For the second time in 2016, the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers take a trip to the state of Indiana this weekend. This time, stakes are a bit higher as they take on the No. 8 Penn State Nittany Lions with the Big Ten championship on the line. The Badgers, who are playing in the championship game for the fourth time in its six-year history, are looking for their first conference championship since 2012. The Nittany Lions are making their first appearance in Indy and last won a conference title in 2008. Saturday’s game has larger ramifications than just a conference title, though—a win keeps College Football Playoff hopes alive for one program.
Despite being conference rivals, the series history between Wisconsin and Penn State is relatively short: Saturday marks the 18th meeting between them. Despite trailing the all-time series by one game, Penn State has played spoiler in the last two matchups. In 2012, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball set the all-time NCAA touchdown record but Penn State prevailed 24-21 in overtime. The following season, Penn State ruined Wisconsin’s chance at a BCS bowl as it pulled a 31-24 upset at Camp Randall Stadium.
Head coach James Franklin leads Penn State and he’s had a rollercoaster third season at the school. Four games into the 2016 season, the team had amassed a 2-2 record and was coming off a 49-10 blowout loss to Michigan. Two months later, Franklin has been named the Big Ten Dave McClain Coach of the Year while leading his team to eight straight wins and a trip to Indy.
When and where is the game?
Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will host the game on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 7:17 p.m. CST.
How can I watch?
FOX will broadcast the game to a national audience, with the always-electric Gus Johnson on the call. He’ll be joined in the booth by Joel Klatt, while Shannon Spake will work from the sidelines.
How can I stream the game online?
How can I listen to it on the radio?
Nationally, Compass Media will broadcast the game. Gregg Daniels and Dale Hellestrae will bring the action. You can find the national broadcast through a Compass affiliate or via Sirius 81 / XM 81.
Locally, you can listen on the Badgers Sports Network, where you’ll find the usual of team of Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas, Mark Tauscher and Patrick Herb. On satellite radio, you’ll find the broadcast on Sirius 93 / XM 196. Otherwise, head to BadgerSportsNetwork.com to find it. You can also listen on iHeartRadio (iOS/Android/online) by searching WIBA.
What can I expect to see?
Wisconsin (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten; Depth Chart)
Last week: 31-17 win vs. Minnesota
Polls: No. 6 in College Football Playoff rankings (last week: No. 6); No. 6 in AP Top 25 (last week: No. 5); No. 5 in Amway Coaches Poll (last week: No. 6)
Head coach: Paul Chryst, second season at Wisconsin (20-5)
Penn State (10-2, 8-1 Big Ten; Depth Chart)
Last week: 45-12 win vs. Michigan State
Polls: No. 7 in CFP (last week: No. 7), No. 8 in AP (last week: No. 8), No. 8 in Coaches (last week: No. 8)
Head coach: James Franklin, third season at Penn State (24-14)
When Penn State has the ball:
|Penn State Offensive Rankings|
|Per Game||Big Ten||NCAA|
The Penn State offense is a big-play, spread offense led mainly by the two-headed monster of Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley. McSorley is a junior quarterback who has had an impressive 2016 campaign under first-year offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. McSorley ranks third in the Big Ten in passing yards per game and first in FBS in pass efficiency. His playmaking ability doesn’t stop with his arm, however; the quarterback has totaled 372 yards rushing on the season and can keep plays alive with his legs. Despite his success and lack of interceptions (five all season), McSorley has a completion percentage of only 56.3 percent. For reference, that places him a touch below Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner and several points above Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong.
The quarterback is joined in the backfield by the aforementioned Barkley, the team’s running back and leading rusher. Barkley has totaled 1,219 rushing yards (second in the Big Ten) and 15 touchdowns on the year, on his way to being named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. The explosive back can get it done with his hands too; he’s caught 21 passes for 327 yards on the season. Barkley left Penn State’s last game with an injury but it sounds like he’ll be playing on Saturday. How healthy he is could be critical to Penn State’s success.
