Keep a close eye on the following three Nittany Lions during the Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin.
After a crazy regular season, the college football season is drawing close to the end. Penn State has gone on an improbable run since the end of September and now finds itself playing in the Big Ten Championship game this week.
The fact that the Nittany Lions are headed to Indianapolis is a bit of a miracle in itself. They were 2-2 after a 49-10 loss at Michigan on September 24. However, an eight-game winning streak completely turned the season around.
A healthy defense and a high-powered offense has played a major role in Penn State’s recent success. Also, special teams is probably the area of most improvement this season for the Nittany Lions.
Nov 26, 2016; University Park, PA, USA; Michigan State Spartans wide receiver Monty Madaris (88) runs with the ball as Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Brandon Bell (11) attempts a tackle during the fourth quarter at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Michigan State 45-12. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O’Haren- USA TODAY Sports
LB Brandon Bell
Brandon Bell has turned into a staple on this list each week. After his performance against the Spartans last week, it’s impossible to leave him off the list this time around. The senior was all over the field last week and recorded 18 total tackles, tying the amount he put up against Ohio State.
Bell has been a key to the success of the Penn State defense since his return from injury. While he was out, the Nittany Lions really struggled, particularly against the run. However, since he has returned, it’s been a different story.
Despite missing four games, Bell is second on the team with 74 total tackles. He’s helped tremendously in the run game, something the Nittany Lions will need this week.
Wisconsin struggles in the passing game, but is one of the top running teams in the Big Ten. Corey Clement is third in the conference with 1,140 rushing yards. His 13 rushing touchdowns are good for second place.
If Penn State is going to pull out a victory, stopping the Wisconsin rushing attack will be key. Brandon Bell will play a big role in that on Saturday.
Oct 29, 2016; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions punter Blake Gillikin (93) prepares to punt in the first half at Ross Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports
P Blake Gillikin
The fact that punter Blake Gillikin has shown up on this list a few times this season is a bit unbelievable. Over the past few seasons it would be improbable to think that a punter would be worth keying on in a big game. However, the true freshman has quickly changed that.
Gillikin grabbed the starting punter job this summer and hasn’t looked back. He has helped to completely transform Penn State’s special teams. Having a reliable punter who can consistently pin the opponent deep is often an overlooked commodity.
The true freshman is third in the Big Ten with an average of 41.8 yards per punt. His long of 69 yards is second in the conference.
With two solid defenses going at it Saturday, field position could be at a premium. That’s why Gillikin will certainly be one to watch. He’ll likely be called upon a few times to set the Badgers up with bad field position.
Nov 26, 2016; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Andre Robinson (6) reacts following his touchdown run against the Michigan State Spartans during the fourth quarter at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions won 45-12. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
RB Andre Robinson
The status of star running back Saquon Barkley is still a bit up in the air heading into this week’s big game. Fortunately, all signs point to him playing. Even so, it’s hard to guess if Barkley will be given a full workload while nursing an ankle injury.
That means that back running back Andre Robinson could be in for an expanded role.
The redshirt freshman hasn’t seen a ton of game action this year, but has made the most of the opportunities he has received. He’s carried the ball 25 times for 130 yards and has shown a knack for getting in the end zone. He has sis total touchdowns — five on the ground and one though the air.
Robinson had a big impact in the second half last week when Barkley left. He finished the game with 32 rushing yards and a touchdown. He also took a pass 40 yards for a touchdown.
If Barkley is out or limited in any way, Robinson will be a key for the Penn State offense on Saturday against Wisconsin.