The mystique of Camp Randall Stadium and the legend of Montee Ball grew Saturday afternoon as the Wisconsin Badgers dominated the Penn State Nittany Lions, winning 45-7 to capture the Leaders division title of the Big Ten. The Badgers will play December 3 in Indianapolis against Michigan State for the conference championship and a spot in the Rose Bowl.
Keeps on Rollin’
Wisconsin running back Montee Ball had another huge day, rushing for 156 yards and four touchdowns on 25 attempts. The Badger offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage all day, and pushed around defensive tackle Devon Still and the rest of the Nittany Lions defense. They controlled the ball for 38:17, while Penn State had it for just 21:43. That disparity allowed Wisconsin to wear down the Penn State defense and put plenty of points on the board.
Ball now has 34 touchdowns on the season and is second on the all-time single season touchdown list. He is just five shy of Barry Sanders’ all-time record of 39, and will likely have two games left to pursue the record.
It wasn’t anything extraordinary, but quarterback Russell Wilson did what was necessary to secure the victory. He completed 19 0f 29 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns, and added 36 yards on seven rushes. He consistently completed short passes for first downs throughout the game, and connected with wide receiver Nick Toon on quick slants the entire game. Toon, wearing #87 instead of his usual #1 to honor his father and Badger great Al Toon, finished with five receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown right before halftime to give the Badgers a 28-7 lead. Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis also had a nice game, leading the Badgers with seven catches for 93 yards and a score.
Wilson was especially impressive with his mobility in the pocket. Penn State blitzed throughout the game and got pressure quite often, but Wilson was able to elude the defenders most times, and stood strong to get off passes even when he got hit. He is a dangerous player with his playmaking ability in the pass and run games, and is a constant threat to opposing defenses, even if they’re worrying about Ball on every play– which they should be.
Wilson is in the hunt for some records of his own, as he has thrown a touchdown pass in 36 straight games, which ties the record held by former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell (who now sports a beard on the sidelines for the Green Bay Packers).
Same Old Sorry Story
Once again, Wisconsin struggled in the special teams department. A running-into-the-punter penalty (committed by running back James White, who was inexplicably on the punt block team) gave Penn State the ball back on the drive that led to their first quarter touchdown. The Badgers twice kicked the ball out of bounds on kickoffs, giving the Nittany Lions the ball at the 40-yard line each time. They also allowed a punt return 0f 33 yards, and kickoff returns of 29, 32, and 34. With all the Wisconsin touchdowns, the special teams saw plenty of the field and performed poorly almost every time. This seems to be the one point of failure on this team, and it would be a shame if they didn’t correct the mistakes before the Big Ten championship game and the bowl game.
Slippery When Wet
The Badgers forced four Penn State turnovers, including three fumbles and one interception. The Nittany Lions struggled to hang on to the wet ball as the rain poured down throughout the game. Wisconsin flocked to the ball carrier on every play and never let Penn State get anything going, as they managed just 233 total yards. Turnovers remain the strong point for the defense, but the Badger defenders continue to be susceptible to big plays. The lone Penn State score (44-yard pass from McGloin to Drake) came on a miscommunication in the secondary, where everyone came up to stop the run or cover short routes and the Penn State player ran wide open into the end zone. The Badgers also allowed a 90-yard run that was wiped off because of an illegal chop block. They avoided any game-changing mistakes in Saturday’s game, but an improvement in communication and tackling is still needed.
Never Wanna Leave
The Badgers have been unbeatable at home this season and haven’t lost a game at Camp Randall Stadium since October 17, 2009. The win Saturday actually lowered their points per game to just short of 49, and an average margin of victory of about 47. The defense, in particular, performs well in front of a friendly crowd, never allowing more than 17 points in a game this season. The Badgers now have to prove they can perform this well on the road, and will need a total team effort to win the final two games of the season.
Penn State (9-3, 6-2) finished its regular season on a down note, and now will have to wait for a bowl invitation. It’s not a guarantee because of the ongoing sexual abuse scandal associated with the school, but this team deserves a chance to play one more game and try to prove its better than what it showed Saturday.
Wisconsin (10-2, 6-2) completed its third straight season with at least 10 wins, which is a school record. The Badgers will head to Indianapolis December 3 to play in the inaugural Big Ten championship game against Michigan State, who defeated Northwestern today, 31-17. The game is scheduled to start at 7:17 CST, and will air on Fox.