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Penn State Football: Stout Defense Meets Big Play Offense In Title Game

by on November 29, 2016 4:30 PM

Penn State and Wisconsin will go strength on strength this weekend at the Big Ten Championship and the winner of that battle might be all it takes to decide who goes home with the title.

On Wisconsin's side its a stout defense that leads the nation with 21 interceptions on the year. The Badgers have forced 11 interceptions over the past three games after picking off 10 passes in the nine games prior. In total its a Wisconsin team that has allowed just 40 plays all season of 20 or more yards, a mark that is good to enough for No.8 in the nation.

For Penn State, the Nittany Lions will rely on a big play attack that has generated 80 plays this season of 20 or more yards, good enough for No.7 in the nation. It's an offense led by Trace McSorley who is third nationally in passes of 30 or more yards and second with 20 pass plays of 40 or more yards.

The question now, what tendency will break? Wisconsin's defense or Penn State's big play offense?

Conventionally defense tends to travel well and in turn Wisconsin might just have the edge in this department. Penn State has for the most part struggled to move the ball well against the comparable defenses of Michigan and Ohio State. That being said the Nittany Lions are in almost every facet a better team than they were during their Week 4 meeting against Michigan and Penn State did in fact beat Ohio State.

So maybe the Nittany Lions won't have as many big plays this Saturday, but it seems unlikely that it will be repeat of the struggles against Michigan.

One advantage Penn State has? Targets down the field. So far this season nine different Nittany Lions have caught passes of 40 or more yards. That's up from just three players doing the same in 2015 and in 2014. Chris Godwin, Penn State's reception leader this season has just 25-percent of the team's catches this year, the lowest mark for Penn State over the past five seasons since Derek Moye caught 22-percent of the passes his senior year.

And that distribution, largely engineered by McSorley, might make things a little bit tougher on the Badgers' otherwise dependable defense.

"I think it's a combination of a number of things," James Franklin said on Tuesday. "I think it's Trace doing a really good job of not keying in on one guy and saying, I'm throwing it to this guy. He's going to go through his progressions. I think it's also Trace's confidence that we have so many guys that can make plays."

"I think it's also the fact that guys that were young players in the past, in backup roles, that weren't necessarily ready for prime time, we're comfortable now putting those guys in the game. Instead of the last couple years where Chris Godwin never came off the field. You remember DaeSean Hamilton played a couple games with one leg, like hobbling around. We weren't comfortable taking those guys off the field. Now we have some young players that have really built everybody's confidence. They have confidence in themselves, and the players and coaches have confidence in them. It allows us to keep those guys a little bit more fresh."

Wisconsin will almost certainly target Godwin first in the passing game, but as the numbers show, Penn State has plenty of options down the field. With running back Saquon Barkley expected to be fine for Saturday's game and a reception threat in his own right, it might only be a matter of time before somebody gets open for the big play.

"Whenever anybody can say, We can't just say we're going to go into this game stopping this guy, we're not like that," Franklin added. "We have a lot of guys that can hurt you in a lot of different ways, not only guys that can make the tough catch, but guys that can be explosive."


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