PSU hoping Badgers are cure-all

Five things to look for as Penn State looks to bounce back from last week’s 42-7 drubbing at Michigan against a Wisconsin team that’s very capable of pulling off the upset.

No. 1: To QB or not QB

By all accounts, Trace McSorley is expected to start at quarterback for Penn State. But which McSorley will it be — the dynamic runner and playmaker, or the one limited, like last week, by a right knee injury?

Starting McSorley and seeing how he handles it is the right thing to do. But it should be clear pretty early on if the knee is hampering him too much, and if so, then Tommy Stevens needs to be in the game.

Penn State’s offense is too dependent on the threat of the QB running the ball, and if McSorley can’t run, the offense can’t function at a high level.

Can it function at a high level with Stevens in charge? We just don’t know. Stevens certainly can run. But can he throw? And can he stay within himself to still look to throw when the pocket collapses, which McSorley does exceptionally well, instead of just always trying to take off and run?

Why is that latter part important? Think about all the huge passing plays PSU has had the past two years that began with McSorley avoiding initial pressure, stepping up and firing it deep downfield. While it’s fine if Stevens can take off and run for 6-8 yards, it certainly would be better if he keeps his head up and shows he can burn a defense for a big pass play while scrambling.

On the other side, veteran Alex Hornibrook is questionable for Wisconsin with a head injury. He’s not great but certainly is a capable passer to complement the Badgers’ tremendous running game.

Wisconsin probably can’t win this game if backup Jack Coan is playing. But if Hornibrook can go, this very well could come down to the wire.

SUBHD: No. 2: Jonathan Taylor (not Thomas)

It’s hard to hear or read about Wisconsin’s star running back without thinking of former child star Jonathan Taylor Thomas, of “Home Improvement” and “The Lion King” fame.

Whatever happened to that kid, anyway?

Oh well.

This Jonathan Taylor handles the lions’ share of rushing attempts for the Badgers and leads the nation in rushing with 1,363 yards. He’s not just good, he’s used a ton, averaging 23 carries per game and averaging 6.6 yards per carry.

Taylor is THE reason Wisconsin can win this game. He’s going to keep getting carry after carry behind his huge offensive line, and if PSU can’t stop him, he very well may get 35 carries today.

The Nittany Lions have had major problems against teams that are committed to the run. Aside from Georgia Tech and the service academies, no team in the country is as committed to the run as Wisconsin.

Let’s go ahead and give the Badgers 250 yards rushing — they average 273 — and a ton of possession time. PSU’s offense will have to overcome that and make the most of its time on the field by scoring.

SUBHD: No. 3: 1st and 2nd things

Penn State is one of the worst offenses in the nation on third down, converting just 34.2 percent (110th in country). A big reason for that is the Lions have been poor on first and second downs, leading to a lot of third and longs.

Offensive coordinator Ricky needs to do a better job of calling quality, safe plays on first and second downs that will allow the offense to stay on schedule.

Such as screen passes.

Goodness gracious, it’s amazing how seldom PSU throws the screen. That’s directly on Rahne.

SUBHD: No. 4: Kicking themselves

This game could come down to a field goal or two.

Jake Pinegar has been much better of late for PSU and made three kicks beyond 40 yards his last home game.

Wisconsin’s Rafael Gaglianone is 7-of-10 on the season, with a long of 42.

The field could be sloppy, making for tough kicking conditions, but every attempt could be a big factor.

SUBHD: No. 5: Players to watch

PSU: Aside from the QB situation, look for the Lions to get their young wide receivers a lot of action. KJ Hamler and Jahan Dotson should be heavily involved, and maybe this will be the big breakout game for heralded freshman Justin Shorter.

Wisconsin: Taylor is clearly the key, and in that regard, his offensive line has a chance to control this game if it can blow PSU’s D-linemen off the ball.

Prediction: Penn State 26, Wisconsin 20

Follow @CoryGiger on Twitter for live updates and analysis throughout today’s game.

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