isn't the most mobile of quarterbacks either, despite his 4 touchdowns on the ground. You could see a few of the voluminous array of blitzes Dave Aranda has buried somewhere in that playbook of his. Penn State currently sits 105th in terms of converting third downs, so you know if they can get pressure? They're going to make good things happen.
Against the run? Penn State's been slightly below average (74th on a per play basis). They have two running backs of a solid vintage. Zach Zwinak's the 240-pound thumper, Bill Belton was recruited as a receiver and has a raw talent as a running back. Though the issue of fumbles lost, and Penn State is in a tie for 112th in that statistic, is a problem that needs work for next year. Also. their offensive line has a tendency to struggle against good run defenses. Ohio State held them down. Michigan held them down. Syracuse is a top 30 run defense both per game and per play. They held the run game down.
The Badgers front three should be able to hold the line and allow the Chris Borland's and Michael Caputo's of the world to make plays close to the line. Brendan Kelly is playing into being drafted with how his November's going (15 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and a forced fumble). I expect him to also cause trouble for Penn State's offense. I mean, it's Senior day. Brendan Kelly doesn't need much to get hyped.
As defense goes? Penn State's better than their scoring average. They're slightly below average allowing 26.4 points per game, but they're tied for 45th in terms of yards per play. And they have shown themselves to be a decent run defense, ranked as a tie for 39th per play. Glenn Carson and Mike Hull have done nothing to tarnish the tradition of Linebacker U, though it is another game where the Nittany Lions have to step up in weight class. Last time they faced a running game as good as Wisconsin's?
They lost 63-14.
Not to say the Badgers are going to break their season high. Far from it. It's only to say that Penn State dominated the teams when they were supposed to, but they have had some issues when they have stepped up. No one denies Melvin Gordon and James White will cause a challenge.
Throwing wise? You can expect more of the same. Joel Stave will be decent. Jacob Pedersen will make plays. Jared Abbrederis will get an opportunity to go over the top. James White will get three catches. There may be an interception. I'm not mailing in this paragraph, but I don't see Penn State shutting the Badgers down or the Badgers going above and beyond what they usually do.
Because the fact of the matter is that Vegas has the Badgers installed as a 24 point favorite. And on paper, the Badgers are a better team because they don't lose fumble, they defend better, they'll likely win the turnover battle (Badgers are a net 11 turnovers better in terms of margin), and for the first time in a while it seems like the Badgers aren't giving anything up on special teams.
Obviously this game isn't going to be played on paper and Bill O'Brien is a great coach who aims to play spoiler. But Penn State hasn't shown the gear that would get them past the Badgers.