Following is Neil Rudel's report card from Penn State's 31-24 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium:
POSITION GRADE COMMENT
Quarterback AHackenberg (21-30-399-4TDs) was more accurate than he's been all year and lead his receivers especially well. He also alertly saw nobody was on Lewis near end of half and quickly adjusted the play for game-tying 3-yard TD.
Running back B+Wisconsin has one of nation's best run defenses yet Zwinak (22-115) pounded away for 5.2 per crack, aided by the late 61-yarder. Use of FB Zerbe, elected a captain, more liberal last few games. Belton (3-7) had one catch.
Offensive line CUnit allowed no sacks, and run game kept Badgers honest. But eight false-start penalties? If the Lions had lost, this would have been a big reason. Every regular flagged, including Donovan Smith - four times. Camp Randall is loud but eight?
Wide receiver ARobinson (8-122) finished with 97 catches, and 52-yarder with screen was highlight reel stuff. PSU has never had a receiver better after catch. Will he head to NFL? Key December question. ARob ducked media after last three games. Lewis (3-91, two TDs) had best game.
Tight end AJust six catches, but they were huge. Breneman looked like John Mackey on 68-yarder that opened scoring. James' TD that put Lions up 21-14 may be second only this season to ARob's gem vs. Michigan.
Offensive coaching B+A little questionable late clock management by passing vs. running and snapping with 10 seconds left on playclock a couple of times. But great scheme mixed run and pass and had Badger D confused at times.
Defensive line B+Olaniyan had solid game (three hurries, pick return), and unit got combined three sacks from Zettel (two) and Baublitz (one) to make up for quiet day from Jones (no stats). Johnson added four stops.
Linebacker AHard to believe longest Wisconsin run was 14 yards. Hull (7 stops) ended season strong. Carson (5 stops) and Bell (6 stops, one forced fumble/pick) is an emerging star. His QB strip (returned 33 yards by Olaniyan) swung momentum.
Secondary BThere were some soft spots, but Wisconsin couldn't connect for longer than 27 yards. Keiser had late pick and Trevor Williams (10) played strong game with int. and 33-yard return in place of injured Amos. Redshirt frosh Malik Golden (6) saw time in place of Willis.
Defensive coachingALions held Wisconsin to 126 yards rushing; Badgers came in averaging almost 300 per game. Smart move to insert NG Gaia (72) to create five-man front, which plugged run. Great mix of blitzes rattled Stave.
Special teams DSmart move to stop kicking the ball deep, and Nits covered squibs better. Ficken had a bad day and ended the year 1-of-last 4 with a block and chip-shot miss Saturday. Butterworth also got a punt blocked. Help wanted in this department.
The other guy DLions' offense baffled UW, which failed to cover a wideout (resulting in TD) and once had nine men on field. Gary Anderson, to his credit, admitted he was outcoached by Bill O'Brien, saying, "We got schemed up by a very good football coach."
Officials CCrew seemed inconsistent on the pass interference penalties, awarding a questionable one early to Lewis and then not calling it late when Lewis was grabbed in end zone. All the false starts, though, seemed like easy calls.
Atmosphere B+ Even with students on break, place pretty well filled. Scoreboard and stadium visibility outstanding, and Camp Randall has the cool "Jump Around" tradition entering fourth quarter. Lions got into act.
OverallABest win of O'Brien's two-year tenure by far clinches second straight winning season in face of difficult NCAA sanctions and carries ton of offseason momentum. Suddenly, reversing 50-point loss to Ohio State in '14 doesn't seem so out of the question.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com.