MADISON, Wis. - One explanation could be that Penn State's players were emotionally spent from the Jerry Sandusky scandal and it finally caught up to them Saturday.
Here's another explanation: Wisconsin is just that good.
The answer probably lies somewhere in between.
Wisconsin’s Montee Ball runs past Penn State’s Nick Sukay during the first half on Saturday. Ball ran for 156 yards and scored four touchdowns.
Scandal or no scandal, emotionally drained or emotionally hyped, it was always going to be an incredibly difficult challenge for this Nittany Lion team to beat or even stay close to this Badger team.
Throw in four turnovers, and it's virtually impossible.
"Mistakes killed us," PSU quarterback Matt McGloin said. "We can't make mistakes like that against a team like Wisconsin."
Possible PSU bowls
Outback Bowl: Big Ten No. 3 vs. SEC No. 3
at Tampa, Jan. 2, 1 p.m. (ABC)
Insight Bowl: Big Ten No. 4 vs. Big 12 No. 4 at Tempe, Ariz., Dec. 30, 10 p.m. (ESPN)
Gator Bowl: Big Ten No. 5 vs. SEC No. 6 at Jacksonville, Jan. 2, 1 p.m. (ESPN2)
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas: Big Ten No. 6 vs. Big 12 No. 6 at Houston, Dec. 31, noon (ESPN)
TicketCity Bowl: Big Ten No. 7 vs. Conference USA No. 2-6 at Dallas, Jan. 2, noon (ESPNU)
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl: Big Ten No. 8 vs. MAC No. 2 at Detroit, Dec. 27, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN)
The Badgers battered the Lions, 45-7, at Camp Randall Stadium to claim the Leaders Division title and a berth in next week's Big Ten championship game against Michigan State. Penn State had a chance to earn that berth but instead suffered its worst loss since a 45-6 thumping at Ohio State in 2000.
"Obviously we didn't play a very good football game today," said PSU interim coach Tom Bradley, whose team scored first but trailed 28-7 at the half.
It would have taken a sharp all-around game for the No. 20 Lions (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) to beat the No. 15 Badgers, who were favored by more than two touchdowns, and PSU was anything but sharp. The four turnovers led to 24 points for a Wisconsin offense that doesn't need much help as it came in averaging 52 per game at home.
The Badgers (10-2, 6-2) have the best quarterback (Russell Wilson), best running back (Montee Ball) and best offense in the Big Ten. Penn State's offense has been a major question mark all season, and while its defense has played well, it hadn't faced anywhere near the kind of challenge presented by the Badgers.
"They had us on our heels a lot, and they were taking it to us the whole game," Penn State safety Nick Sukay said.
Ball had 156 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 25 carries for the Badgers, while Wilson was 19-of-29 for 186 yards and two TDs.
"They were running it effectively, and we just couldn't stop it for some reason," PSU linebacker Nate Stupar said.
Fatigue must have had something to do with it. Penn State's defense was on the field a ton as Wisconsin dominated the time of possession, 38:17 to 21:43.
The Lions got off to a strong start as their defense stopped Wisconsin on its opening possession. Penn State then took a 7-0 lead as it cashed in on a defensive mistake by the Badgers.
McGloin connected with a wide-open Curtis Drake on a 44-yard TD strike with 8:44 left in the first quarter. Badger safety Aaron Henry bit inside as Drake ran a post pattern, and there was no one within 15 yards of the receiver when he caught the pass.
That was pretty much the only highlight of the day for the Lions, who watched Wisconsin come right back with a score to start a run of 45 unanswered points.
Wilson found Jared Abbrederis for a 4-yard TD to tie it up. On Penn State's first play of the next drive, McGloin underthrew Derek Moye on a sideline route, and Shelton Johnson picked it off at midfield.
"I just didn't get the ball up high enough," said McGloin, who finished 9-of-17 for 97 yards.
Ball put the Badgers on top to stay with a 1-yard TD on the first play of the second quarter. They made it 21-7 with 2:09 left in the half when Ball scored from 2 yards out.
Penn State was still in good position at that point, getting the ball back to try and score late in the half and knowing it also would get the first possession of the second half. Then disaster struck.
Michael Zordich fumbled Wisconsin's short kickoff, and the Badgers recovered at the PSU 31.
"The Zordich fumble probably sealed our fate," Bradley said.
Wisconsin capitalized thanks to a nifty shovel pass from Wilson to Ball that picked up 15 yards to the 4. Wilson connected with Nick Toon on the next play for a 28-7 halftime lead.
Things went from bad to worse on the third play of the second half when Silas Redd ran into one of his own offensive linemen, Johnnie Troutman, and fumbled. Wisconsin recovered at the PSU 46 and needed only three plays to score, with Ball going 9 yards to make it 35-7.
Ball scored again, from 18 yards out late in the third quarter, and Philip Welch kicked a 44-yard field goal in the fourth to finish off the rout.
The Penn State players have been through so much the past three weeks in the wake of the scandal, but Sukay said Saturday's performance "had nothing to do with emotions."
"They just came out and played harder than us the whole game," he added.