MADISON — Following 651 days without fans populating the stands of Camp Randall Stadium, the No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers (0-1 overall, 0-1 Big Ten), welcomed 76,832 fans and the No. 19 Penn State Nittany Lions (1-0 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) into their home stadium. However, Wisconsin could not give the fans the return they had hoped for, dropping the season opener, 16-10.
“That part was awesome (fans being back in the stands), I feel bad that we didn’t do more for them, it was special,” said head coach Paul Chryst.
It was a game that was back and forth between Wisconsin and Penn State and both teams failed to score in the first half, despite Wisconsin mounting two drives that ended in the red zone. But, as would be a trend throughout, the Badgers could not finish those drives.
One of the drives ended in a blocked field goal attempt by kicker Collin Larsh. “It felt good off of my foot, I had a clean hit,” said Larsh. “From what I was told, we got imploded on the lines, so the lineman all got pushed back a couple of yards.”
Following the blocked kick, Wisconsin held Penn State to a three-and-out, something they did seven times throughout the game while holding Penn State to 3-of-13 on third down and only 297 total yards.
Wisconsin’s next drive was another one that stalled in the red zone. This time following a 12-play, 62-yard drive that lasted just under seven minutes, quarterback Graham Mertz could not complete a hand off to Chez Mellusi and Penn State pounced on the fumbled ball, for the first of Wisconsin’s three turnovers of the game.
“We gotta do better, things like that can’t really happen,” Mellusi said. “It doesn’t matter whose fault it was and it’s not going to happen again, we have to get better, that can’t happen in the red zone.”
Chryst on Berger: In the end, it was because of what Chez (Mellusi) and Isaac (Guerendo) did.— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) September 4, 2021
Sounds like it was nothing that Berger did or didn't do and he must have been third-up in the rotation.
However in the second half, both teams seemed to find their stride a bit. Following a three-and-out by the Badgers on the opening drive of the second half, Penn State was the first time to find pay dirt.
Quarterback Sean Clifford connected with Jahan Dotson on a 49-yard touchdown pass, where Dotson was wide open after a blown coverage by Scott Nelson. “Communication, we just have to do a better job of that,” said cornerback Faion Hicks, describing what led to the longer pass plays.
Clifford in the game was 18-of-33 for 247 yards and the touchdown pass to Dotson. While Dotson caught five passes for 102 yards.
Wisconsin was then able to quickly even things up, following Penn State’s first score, going on a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive that took just over four minutes of game time. Capping off the score was the Clemson transfer, Mellusi, who carried the ball 31 times for 121 yards in his Badgers debut. Previously, the most carries Mellusi had in a game, was eight.
“It was was really vital that I hit the weight room kind differently than I was used to when I was at my other school, I focused a lot on conditioning,” Mellusi said. “While I have been here, I have put on ten pounds and I carried the ball 31 times and I feel good.”
With the game all knotted up Penn State put together another lengthy drive, that was aided by a long pass from Clifford to KeAndre Lambert-Smith for 52 yards. Wisconsin also helped Penn State along on the drive with a pass interference call a play later, which was one of seven penalties committed by Wisconsin, which went for 42 yards. Penn State also committed seven penalties in the game, going for 79 yards.
However, despite the long pass play and penalty, Penn State’s left the drive ended empty-handed, with Jordan Stout missing a 24-yard field goal.
Wisconsin and Penn State then traded off field goals and found themselves tied up at 10-10. First was Larsh, from 43 yards out, which was the second longest of his career. Stout then made up for his earlier miss with a 24-yard field goal.
With a chance to respond to Penn State, Wisconsin went three-and-out, which was something the Badgers did four times in the game.
On Penn State’s ensuing drive, Clifford once again found Dotson for a long gain, this time of 42 yards, which gave Penn State momentum, that they eventually cashed in for the go-ahead score, a 2-yard rush by Noah Cain.
Following the score Stout’s point after attempt hit the left upright, leaving Penn State with only a six point lead and opening the door for Wisconsin to take the lead with a touchdown and a successful point after attempt.
Wisconsin then set off on a 12-play, 67 yard drive that lasted just under seven minutes, only to end in the red zone with no points...again. On fourth and goal, Mertz tried to find tight end Jake Ferguson in the end zone but he was intercepted by Jaquan Brisker. Mertz finished the game 22-of-37 for 185 yards and two interceptions.
Wisconsin then got one more chance in the game, following a three-and-out by Penn State. On Wisconsin’s final drive, Mertz connected with Danny Davis, who missed most of last season, on the opening plays of the drive picking up first downs on back-to-back passes.
However, the momentum that Wisconsin started to gain on the drive was short-lived and, following an intentional grounding (his second of the game) call against Mertz, the Badger quarterback threw his second interception of the game as time expired, giving Wisconsin it’s first loss in a season opener since losing to Alabama, 35-17, in 2015.