Penn State-Wisconsin notebook

Big plays carry day for Lions

MADISON, Wis. – Penn State had only 13 first downs to Wisconsin’s 27, and the Nittany Lions ran just 58 offensive plays to the Badgers’ 85.

Anyone who would have guessed those numbers before the game probably would have figured Wisconsin had not only won, but perhaps even come close to covering the 24-point spread. In this case, it’s proof that stats sometimes lie as the Lions used several big plays to score or eat up big chunks of yards.

“A big part of our offense is taking shots downfield,” said tight end Adam Breneman, who had a 68-yard catch and run for a TD on the fourth play of the game for a quick 7-0 lead.

Christian Hackenberg found Geno Lewis on a 59-yard TD pass for a 31-14 lead early in the fourth quarter. Allen Robinson took a short pass and juked his way to a 52-yard gain in the first quarter, leading to a blocked field goal. And on a play that helped preserve the win, Zach Zwinak broke free for a 62-yard gain in the closing minutes to help the Lions eat up more clock.

Those four plays were all the longest Wisconsin has allowed all season.

“You’ve got to hit the ones that are there,” Hackenberg said of deep throws. “You’re going to have a couple that are really close contended and the receivers get off and make great catches. But when we have them, we have to hit them, and we did tonight.”

Coach Bill O’Brien said if the team tries to throw 10 deep passes that converting three or four is a good percentage, like batting .400 in baseball. He thought watching film on Wisconsin that the offense could have success throwing deep.

“We froze them a little bit at the line of scrimmage to see what they were in and then tried to, if they’re playing cover one, try to get the ball to Allen or Geno down the field,” O’Brien said.

Tight ends come up big again

Breneman and James caught three passes apiece and Kyle Carter one, giving the tight ends seven on the day. The unit finished with 60 catches for the season (James 25, Carter 18, Breneman 15, Matt Lehman two).

James said Breneman’s late-season surge helped the entire tight end group become more of a factor. James also made one of the best catches of the season when he hauled in a 7-yard TD pass in the third quarter despite being blanketed in coverage.

Mistake-prone Badgers unimpressive

Wisconsin came in with the reputation of playing very good football on both sides of the ball, but it did neither Saturday. The Lions torched the Badgers’ defense, and the home team had an uncharacteristically low 120 yards rushing.

“We didn’t make enough plays on third down,” said running back Melvin Gordon, who had 91 yards on 13 carries. “I thought we ran the ball well, I thought we ran hard. We just couldn’t convert on third downs to stay on the field to keep it going.”

The Badgers surprisingly didn’t commit to the run as much as usual. Gordon averaged 7.0 yards per carry, and James White averaged 4.3 (56 yards on 13 carries). But the fact that both of them combined for only 26 carries shows how much Wisconsin got away from the run, and while some of that was necessitated by falling way behind, that wasn’t the case early.

“That’s not really how we’re built to operate,” Stave said of all the passes.

Stave completed 29-of-53 passes for 339 yards – the same number as Hackenberg – but the Wisconsin quarterback was wildly inconsistent and missed numerous targets all night.

The Badgers finished with 459 yards of offense, 14 more first downs than PSU and ran 27 more plays.

“Just a herky-jerky day,” Stave said. “Sometimes we were moving the ball, we were moving it smooth, getting it up and down the field. Other times, we’re putting ourselves in tough situations, third-and-whatever.”

Wisconsin’s defense also struggled, giving up the big passing plays to PSU.

“They didn’t really do anything,” safety Nate Hammon said. “We just didn’t play up to our potential.”

Hairy situation in the locker room

Offensive linemen Adam Gress and Ty Howle made a deal Friday night with linebacker Glenn Carson that they would get their hair cut if Penn State won. Surely enough, Carson went for the scissors in the locker room.

“I would say that I lost about roughly 6 or 7 inches,” Gress said of his long blond hair.

Gress took off his hat to reveal some of the cut, something Howle was unwilling to do. Linebacker Ben Kline originally came up with the idea.

How long had Gress been growing that hair?

“The hair that Glenn cut off has been to a bowl game,” he said. “The last time I cut that was before the TicketCity Bowl, Christmas Eve 2011. So it’s been a while, it’s been two years. It was overdue anyway.”

Offensive line jumps early, often

Penn State’s offensive line was flagged eight times for false start, four by left tackle Donovan Smith. All five starting linemen were flagged at least once. Gress was called for it on an early fourth-and-1 situation at the Wisconsin 12, and O’Brien was going to go for it with PSU already leading, 7-0.

“It’s not good,” O’Brien said. “And we hadn’t done that all year. I take responsibility for that. I coach the quarterback, the cadence, the whole thing, I run the offense. That was bad football.”

Mad at the media

O’Brien took the media to task for buying into the 24-point line against his team.

“I don’t know who makes those lines,” the coach said. “I’m not allowed to talk about betting. But it seems like a lot of you guys [in the media] felt like that was the right line, and you’re wrong.”

The coach said he talks to the players about how to not take what the media says to heart.

“One thing that these guys understand is it doesn’t matter what any of you think,” O’Brien said. “With all due respect, you guys are great writers, I mean you guys are awesome. But it doesn’t matter what you think relative to our football team. It doesn’t matter one bit what you think. It matters what they think.”

Even the Lions “Jump Around”

Penn State’s players took part in the customary Camp Randall Stadium tradition of jumping up and down when the song “Jump Around” was played between the third and fourth quarters. It is one of the most recognized traditions in college football.

“When Jump Around came on and we started jumping around, that’s when I knew that we were going to get this win,” Carson said.

News and notes

Penn State’s season captains were announced: G John Urschel, DT DaQuan Jones, LB Glenn Carson, C Ty Howle and FB Pat Zerbe. Penn State’s defense held Wisconsin to 24 points despite playing without starting cornerback Adrian Amos (sprained foot) and starting safety Malcolm Willis (shoulder) for much of the game.

Compiled by Cory Giger