The Nittany Lions’ threats aren’t limited to their backfield. Wide receiver Chris Godwin and tight end Mike Gesicki each average over 50 receiving yards per game and have combined for 12 of the team’s 21 receiving touchdowns.
|Wisconsin Defensive Rankings|
|Per Game||Big Ten||NCAA|
|Rush Yds Allowed||100.8||1st||3rd|
|Pass. Yds Allowed||191.3||5th||23rd|
From first half to second half, the Wisconsin defense looked like two different teams last Saturday. It was uncharacteristic of the defense that ranks near the top of the NCAA and Big Ten in several major categories. With even more on the line this Saturday, the Badgers will need to wake up a bit sooner than halftime against Penn State’s offense.
As for injuries, nose tackle Olive Sagapolu was left off this week’s injury report after being listed as questionable and recording a sack last week.
Wisconsin's latest injury report:— Bucky's 5th Quarter (@B5Q) December 2, 2016
QB Alex Hornibrook (Head)
DL Conor Sheehy (Right arm)
Jacob Maxwell (Right shoulder)
Sagapolu and company will be facing an offense that makes big plays, but has struggled to convert on third-downs. Penn State converts only 32.2 percent of third-down opportunities, better than only Rutgers and Illinois in the Big Ten. This plays right into Wisconsin’s hands, as the Badgers only allow conversions at a 26.6 percent rate.
Lastly, the Badgers face an offensive line that has improved, but remains young and developing. Penn State starts three freshmen, a sophomore and a senior up front. Needless to say, they’ll be facing a test Saturday against Wisconsin, but it won’t be their first this season.
When Wisconsin has the ball:
|Wisconsin Offensive Rankings|
|Per Game||Big Ten||NCAA|
The main question surrounding the the Badgers’ offense is whether they’ll be playing one or two quarterbacks as freshman Alex Hornibrook is listed as questionable after his injury against Minnesota. If he plays, it will be interesting to see how Chryst balances him with Bart Houston, whose play has been strong over the past several weeks.
Running back Corey Clement has rushed for 100 yards in six of Wisconsin’s last seven games, and will again be a key cog in the offense on Saturday. He faces against a Penn State rushing defense that ranks seventh in the Big Ten, but has improved as the season has progressed.
There really isn’t much more to say here—the Badgers are the Badgers on offense. They’re going to try and run the ball and rely on Houston to make the throws he needs to in order to win. They should be able to grind the clock, as Penn State ranks only 10th in the Big Ten in time of possession.
|Penn State Defensive Rankings|
|Per Game||Big Ten||NCAA|
|Rush Yds Allowed||146.3||7th||41st|
|Pass. Yds Allowed||200.5||7th||30th|
Like its offense, the Penn State defense thrives on the big play. As a team, the Nittany Lions rank second in the conference in sacks, recording over three a game. Defensive end Garrett Sickels leads the pass rush with six sacks of his own; he recorded 2.5 of those in just one half of the Ohio State game, Penn State’s signature win for the season. Sickels leads the team in tackles for loss but is not alone; fellow defensive end Evan Schwan has added six sacks and a total of 14 Nittany Lions have four or more tackles for loss.
“Linebacker U” lives up to its moniker behind Sickels and Schwan. Brandon Bell has played in just eight games, but ranks second in tackles and easily leads the team in tackles per game. Linebacker Jason Cabinda has teamed up with Bell to shut teams down in the second half, especially lately. Rutgers only gained 21 total yards after half and Michigan State only mustered 87.
Kickoffs, field goals and punts are all handled by different players for Penn State, and effectively so. Joey Julius, who has made some headlines this season for his big hits, takes care of kickoffs and his coverage unit ranks second in the Big Ten in net average. Senior Tyler Davis is tied for the conference lead in field goal percentage, having made 21 of 23 kicks for a 91.3 percent clip. Rounding out the trio, punter Blake Gilliken ranks third in the conference with a 41.8-yard average. Given the controlled climate of Lucas Oil Stadium, Penn State should be extremely solid in the kicking game.