Penn State Rides Strong Defensive Performance in Win Over Wisconsin
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The No. 20 Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the Wisconsin Badgers in Beaver Stadium Saturday, 22-10.
Tied 7-7 with 1:53 remaining in the first quarter, Penn State kicker Jake Pinegar drilled a 49-yard field goal to give the Nittany Lions the lead, 10-7. His career long-tying kick ended up being the go-ahead score of the game.
The Nittany Lions didn’t give up the lead for the rest of the game, clinching the 14th-straight winning season for the program.
Also with the win, Penn State increased its win streak against Wisconsin to four straight games, most recently defeating the Badgers, 38-31, in the 2016 Big Ten Championship. The Nittany Lions now hold the advantage in the all-time series record at 10-9.
Penn State’s offense showed increased life against Wisconsin than in other recent games, spending the majority of the game on the field. Though the Nittany Lions offense only found the end zone twice, they were able to burn clock and reach field goal range five times, converting three.
Wisconsin started the game as if the cold gave it home field advantage, forcing a punt on Penn State’s first drive, followed by a 71-yard touchdown run up the middle by Jonathan Taylor. Taylor, who leads the country in rushing attempts and yards made it clear that he was a force to be reckoned with.
Penn State quickly responded to the Wisconsin touchdown, driving 75 yards on eight plays. The drive was bookended by a 14-yard pass from Trace McSorley to DeAndre Thompkins to tie the game.
On the ensuing drive, Wisconsin’s quarterback Jack Coan fumbled on third and one. Yetur Gross-Matos jumped on the ball and gave the Nittany Lions the chance to set up Pinegar to take the lead.
Following the field goal to end the first quarter, Wisconsin saw two straight three-and-outs with a Penn State punt sandwiched in between.
Penn State regained possession with 10:40 to go in the half and capitalized on the opportunity, marching 60 yards downfield on seven plays, including two big runs by Miles Sanders. Over two minutes later, Sanders reached across the goal line on a one-yard run, followed by a missed extra point.
With twelve seconds left in the half, Amani Oruwariye snagged Coan’s first interception of the game at the Wisconsin 46-yard line. The next seven seconds were used by Tommy Stevens as he ducked and weaved across the field for a 20-yard gain to the Wisconsin 26. The Nittany Lions tried to add another three points as time expired, but Pinegar’s 44-yard try was blocked.
To start the second half, both teams went on double-digit play drives resulting in field goals. Wisconsin went 65 yards in 10 plays, resulting in a 28-yard Rafael Gaglianone conversion immediately before Penn State spent 12 plays clawing 50 yards downfield to set Pinegar up for a 42-yarder. The score was 19-10 Penn State with 4:07 left in the third quarter.
Two more Wisconsin punts with a missed 45-yard field goal for Penn State in between brought the game to the fourth quarter.
Starting the final 15 minutes with the ball, Penn State ran slowly but surely down the field. 13 plays, 49 yards downfield and 6:40 off the clock, the Nittany Lions were stopped at the Wisconsin six-yard line, setting up Pinegar’s 23-yard field goal to bring the score to 22-10.
Penn State’s defense put on a stranglehold with 7:23 left in the game. Wisconsin’s final two drives ended in a turnover on downs with just under three minutes left to play, followed by an interception by Nick Scott at the goal line with just 34 seconds left to play.
In the cold weather, both teams relied on their ground attack for much of the game. Taylor totaled 185 yards rushing and a touchdown on 20 carries while his counterpart, Sanders, picked up 159 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.
The performance was Sanders’ fourth game in 2018 with 100-plus yards. He also gained his 1,000th-yard rushing during the win.
“Miles running for basically 160 yards and a touchdown was great,” said Penn State’s head coach James Franklin. “Give our offensive line some confidence.”
“Also help our offensive line – when we’re able to beat people up on first and second down in the running game it will help us with protection in the long term.”
Sanders’ explosive plays and overall performance did help the Nittany Lions’ passing game open up. Trace McSorley went 19 for 25 through the air for 160 yards and a touchdown.
Penn State’s young receivers stepped up on Saturday as the top three yards receiving leaders consisted of two freshmen, Jahan Dotson and Pat Freiermuth, as well as redshirt freshman KJ Hamler.
Hamler caught five passes for 35 yards, Freiermuth caught three for 34 yards and Dotson led the team with 39 yards on two receptions. Senior receiver DeAndre Thompkins caught five passes for 31 yards and a touchdown.
On the Wisconsin side of the field, backup quarterback Jack Coan started the game and struggled to get anything going through the air. He completed 9 of 20 passes for only 60 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Penn State’s defensive line made sure Coan couldn’t get comfortable, either sacking the quarterback or earning turnovers five separate times on third downs. Wisconsin was tied with Army coming into the game for the fewest tackles for loss allowed on the season with 28. The Nittany Lions made seven tackles for loss, including five sacks and added two forced fumbles in the backfield.
Yetur Gross-Matos, Shareef Miller and Wisconsin native Robert Windsor all shined on the defensive line. Windsor made a season-high two sacks, both on third down, and six total tackles.
“Rob (Windsor) was our defensive captain this week,” said Franklin. “We know this game was going to be important to him. He just got done saying in the locker room to the guys how he’s 2-0, we’re 2-0, versus Wisconsin.”
“Rob played extremely well, had two sacks, did some really good things so we’re excited about him.”
Gross-Matos made five tackles, including a sack, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Miller made three tackles and two sacks.
Next week, Penn State travels to Piscataway, New Jersey, to take on the 1-8 Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Nov. 17. Kickoff time has not yet been announced.
Tommy Butler is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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