MADISON — The No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers are one game away from a Big Ten championship and a potential College Football Playoff berth. Standing in their way are the resurgent Penn State Nittany Lions.
Ranked No. 8 in the AP Top 25 and No. 7 in the playoff rankings, the Nittany Lions average almost 37 points per game and gain about 430 yards per contest.
Defensively, Penn State is fourth in the Big Ten in total defense, allowing fewer than 350 yards per game.
“They won eight games in a row and I think there’s a team that’s developing, growing,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said Monday when asked if he’s seen a much-improved Penn State team on film. “You see it. I think they’re playing at a high level, they’re confident. I think in many ways present challenges. Offensively, they’re explosive both in the rushing game and passing game. Defensively, they play a lot of guys and put a lot of pressure on offenses. Special teams, you see their athletic ability. I think they’re playing at a high level—really good football players, obviously very well-coached and playing with confidence.”
Here are the highlights from Chryst’s press conference:
On when he thought the Badgers could be good, and if it was during spring ball like a player noted earlier: “I felt we had some good things going. I think for me, when you go through spring football and fall camp, you’re still going against each other, but yet i think what they’re saying is when it’s good football. Yet I think it’s not until you play against a team, and I also think it’s not until you overcome adversity. That’s what fun about a season is there’s so many things that come your way and how you handle it, how you approach each day. To me, the more they stay consistent in their approach, and the way they competed and played, that’s when I felt like it’s a pretty neat group right here.”
On Sojourn Shelton’s progress over the last two seasons: “I’ve loved and appreciated being around ‘So’ and seeing him continuing to grow. It really didn’t spend time talking with him with what happened before—it’s how you go forward. I think he’s done a great job having a purpose to just getting better. And when you do that, and I think he’s taken coaching last year from Daronte [Jones] and this year from Jimmy [Leonhard] and applying it—you gotta go out and you gotta do it. He’s done that. I’ve loved seeing the development of Sojourn, and have appreciated being around him for two years. It’s been fun.”
On Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley: “Very impressed. I remember talking about him—it was a few weeks back—we were just getting ready for someone else, but you saw him. There’s a guy that loved the way that he competes, plays the position. He does so many things to extend plays. Looks like he’s gaining confidence and going. He’s got weapons around him. I’m really impressed with him.”
If redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook can’t play Saturday, and something happens to Bart Houston, who’s the backup? “We’ll be alright.”
Was there a defining moment for the team this season? “We haven’t been in a reflection mode. You try to just take the day and hit it head on and enjoy it and go forward. I’m sure when we look back, they’ll be some, but for me, the defining part of this group is they’re a group that likes to play football and they care about each other.”
On Houston: “Bart does a great job of being in the moment, and like we were saying, he cares about this team and has confidence in himself. Wants to contribute and believes he can contribute and help. I don’t know, we look at all those things—are we more productive with different combinations or different play calls or whatever those circumstances are? I think that one thing I have enjoyed and appreciated from Bart is I think he is having fun playing the game. When you play the game, you’re understanding situations and you’re trying to do it the right way. I think, no doubt, he’s given us a spark a number of times, and it’s good to see.”
On working to eliminate drops: “I think it all comes down to you want to play good football, and that’s part of it—is catching the football. If you want to give yourself the best chance to be the best team we can be, you’ve got to throw the ball to the right people, you gotta catch the ball, you gotta block, you gotta tackle. If you’re in man-to-man, you’ve got to play the man. All of those things are really important.”
On intercepting passes (21, leading the nation) and what he could pinpoint: “I think it’s always a number of reasons for it. It’s guys finishing the play. They work on it, and they spend a lot of time doing that. I think it’s often times making the quarterback uncomfortable. There’s a pass rush involved. I think the coaches have done a great job of not just practicing and stressing takeaways but kind of the approach to looking for the opportunities and seizing it. Whether it’s playing eyes, or playing situations, but in the end, it comes down to kids finishing, kids making plays. Credit goes to them, and they start believing it and looking or it. It kind of keeps building and building. Each week, you got a clean slate—we don’t have any takeaways yet this week, and as we know, if you can do that, it sure helps your team.”