The University of Wisconsin football team plays at Penn State tomorrow at 2:30 pm Central. You probably know this already. I'm not going to get into who's favored (I strongly suspect that it's PSU) or why. Or go into a detailed reconstruction of UW's woes. If you're reading this, you're likely already aware that the offense is missing its starting wide receivers, and that the defense has only forced four turnovers in six games, and has generally been leaking like a heavily syphilitic . . . well, you get the idea. You also probably know that Penn State has a fair amount of talent, including a stout rushing defense with future high draft picks at linebacker (Sean Lee) and cornerback (Justin King). And that their stadium is enormous, and their home record is excellent.
You may not know, however, that Penn State's starting running back, Austin Scott, has been suspended from the team due to just being charged with sexual assault. (Grim.) Or that PSU only scored 9 points against a Michigan defense that had been impersonating a swinging gate. Or that the Nittany Lions have committed sixteen turnovers in six games. Or that the Nittany Lion, as a species, is extinct. (I figured this out on my own.) Or that Joe Paterno regularly accosts other drivers on the Penn State campus for driving dangerously. (This past week, while Paterno was scolding a woman driver for running a stop sign, a man approached and informed Joe Pa that he was the woman's husband. Paterno responded: ''That's your problem.'')
Here's what I think-- this is another game, kind of like Iowa, where the Badger defense has a chance to play well. PSU's coaches, particularly their offensive coaches, are not particularly creative or bright. Example-- in their loss at Illinois they called four or five screens, but the play never worked. I was shouting at the television the last time they made the call-- it resulted in a two-yard loss. Penn State's qb, Morelli, has a big arm, but a slow wind up, and has struggled against good competition. (His TD to interception ratio against Notre Dame, Michigan, Illinois and Iowa is 3 to 6.) The runners may be talented (one of Scott's replacement ran for over 150 against Iowa), but they'll be green. In short, I do not think this will be Illinois or Sparty. The defense may give up some big plays, particularly a deep pass or two to PSU's talented receivers, but PSU should not run wild. And the Badgers will likely have opportunities to get turnovers, given the young runners and Morelli's track record.
However, the offense will be severely tested. Penn State's defensive is ranked fifth nationally in yards allowed, thirteenth in passing yards, and eighth in rushing. (They have played two utter patsies, yes worse than the Citadel, in Buffalo and Florida International, but those are still good numbers.) We can expect PSU to run blitz on Hill, try to get to Donovan to create turnovers, double cover Beckum, and generally show little respect to anyone else. Thus, it's up to the unheralded or overlooked guys, like Garrett Graham, Andy Crooks (should he play), Zach Brown, Mickey Turner, Kyle Jefferson, David Gilreath and Marcus Randle-El to make plays. I think they have the ability to get it done, but I'm not confident they will.
Sorry to be typical, but it may come down to TOs. If the Badgers can finally create some, and get the ball with some decent field position (a huge problem against Illinois), they should be able to take this game. And similarly, Donovan and Hill will touch the ball a lot. They've got to hold on and make sound decisions.
As I said earlier, I think this game is winnable. Coming off a tough loss and tough injuries, and with deflated expectations and all that, the team has a great opportunity to respond. Lets hope they do it.