The Nittany Lions won the season opener against Wisconsin 16-10. It was a 0-0 score at the end of the first half with both defenses playing strong. The game started taking off in the second half when Penn State scored on blown coverage by the Badgers. It wouldn’t stay 7-0 for long though Wisconsin scored seven of its own on the next drive. It was a defensive battle with the Nittany Lions getting two interceptions at the end of the game to seal the victory. So, let’s take a look at what happened and how the Penn State defense beat Wisconsin.
Penn State Defense Outlasts Wisconsin
The Penn State defense handed Wisconsin its fifth straight loss against the Nittany Lions on Saturday afternoon. Jaquan Brisker and company turned around last year’s worst defensive performance in program history with a blocked field goal, fumble recovery, two interceptions, and six tackles for loss.
Brisker had a dominating performance for the Nittany Lions in the secondary but was down with an injury at least four times throughout. He elaborated on his injuries at the end of the game that throughout the game that he was “…dealing with cramps and other things…” When asked what kept him in the game he stated “… [I] couldn’t let my teammates down.” He went on to elaborate on what had to be done the rest of the season, stating, “We gotta keep getting better each and every day.”
The senior wasn’t the only defensive player to have a big day, Temple transfer Arnold Ebiketie was dominant in his Nittany Lion debut. Ellis Brooks was also a constant presence in the Wisconsin backfield before a delayed targeting call on Badger quarterback Graham Mertz in the fourth quarter. The senior linebacker will have to sit out of the first half of next week’s game.
Nittany Lion Defense Picks Up Offense
Sean Clifford and company struggled to move the ball in the first half gaining only one first down. The signal-caller improved in the second half utilizing the outside of the field and quick passes to his receivers. He ended the game going 18 for 33 with 247 passing yards. He also kept his sheet clean with zero interceptions. Jahan Dotson led the receiving group with five receptions for 102 yards and one receiving touchdown. Not far behind him were both Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith with four receptions each. While the run game couldn’t get going for the Nittany Lions against a very strong Badgers’ front seven, Noah Cain had a touchdown in his debut after a 2020 season riddled with injury.
Wisconsin Turnovers Highlight
It seemed that every time the Badgers gained momentum there was a turnover. Mertz finished the day with two interceptions in the red zone and zero touchdowns. Further, Wisconsin had a punt blocked in the second quarter. Taking out the turnovers, the Badgers had a better game on paper. They had more rush yards than Penn State and found success with Chez Mellusi. Wisconsin also led in total yards and time of possession. However, the Badgers couldn’t capitalize in the red zone. The Penn State defense was on the field for 42 minutes and 51 seconds and looked consistent and fresh throughout the entire game. It is encouraging for Penn State fans to see that the defense could outlast the Badger offense that was constantly on the field.
Next week Penn State takes on Ball State. The Nittany Lion offense will need to go back to the drawing board to get in a rhythm next week to have momentum going into Auburn in two weeks. Overall, one thing everyone learned today is that the Penn State defense is back.