UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Wisconsin came into Saturday’s contest with Jonathan Taylor leading the nation in rushing, but it was Penn State and Miles Sanders who got the upper hand with a 22-10 victory against the Badgers.
Taylor rushed the ball to the tune of 79 yards on the first drive for Wisconsin, 71 of which came on a touchdown run. It was the lone time the sophomore running back found the end zone, but he did finish with 185 yards on 20 carries.
For the Nittany Lions, it was Sanders who had quite an impressive afternoon which featured multiple hurdles and the junior running back eclipsing the 1,000-yard plateau for the the season. Sanders finished with 159 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown for a Penn State offense that finally found a rhythm.
“It feels good. I work hard, I worked really hard the last two years that I’ve been here and the off-season right before this season,” Sanders said of his achievement. “It’s something that I really feel good about, thanks to the o-line.”
It was by design the Nittany Lions were able to get the ball moving in the run game early and often according to head coach James Franklin.
“We felt like we had some opportunities today in the running game based on our plan. Some of the opportunities that we felt like presented themselves based on their defensive scheme,” Franklin said following the game.
Finding the balance between the run and pass game was integral to the success of Penn State against Wisconsin and it showed with the ability of the offense to find a rhythm early in both facets of the offense.
“It just balances out our offense way more, being able to run the ball and pass the ball,” Sanders. “I think we did that really well today.”
It was not an easy path for Sanders to get to the performance he had today as he had to wait behind one of the best running backs in program history in Saquon Barkley the past two seasons. Biding his time eventually paid off for the Woodland Hills product and he’s certainly making up for lost time with his performance this season.
“He just is very confident. His leadership has been excellent, it really has, with the o-line, with the offensive side of the ball, Franklin said. “People may say at times he had been frustrated, you never saw that, you never saw that with his teammates.”
The patience has worked wonders for Sanders and as he continues to gain confidence and make people notice his skills, the sky will be the limit. For now though, Franklin and company are happy to have him in the backfield and see the growth he continues to make daily.
“He’s just matured in so many areas from the young man we went and recruited,” Franklin said. “He’s really matured as a football player, as a person, as a student, I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
THE GAME BALLS
My top three performers:
1. Miles Sanders
Penn State running back
Sanders eclipsed the 1,000 yard plateau for the season against Wisconsin while rushing for 159 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown.
2. Jonathan Taylor
Wisconsin running back
Taylor rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown on the first possession of the game en route to a 185 yard afternoon.
3. Robert Windsor
Penn State defensive tackle
Windsor, a Wisconsin-native, recorded six tackles and two sacks for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State played as well defensively as they have all season especially in containing a vaunted rushing attack as well as getting Wisconsin off the field.
“That’s the fourth-ranked rushing offense in the country and I thought besides the opening drive, we played really good,” Franklin said.
That ability to get the Badgers off the field was shown by Wisconsin going 4-for-15 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth down against the Nittany Lions. It also spoke volumes Penn State held the Badgers to only 57 total plays and 269 yards of total offense.
“Literally us just being better on third down on offense and us getting off the field on defense, that was the difference,” Franklin said.
Penn State sacked Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan five times with Robert Windsor and Shareef Miller chipping in two apiece and Yetur Gross-Matos notching another. The ability the defense showed in punching the offense in the mouth and being able to out physical a team comes at a time where the Nittany Lions needed it the most.
“Going against a team like this, Wisconsin, you know they pride themselves in running the ball,” Miller said following the game. “For us to come out and have a great performance like we did was great for us.”
Penn State managed to win the turnover battle as well forcing four Badgers turnovers to only two for the Nittany Lions.
The Lion package has been nothing but predictable and has done way more harm than it has good for the Penn State offense.
It features backup quarterback Tommy Stevens lining up in multiple different positions whether it be in the slot, at quarterback or beside McSorley in the shot gun. The package was put in place last year as a way to get Stevens involved in the offense and change things up a bit.
This year though, it’s been a struggle to get anything going as the result of the play usually results in Stevens keeping the football and running it up the middle in some sort of fashion. Changing things mid-drive has killed the rhythm of the offense as well it just has not worked. Opponents know what’s coming and adjust accordingly.
With McSorley banged up, it’s not worth leaving him susceptible to further injuring his knee by lining him up in other positions. Keep the gimmicks for a rainy day and let the regular offense do their think, it worked well against Wisconsin.
It didn’t take long, but Taylor took the third play of the game to the house from the Penn State 29 yard line and went straight to the end zone. It was the lone blemish for the Nittany Lions on the afternoon but is a play expected to be made by someone currently leading the nation in rushing.
WATCH: Jonathan Taylor opens up game vs. Penn State with 71-yard TD https://t.co/vnLvrrKI59
— Saturday Tradition (@Tradition) November 10, 2018
With 1:03 left in the first half and the ball at their own 29 yard line, Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst decided to run the football. Running into the half isn’t the worst idea and with Taylor in the backfield, the possibility is always there for a big play or for him to find the end zone.
However, that’s not quite what happened. Taylor rushed three times for 23 yards, but with 12 seconds left in the half, Coan dropped back to pass and found the hands of Amani Oruwariye of Penn State which gave them favorable field position to put points on the board prior to the half.
And that’s just what they did, Stevens, in for an injured McSorley, ran for a 20-yard gain before Jake Pinegar would eventually miss a 44 yard field goal. The points might not have been put on the board, but the call changed the course of the momentum entering the half.
THE OTHER SIDE
Wisconsin struggled mightily throwing the football with Coan, the backup, who was sacked five times on the afternoon. As a result of Penn State thwarting the run game and Taylor for the better part of the game, Coan was forced to throw the ball and it just didn’t work.
Coan finished 9-for-20 for 60 yards and two interceptions on the afternoon and the Wisconsin offense had only two drives that were longer than six plays the entire game.
The Badgers need starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook back in a big way as the offense is abysmal without him. Taylor will continue to do his thing, but if Wisconsin wants to continue to win games, they’ll need some semblance of a passing attack and at this point it doesn’t exist.
THE INJURY UPDATE
• Trace McSorley, quarterback, left the game briefly before halftime with what looked to be a knee injury, but returned at the beginning of the second half.
No. 20 Penn State heads to Piscataway, N.J. next Saturday to take on Rutgers for their last road game of the regular season. The time of the game has yet to be announced.
Visit our Penn State team page for everything from this game.