Is there anything better than a football Friday? The anticipation for Saturday is building, the work week is over and there is ::double checks schedule:: ugh, Michigan State/Northwestern on tv tonight. Spartans and Wildcats notwithstanding, we are still excited for football!
The No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers welcome the No. 19 Penn State Nittany Lions to Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday morning at 11 a.m. CT for the first game of the season for both squads. We’ve had ALL offseason to think about PSU and their squad but we wanted one final look at the team from someone who knows it best.
Dylan Callaghan-Croley, a staff writer at Black Shoe Diaries, was kind enough to answer our questions about the Nittany Lions and here they are!
How are Penn State fans feeling about opening the season on the road with a tough conference matchup?
I would say there’s a great sense of excitement and nervousness. Last season was certainly a rollercoaster for Penn State fans. The Indiana loss really set the tone for the first half of the season last year but the four-game winning streak to end the season gave a sense of hope heading into this season.
But at the same time, Penn State fans really don’t know what to expect out there this season. Are they going to get the Penn State that we’ve seen for most of the last half-decade? Or will they see the Penn State that struggled mightily on both sides of the ball at times last season?
So, I think a lot of the nervousness comes down to that. Also worth noting, is Penn State fans respect Wisconsin and know this is going to be a tough game to win especially due to the home-field advantage.
That being said, many also believe Penn State is the more talented team and should win the game on talent alone, but as we know that’s rarely how it goes in college football. Overall, I would say Penn State fans are confident but definitely have quite of bit of nerves heading into this one.
What’s the No. 1 thing that PSU needs to do to leave Madison with a win?
The No. 1 thing that Penn State needs to do to leave Madison with a win is: win the turnover battle. Last season, the Nittany Lions simply turned the ball over way too much on offense and didn’t force enough turnovers defensively. Part of that is play calling, part of that is execution, and part of that is just dumb luck.
On Saturday, the game could very well turn into a defensive fistfight that features several turnovers over the course of the game and I think whoever wins that turnover battle will have the upper hand in the game and will likely be the victorious side when it’s all said and done. Additionally, I think Penn State’s defensive line will have to play really well against the run but also force Graham Mertz into some uncomfortable situations.
We all know Sean Clifford, Jahan Dotson and Brandon Smith are going to be important contributors. Who is an under-the-radar player that needs to play well for the Nittany Lions?
A few under-the-radar type players to look out for with the Nittany Lions include running back Noah Cain and safety Jaquon Brisker. For Penn State fans, neither of these are really under-the-radar type names, Cain has the potential to be one of the Big Ten’s best backs if he stays healthy, a traditional north-south runner who punishes would-be tacklers. He was lost for the season just a few plays into last season but returns in 2021 fully healthy and ready to make an impact.
Brisker, on the other hand, is a player that most people outside of Penn State fans are not too familiar with but should be. Brisker is a potential All-American candidate this season at safety and has the potential to be a high-round draft pick next April. Other names to watch include WR Parker Washington and CB Tariq Castro-Fields.
Which unit on Wisconsin are you most concerned with?
Right now, the unit that Penn State fans are probably most concerned with, is the Badgers receiver group. The Penn State secondary has a chance to be really good this season but last season struggled mightily at times. If Penn State can’t keep the Badgers wideouts in check on Saturday for the most part, they’ll stand no chance of pulling off the upset.
I don’t think it’s an elite position group but it’s still a highly talented one with great upside and big playability. It’s also why I believe Jaquon Brisker and Tariq Castro-Fields (pictured below) are two members of Penn State’s secondary that need to have huge games on Saturday.
Let’s get a prediction from you. Who wins this slugfest?
I honestly hate making score predictions, right now, my heart is telling me Penn State to win. My gut, however, is telling me Penn State covers the spread but likely still loses, perhaps by just merely a field goal. Do I go with my heart or my gut? The heck with it, it’s the season opener, I’ll be a homer for this week...give me the Nittany Lions to win 31-27.