Here are the NCAA rankings for Penn State and Wisconsin:
|NCAA Stats Comparison|
|Passes Had Intercepted||18||9|
|Pass Efficiency Defense||26||25|
|Fewest Penalties Per Game||46||5|
|Fewest Yards Penalized Per Game||58||9|
|Punt Return Yardage Defense||105||59|
|Kickoff Return Yardage Defense||72||28|
|Offense Third-down Efficiency||50||103|
|Offense Fourth-down Efficiency||48||56|
|Defense Third-down Efficiency||52||16|
|Defense Fourth-down Efficiency||22||92|
|Tackles for Loss||60||67|
|Offense Tackles for Loss||3||101|
|Pass Sacks Allowed||53||80|
|Time of Possession||30||6|
|First Downs Allowed||27||7|
|Red Zone Efficiency||87||53|
|Red Zone Efficiency – Defense||10||113|
|Average NCAA Rank:||46.68||52.43|
|Weighted Avg. Rank:||46.17||44.83|
The two teams are pretty evenly matched, but PSU has an edge straight up in all categories. When you weight those categories (more emphasis for things like total defense and less emphasis for fewest penalties) then the Badgers emerge with a slight edge. If the two teams play “their game” PSU will need to rely on some intangibles to win the game.
Both teams have good rushing defenses. Penn State will need to keep Monte Ball from running down hill all day, and in particular, the fourth quarter. Notice that Wisconsin is ranked higher nationally in time of possession. The Lions will probably need to win that stat . . . if our defense is on the field a long time, the Wisconsin O-line will likely prevail late in the game.
Unfortunately for Penn State, Wisconsin leads just about every defensive category. Their passing offense is 110th, but if the weather turns out to be as treacherous (cold, rainy, snowy) as I have heard predicted, this will favor the running game.
I do like the Red Zone defense numbers, with PSU ranked 10th and the Badgers at 113. If we can get the ball to the red zone, I think we prevail. Keep in mind that our red zone offensive performance includes the early games like Virginia where we really struggled to put any points on the board. I think we are actually better in the red zone now than the stats would show.
Penn State is between a 2.5 and 3 point favorite depending on the time of day you look. Most odds makers and pundits claim a three point advantage for the home team. Looks like Vegas thinks these two teams are pretty closely matched up.
So what are the intangibles? Neither team NEEDS to win. If the Lions lose, the season is over. The season is over if they win. Win or lose, Wisconsin has already punched their tickets to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Title game and a possible Rose Bowl Berth.
Penn State’s season is over regardless of the outcome. They can play like there is no to,morrow, because, well, there isn’t. Wisconsin on the other hand, can’t afford an injury to a quarterback or Monte Ball. This isn’t pro ball. Those key players won’t sit out because the playoff spot is assured. And if Wisconsin loses the Title game, their record will determine how good of a consolation bowl they land in.
But this is senior day for a very special group of senior players. Michael Mauti, the very special leader of that special group, will be side-lined with a knee injury. Emotion will be running high. That can be good and bad. Emotion ran high in the opening game against the Bobcats, but spent itself out too quickly and wilted in the heat of a hot afternoon. We don’t need to worry about heat being a factor, but we don’t want to crash and burn late in the afternoon on too much intensity too quickly.
This is where O’Brien needs help from his coordinators and assistants who have played the college game. Motivating 18-22 year olds who are not being paid a salary in the millions is different than motivating an NFL team. I have no doubt that creepy old Bret Bielema will have his team fired up. Can we match and exceed — and sustain — that emotion?
The answer to that may determine the outcome of the game.
Let’s go with PENN STATE 31 – WISCONSIN 27.