— Story by PSU Insider Brian Tripp @
#7 Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2, 8-1) vs. #6 Wisconsin Badgers (10-2, 7-2)
8:17 PM – Indianapolis, IN – Lucas Oil Stadium
Television: FOX (Gus Johnson, Joel Klatt, Shannon Spake)
Spread: Wisconsin (-2.5), 47.5 O/U
Head Coach – Paul Chryst (2nd at Wisconsin 20-5, 5th overall 39-24)
Last Game – W 31-17 vs. Minnesota
Key Players – RB Corey Clement (SR), WR Jazz Peavy (JR), TE Troy Fumagalli (JR), LB T.J. Edwards (SO), LB T.J. Watt (JR), FS Leo Musso (SR)
Wisconsin is making its fourth appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game in the event’s six-year history, capturing titles in 2011 and 2012. The Badgers’ defense ranks in the top 10 nationally in most major statistically categories, including scoring defense (3rd, 13.7 ppg) and total defense (7th, 292.0 ypg). Since 2013, opponents are averaging just 16.3 points per game and Wisconsin has allowed fewer than 10 points in 8 of 23 games under Paul Chryst’s tutelage. Additionally, Wisconsin leads the nation with 21 interceptions and allowed just 8 passing touchdowns. On offense, Wisconsin is led by running back Corey Clement, who is averaging 103.6 yards per game and has 13 rushing touchdowns. Thanks to a strong rushing attack, the Badgers lead the nation in time of possession with an average of 35:12 per game.
As evidenced by superb statistics, Wisconsin’s defense is among the nation’s best, allowing no more than two regulation touchdowns in a single game this season. A relentless pass rush, talented linebackers and an opportunistic secondary have limited opponents to just 15 total touchdowns this season. Opponents have gone three-and-out on 36.5% of their possessions and the Badgers have allowed foes to convert just 26.6% of third-downs. Finally, teams are scoring touchdowns on only 40.6% of their red-zone trips against the Badgers. Linebackers T.J. Edwards, T.J. Watt, Ryan Connelly and Vince Biegel are regarded as the defense’s best unit. Edwards leads the team in total tackles and Watt leads the Badgers with 9.5 sacks. A dominant front seven is complemented by a talented secondary that has amassed 11 interceptions over the last three games. Senior cornerback Sojourn Shelton and junior cornerback Derrick Tindal have combined for the second-most passes defended of any pair of teammates in a Power Five conference.
On offense, Corey Clement continues a Wisconsin tradition at running back. The 5-foot-11, 227-pound senior runs with power and tenacity and has the potential for game-breaking plays. Despite being the focus of opposing defenses, Clement has rushed for 100-plus yards in six of the Badgers’ last seven games. During his four-year career, the Badgers are 14-1 when Clement runs for at least 100 yards. A big offensive line provides exceptional running space for Clement and helps protect a pair of below average quarterbacks. Pennsylvania-native Alex Hornibrook has played in 11 games this season, completing 58% of passes for 113 yards per game, while tossing eight touchdown and seven interceptions. Hornibrook is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game. Bart Houston has appeared in nine games this season, completing 64% of passes for 101 yards per game, while throwing five touchdowns and three interceptions. Jazz Peavy is the team’s top receiving threat and is active in the team’s rushing attack. Wisconsin’s offense is steady but far from spectacular.
The Badgers are also among the nation’s lest penalized teams, drawing an average of just 3.3 flags per game. In fact, the Badgers were not penalized in two games this season. Kicker P.J. Rosowski has recorded a touchback on 45 of 68 kickoff attempts and a pair of kickers have combined to go 18-of-24 on field goals this season, including eight conversions from 40 yards or beyond.
Franklin on Wisconsin:
“On offense, they’re strong and physical. They’re 6-foot-6 across the board at every spot on the offensive line, except I think their left tackle is 6-foot-7. Their tight end is 6-foot-6. Their running back is 235 pounds. They run for power, they play action pass and take shots down the field. They lead the country in time of possession, which typically defenses now start to get antsy and they get overly aggressive, that’s where you’re susceptible to big plays in the passing game.”
“You look at them statistically on defense, they’re really good. Front seven is great. The linebacking unit is their strength, as well as their secondary. I think they’re leading the nation in interceptions, which goes hand-in-hand with the pressure they’re able to get on the quarterback.”
“ The thing that really jumps out is they are solid and consistent in all phases on special teams. One of the things that they do on punt return is line up, screen move and shifts their fronts. They’ve gotten so many people to jump off-sides by real fast screen jumping or moving guys down the line of scrimmage…I think it’s illegal. We’ll be prepared for that.”
– Wisconsin leads the all-time series 9-8, but Penn State has won four of the last five meetings, including the last two.
– The two teams last met in 2013, when Penn State entered as three score underdogs but stunned the Badgers to cap quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s freshman season with a 31-24 victory.
– This is the first neutral site meeting and first postseason game between the two squads.
Stat of the Week:
Wisconsin is playing its school-record sixth game against a top-10 opponent.
9/3 vs. #5 LSU (Lambeau Field) W 16-14
9/24 at #8 Michigan State W 30-6
10/1 at #4 Michigan L 14-7
10/15 vs. #2 Ohio State L 30-23 (OT)
10/29 vs. #7 Nebraska W 23-17 (OT)