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Penn State Football: Five Keys To Beating Wisconsin

by on December 03, 2016 12:00 PM

Wisconsin football is in many ways a throwback to Big Ten football of the old days. A physical running game, a reliable and stout defense and fairly mistake free football. it isn't flashy, but it's dependable and it has gotten the Badgers to No. 6 in the nation and potentially a win from the College Football Playoffs.

So instead of previewing what to know about the Badgers, here is all you need to know about what Penn State has to do to win on Saturday. The season in nearly ever respect comes down to a single game, so it's more about what has to take place to win that game than anything else.

With that in mind, here are the five keys for Penn State to walk away the Big Ten Champion.

1. Make Wisconsin throw it.

Neither of the two quarterbacks Wisconsin uses are bad by any stretch, but the Badgers make their money with the run game. If Penn State is either able to come out to an early lead or successfully slow Wisconsin's rushing attack, things become a little bit easier. That's not to say the Nittany Lions aren't prone to the occasional big play down the field by their opponents, but Penn State is in good shape the more Wisconsin feels it has to be explosive through the air to win the game.

2. Don't get behind early.

A defensive minded team like Wisconsin will happily let Penn State play a grind-it-out game if the Nittany Lions are struggling to move the ball early. This is particularly true if Penn State's defense takes a bit to adjust to what Wisconsin is doing. Against Michigan State the Nittany Lions were able to slow the Spartans down enough that it was a field goal filled first quarter. Against Wisconsin it stands to reason that a slow start like that could result in more touchdowns than field goals, and in a game that may not feature many points, an early hole isn't a great problem to have.

3. Win field position.

Similarly things are much easier against a stout defense when an offense doesn't have to drive 80+ yards to score points. Penn State was able to win the field position battle for much of the game against Ohio State. Conversely, against Michigan, Penn State found itself with its back up against the wall almost from the outset, the offense struggled to move the ball and the defense had very little field to work with during short Michigan drives. Wisconsin isn't as explosive as the Wolverines can be, but nevertheless, winning the field position battle will go along way toward finding the end zone against a stout Wisconsin defense.

4. Just be you

There is a tendency at times as a team to overthink things when the games become bigger and bigger. So far this season Penn State has generally avoided the emotional letdown games and the games where things never seem to click. Wisconsin is the favorite in this game for good reason, but the Nittany Lions are on an 8-game winning streak because they've played confident football. Continuing with that swagger can go along way toward winning on Saturday. That's not exactly something you can game plan for, but the point remains. Penn State has played fearless football and will have to do so again in the biggest game of the year.

5. Avoid the mistakes 

Penn State has, for the most part, avoided self-inflicted wounds during its winning streak and that will have to be the case yet again against the nation's leader in interceptions and a defense that doesn't give up much ground. Blake Gilikin will need to be his best at punting that he has been all year, Trace McSorley will need to avoid a costly pass and Penn State as a whole will have to keep the avoidable penalties to a minimum. The Nittany Lions have been able to do all of these things for most of the season. Can they do it one more time?

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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