Last week, the Wisconsin Badgers returned to Camp Randall where the team thoroughly dismantled the Rutgers Scarlett Knights. In that game, the Badgers never trailed and outscored the Scarlett Knights in the first three quarters on their way to a 31-17 victory. Now, the unranked Badgers are on the road again where the team will face off against the 20th ranked Penn State Nittany Lions. Even though Wisconsin’s playoff hopes are over, the team still needs to take care of its remaining conference games if the Badgers have any chance of reaching the Big Ten Championship Game. As for Penn State, this season has been equally disappointing for the program as the team was originally projected to compete for a conference championship. The Nittany Lions have a 3-3 conference record and virtually no chance of reaching the Big Ten title game. However, it is senior day for Penn State so look for the team to come out motivated in this one.
Wisconsin is entering this game after a solid against Rutgers following that disappointing loss against the Northwestern Wildcats. Wisconsin managed to overcome some turnovers but used its elite rushing attack to pull away from lowly Rutgers who was simply unable to handle Wisconsin up front.
Taking 27 carries, Jonathan Taylor rushed for 208 yards to bring his total on the season to 1,363 — the most in all of college football. However, Taylor is not just successful due to his high usage rate. He is also extremely efficient running the ball as he is averaging 6.6 yards per carry this season. Wisconsin needs to run the ball in order to win conference games in tough road environments and I expect Taylor to play well this Saturday.
One area of concern for the Badgers last week was its quarterback play. Inconsistency has plagued starter Alex Hornibrook all season long and it definitely showed against Rutgers’ below average defense last week. Hornibrook was atrocious last week as he threw two interceptions and zero touchdowns. However, Hornibrook only played in the first two quarters before he was pulled due to an injury which caused him to miss the entire second half. Replacing him was backup Jack Coan who played well. He completed over 71% of his passes while throwing for a touchdown along with no interceptions. Hornibrook is officially questionable for this Saturday’s contest and if that is the case, Coan will be the man under center.
As for Penn State, James Franklin’s fifth season as head coach has gone pretty poorly up to this point as the team has failed to fulfill its preseason goals. After finishing last season 11-2, Penn State was expected to compete for a Big Ten title and even a national championship. The team started out 4-0 before blowing a double digit lead in the fourth quarter against Ohio State in the team’s fifth game. Since that loss, the team is 2-2 and has eliminated themselves as a Big Ten title contender. However, the season is not over yet and a win this weekend might be just what the program needs in order to prevent this season from becoming a colossal failure.
Penn State’s offense is led by senior quarterback Trace McSorley whose dual threat ability has helped the team put up some points. This season, McSorley has thrown for over 1,700 passing yards and 12 touchdowns while also contributing 611 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. Throughout his college career, he has been paramount to the team’s success and he has performed extremely well against the Badgers in the past. In the 2016 Big Ten Championship Game, McSorley carried the Nittany Lions to a victory. In that game, he threw for 384 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. The NFL prospect quarterback has the ability to beat the Badgers all by himself if Wisconsin’s defense is not up to the challenge.
For my prediction, I have to side with Wisconsin. Both teams have their flaws but I actually think that Coan is a better quarterback than Hornibrook so the switch at quarterback could be a blessing in disguise. Penn State’s rush defense is below average and I expect Taylor to have a huge game. I think that McSorley will keep it close but he will need someone else to step up if the team plans on winning this game. I do not see that happening so I think Wisconsin will sneak out with a road victory.
Prediction: Wisconsin 24, Penn State 21