No. 19 Penn State took an early 7-0 lead on the road at No. 16 Wisconsin thanks to a 44-yard bomb from Matt McGloin to Curtis Drake with 8:44 left in the first quarter.
Then the wheels fell off.
Just about everything went wrong in Penn State's 45-7 loss at Camp Randall on Saturday.
And kept falling off, for three-quarters.
The Badgers scored 35 unanswered points, many of which came off of four Nittany Lions turnovers on the afternoon. Wisconsin controlled the ball for much of the game with 38:17 time of possession compared to just 21:43 for Penn State. The Badgers (10-2, 6-2 Big Ten) racked up 27 first downs compared to just 12 for the Nittany Lions (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten), who fell for the second time in three weeks.
The home-standing Badgers dominated the line of scrimmage, racking up 450 total yards on the Big Ten’s top-ranked defense that had been allowing just 13 points a game going in. With the win, the Badgers earned a berth in the inaugural Big Ten Championship game in December, where they’ll face Michigan State. They’ll be looking to avenge a loss to the Spartans earlier this season on a dramatic last-second hail mary in East Lansing.
Penn State was unable to slow Wisconsin’s Montee Ball all day. The junior ran for 156 yards and four touchdowns, extending his Big Ten record to 34 total touchdowns this season, just five short of Barry Sanders’ all-time mark of 39 back in 1988. With the performance on a national stage, Ball may just have vaulted himself to the front of the Heisman race.
Quarterback Russell Wilson was also impressive for the Badgers on Saturday afternoon, throwing for 186 yards and a pair of touchdowns early on. Wilson was also dangerous running the ball at the Nittany Lion defense, picking up key third down conversions with his legs in route to the victory.
For Penn State, their hopes of a Big Ten title game appearance seemed possible until Matt McGloin threw an interception following a Wilson touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7 in the first quarter. McGloin never saw Shelton Johnson, who sat on an out route and calmly picked off the ball.
After the interception, the Lions, usually disciplined and turnover-free, fumbled three times, losing all three and committing uncharacteristic personal foul penalties. McGloin was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct following a post-whistle spike that happens on almost every false start. The officiating wasn’t particularly good on the afternoon, Penn State also had a long run by Stephfon Green called back 0n a questionable chop block.
But nevertheless, Penn State was manhandled by Wisconsin in all three phases of the game. The Lions’ only points came after Wisconsin gave them a first down following a running into the kicker penalty on a third-and-four on their only scoring drive. Without that penalty, the Lions would have been shutout.
The better team won the game, but Penn State coach Tom Bradley couldn’t have been happy with his team’s performance despite the circumstances. The Lions were run all over after the first quarter, with Wisconsin at times looking like they were playing a high school team.
What he couldn’t have been happy with were obviously the four turnovers, and especially the seven penalties for 58 yards, very uncharacteristic of an otherwise normally disciplined squad.
Next up for the Lions in a whole lot of uncertainty. With nine wins, they qualify for a bowl game, but with the sex scandal still on the front burner, will the administration allow the team to participate in postseason play? Coach Bradley certainly feels as thought they’ve earned the right, and would gladly accept a bowl invite, but the choice isn’t up to him.
“They didn’t have anything to do with it,” Bradley said following the game. “They weren’t involved in any way. And I think they deserve an opportunity to play in a bowl.”