Penn St.-Wisconsin Preview
Despite all the turmoil surrounding Penn State in recent weeks, the Nittany Lions still have a chance to reach the inaugural Big Ten title game.
Standing in their way is Wisconsin, which overcame its own far less serious type of adversity to reach this point.
The 15th-ranked Badgers and 20th-ranked Nittany Lions face off in Madison on Saturday with a spot in the conference championship game on the line.
Penn State (9-2, 6-1) defeated Ohio State 20-14 last Saturday, its first win since the child sex abuse investigation against former assistant Jerry Sandusky that ultimately led to Joe Paterno's firing and a firestorm of controversy for the football program and university as a whole.
Stephfon Green ran for two touchdowns and the Nittany Lions held the Buckeyes scoreless in the second half.
"I don't think any team in the history of college football has been through so much in such a time period," interim coach Tom Bradley said. "They have been great on the field, great in the classroom and I couldn't be prouder of them."
Since taking over for Paterno, Bradley has had the difficult challenge of trying to keep his team's focus on the field, and this week will be no different. The Nittany Lions go into Madison trying to end Wisconsin's 15-game home winning streak and slow one of the FBS's most prolific offenses.
Wisconsin (9-2, 5-2) is averaging 44.8 points and 479.5 yards total offense per game. The Badgers are led by senior quarterback Russell Wilson, who has thrown 26 touchdowns and leads the FBS with a 199.3 passer rating.
He's complemented by junior running back Montee Ball, who has scored 25 rushing touchdowns and five receiving TDs to break the Big Ten single-season touchdown record. He is averaging 155.5 yards of offense per game.
"I've never had a running back compete in practice as hard as he does," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "That's why the games slow down for him, as easy as they are. He works his tail off every day of the week."
Ball and the Badgers will be challenged by a Penn State defense that's giving up 13.0 points per game and has allowed 20 or more only twice.
The Nittany Lions have their own offensive weapons as well, and Green has recently emerged as a surprising one.
The senior tailback was suspended during preseason camp and after being reinstated, ran into additional off-field trouble. However, under Bradley, Green has been running into the end zone. He has four touchdowns and 164 rushing yards the last two games after totaling 35 yards on 10 carries the rest of the season.
"He's done everything I've asked him to do," Bradley said. "He's worked hard. He's been great with the team. He's been a leader."
Green's production comes as the team tries to lessen the workload on sophomore Silas Redd, who averaged 140.6 rushing yards per game in October but is not playing through a collarbone injury.
"I've just been trying to take advantage of my opportunities," Green said. "I'm learning from my mistakes, and I'm always trying to get better."
While Wisconsin hasn't had to deal with the heavy type of adversity Penn State has, the Badgers are still fortunate to be in this position after consecutive heartbreaking losses to Michigan State and Ohio State threatened to derail their season.
A win Saturday would set up a Dec. 3 rematch against the Spartans, who defeated Wisconsin on a Hail Mary touchdown last month. However, the Badgers must defeat the Nittany Lions first.
"We just have to keep the blinders on," linebacker Chris Borland said. "There's always going to be a lot of outside attention, but we have a lot on our plate if we go day by day."
Wisconsin has won three in a row since falling to the Buckeyes. After a slow start last Saturday against Illinois, they outscored the Fighting Illini 21-0 in the second half en route to a 28-17 win.
Ball had two of his three touchdowns after halftime and finished with 224 yards rushing, while the defense forced four turnovers in Illinois' first five second-half possessions.
Penn State has won its last two meetings with Wisconsin by an 86-14 margin. The Nittany Lions won their last visit to Madison 48-7 in 2008.