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Giger's 5 keys: On emotional day, Lions need to stay focused

November 24, 2012
By Cory Giger ( , The Altoona Mirror

Five things to look for as Penn State celebrates senior day and closes out a truly historic season looking for its biggest win of the year against Wisconsin.

No. 1: Control emotions

There will be a lot of tears shed today as one of the most impressive senior classes football has ever seen plays its final game. The PSU seniors and their families will be honored during a pregame ceremony, and coach Bill O'Brien has asked all fans to be in their seats by 3 p.m. to pay tribute to the team.

Article Photos

Mirror file photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn State linebacker Gerald Hodges will be playing his final collegiate game today.

Wisconsin won't really care about any of that. The Badgers are coming to play a football game and to get ready for next week's Big Ten title showdown against Nebraska, with the Rose Bowl berth on the line.

The Nittany Lions weren't able to avoid getting drained emotionally in the opener against Ohio and lost. They weren't able to sustain their emotions, made key mistakes to start the second half and watched the big home game against Ohio State slip away. At Nebraska, the team couldn't physically or mentally overcome a blown call that would have given it the lead.

There's no question the players on this team have done an incredible job over the past year of maintaining their focus in the face of enormous adversity. But there have been noticeable situations in key spots of tough games when the team ran out of gas emotionally, and ultimately lost the game.

The players can't afford to let that happen today against a good, tough Wisconsin team.

No. 2: Stop the Ball

Wisconsin's Montee Ball has 1,417 yards rushing, 17 TDs and averages 129 yards per game. His 78 career touchdowns are tied for most in college football history, and he will have that record all to himself with one score today.

Ball is a workhorse, averaging 25.8 carries per game, so he will get his touches and will have to be stopped for PSU to win. The Lions gave up 175 yards rushing against Ohio, 234 against Ohio State and 267 against Nebraska, and remember, Wisconsin had an amazing 564 yards rushing two weeks ago against Indiana.

With linebacker Michael Mauti (knee) out, replacement Mike Hull will have a chance to showcase himself against a tough running team. Defensive tackle Jordan Hill has continued playing since spraining his knee three weeks ago, but he still might not be 100 percent. Safety Malcolm Willis (knee) also is questionable, so the Lions' defense isn't at full strength.

The Badgers also have another very good running back in James White, who has 680 yards and averages 7.0 yards per carry, so the Lions have to be leery of both.

No. 3: QB battle

This was supposed to be the showdown between Matt McGloin and Danny O'Brien, who briefly considered transferring from Maryland to Penn State but instead wound up at Wisconsin.

O'Brien was not effective, however, and lost his job to Joel Stave, who got injured in week nine. Instead of going back to O'Brien, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema turned to senior Curt Phillips, who has started the past two games.

Phillips has very little experience and shouldn't be able to do much damage, which is why it's paramount for the Lions to stop the Badgers on the ground.

McGloin has enjoyed a superb season with some gaudy numbers, but he also made big mistakes with costly interceptions against Ohio State and Nebraska to start the third quarter. Wisconsin is good against the run, allowing only 106 yards per game, so McGloin should need a big day for PSU to prevail.

No. 4: Going all out?

Two great unknowns are whether Bielema will play all of his starters the entire game and just how fired up the Badgers will be today, knowing they've already locked up a spot in the Big Ten title game.

Bielema has said he will play his starters, but when push comes to shove on a blistering cold day, it will be interesting to see if he takes what might be unnecessary risks.

No. 5: One and done?

Could this really be it for Bill O'Brien at Penn State? It seems unlikely that he would leave the program high and dry after one year, but he has yet to say unequivocally that he's coming back, and until he does, his name will be part of the constant speculation for potential NFL job openings.

It would be surprising if O'Brien leaves because he knows how much damage it would cause to the program with players still being able to transfer until August. Still, the possibility exists that today will be his last on the sideline at Beaver Stadium.

Prediction: Wisconsin 23, Penn State 20

Follow Cory Giger's live game updates on Twitter @CoryGiger.

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