MADISON — Completeness is what best described the Penn State offense that the Wisconsin defense will face this weekend in the Big Ten Championship. With a reliable quarterback, pounding run game and deep passing game, Penn State’s relatively young and highly successful offense will be a considerable challenge for the top 10 ranked Wisconsin defense.
“They’re a tempo team,” inside linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “They’re going to get on the ball and go fast. I think we have to make sure we know mentally what we’re doing because if we don’t, a lot of bad thigns can happen against a good team, a good running back and quarterback and a good O-line.”
Leading the 25th ranked scoring offense is sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley. Described by defensive players as a dual-threat quarterback, McSorley can create havoc with both his arms and legs.
“I love the way he competes and plays the position,” head coach Paul Chryst said in his Monday press conference. “He does so many things to extend plays.”
McSorley is 184 of 327 with 2,976 yards and 21 touchdowns. On the year, he only has five interceptions. On the ground, he is the second highest runningback with 134 carries for 372 yards and six touchdowns.
Throughout the season the Badgers have faced several good dual threats quarterbacks, which leaves many, like safety Leo Musso, confident that they can stop McSorley as well this weekend.
“Anytime you get a dual-threat quarterback, you truly have to play 11 on 11 football whereas a pocket passer, you can kind of make some different calls. We’ve done a great job of playing a lot of great dual-threat quarterbacks this year who can scramble in the pocket, scramble outside the pocket, make plays with his feet, but he’s definitely going to be a new challenge for us.”
Edwards echoed similar sentiments of playing 11-man football, something the team has stressed every game this season. It has never been about individual achievements but rather a complete defensive effort that has allowed Wisconsin to be ranked the 3rd highest scoring defense, 7th total defense, 3rd rushing defense and 5th pass efficient defense.
An advantage McSorley has over Wisconsin’s strong defense is the high-performing offensive line that Penn state has.
“They have a good enough o-line where they can really seal you off,” Edwards said.
Another big threat is sophomore running back Saquon Barkley, who Sojourn Shelton called “one of the best in the conference maybe.”
This season Barkley carried 228 times for 1,219 yards and 15 touchdowns, earning him Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. In the final game of the season against Michigan State, however, Barkley suffered an right foot injury, which may limit or even prevent him from playing this weekend.
If Barkley is healthy, Shelton says the defense will have to stop against a zone read, where Barkley has excelled this year.
A final challenge is Penn State’s passing game. Junior Chris Godwin is the Nittany Lion’s leading receiver with 47 receptions for 762 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Badgers defense, which struggled in the first half against Minnesota, plans to start the game with more apparent energy, which they have brought throughout the season.
“If we come out the same way we did against Minnesota, the same thing is going to happen,” Edwards said. “We’ve just got to make sure our energy is there and we’re focusing on what we have to do.”
What the 10-2 Badgers have to do is defeat a 10-2 Penn State team this weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium. While Edwards said it’s not just about achieving the team’s goal of being Big Ten West Champions.
“We’re excited to be here, but you just don’t want to get there. You want to go there and win it.”