The Wisconsin Badgers will be playing to keep their Big Ten title hopes alive this weekend as they visit Happy Valley to face the no. 20 Penn State Nittany Lions. Kickoff is set for noon EST on Saturday, November 10, at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania. The game is being broadcast nationally on ABC.
According to this week’s college football betting odds, the Nittany Lions are 8-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 55 points.
Penn State enters this game coming off their most devastating of their three losses this season. The Nittany Lions were outplayed and outclassed in every possible way last week, losing to Michigan 42-7. The silver lining is that Penn State was already out of contention in the Big Ten East and has already locked up bowl eligibility this season. However, the Nittany Lions will no doubt be eager to get the taste of that loss out of their mouths as soon as possible and try to finish the season strong now that the difficult part of their schedule is behind them.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, is fighting to stay alive in the Big Ten title race. Thanks to a loss against Northwestern a couple weeks back, the Badgers are playing catch up in the Big Ten West, a division they were heavily favored to win at the start of the season. With two losses in conference play this season, Wisconsin’s only hope of winning the West and playing in the Big Ten title game is to win their three remaining games and hope that Northwestern loses at least two of their remaining games. Needless to say, there is no margin for error.
Despite being two of the more name-brand programs in the Big Ten, Penn State and Wisconsin rarely meet. The last time they played was the 2016 Big Ten Championship Game, a 38-31 win for the Nittany Lions. However, that’s the only time the Lions and Badgers have squared off since 2013.
I’m not going to put too much stock in Penn State’s loss to Michigan last week because I think the Wolverines are as good as they looked in that game. However, even before that, I was starting to sour on the Nittany Lions. They haven’t won a game by more than a touchdown since September, which makes me hesitant to eat eight points in this game. I’ll lean toward Wisconsin to at least beat the spread in this game. I also wouldn’t rule out the Badgers winning straight up.
The biggest question surrounding Wisconsin ahead of this game is the status of quarterback Alex Hornibrook. He sat out the loss to Northwestern and then left last week’s game against Rutgers because of a concussion. The largely inexperienced Jack Coan would be in line to get the start is Hornibrook isn’t clear to play.
Coan could be a little overwhelmed by the road environment at Penn State, but he’s handled himself well in limited action the past couple of weeks. Also, Hornibrook isn’t exactly having a stellar season, so there may not be a huge drop-off to Coan. In fact, Coan may have a chance to give the Wisconsin offense a spark because they haven’t taken off under Hornibrook.
Of course, what matters most for the Badgers is running back Jonathan Taylor. He’s coming off a 208-yard and three-touchdown performance last week. Taylor has also run for over 100 yards in all but one game this season. Not even the mighty Michigan defense could keep him grounded, so the Penn State defense could have their hands full.
Keep in mind that run defense has not been a strength for Penn State this season. Even average teams like Indiana and Illinois have had success on the ground against the Nittany Lions. If they couldn’t shut down the run against those teams, Penn State could struggle to keep Taylor contained.
On the other side of the ball, I continue to have concerns about the Penn State offense. Quarterback Trace McSorley is capable of making spectacular plays, but he’s been lacking in consistency. His completion percentage this year is 52%, which is stunningly low compared to the rest of his career. Despite his abilities as a runner and his experience in big spots, accuracy issues have undoubtedly made a difference in close losses to Ohio State and Michigan State.
We also can’t overlook the Wisconsin defense. The Badgers are not quite as dominant on that side of the ball as they’ve been in recent years. But they are still well above-average defensively. The Badgers have allowed no more than 350 yards in each of their last three games, forcing eight turnovers in that span. If those trends continue, the Badgers will be in a good position to hold the Nittany Lions to a reasonable point total, making it tough for PSU to win by more than a touchdown.
All things considered, I think the Badgers will be able to control the clock with their running game and provide a fair amount of resistance to McSorley and the Penn State offense. The Nittany Lions haven’t done a lot to make me think they can beat a quality team by a comfortable margin, even at home. With the spread at eight points, I feel a lot more comfortable leaning toward Wisconsin.