STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Penn State boiled down Saturday's game against Wisconsin to two of the most essential details of football — being physical in the trenches and controlling the ball.
After four weeks of being crushed in time of possession and offensive plays, the 21st-ranked Nittany Lions reversed the numbers on a cold, blustery day at Beaver Stadium, and wore down the Badgers for a 22-10 victory in a game that saw their offense, defense, and special teams all click.
The Lions (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) rediscovered their running game, with Miles Sanders picking up 159 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries to top 1,000 yards for the season. Trace McSorley tweaked his injured right knee in the second quarter but came back, completing 19 of 25 passes for 160 yards, including a 14-yard scoring pass to DeAndre Thompkins.
The defense collected four turnovers and sacked quarterback Jack Coan of the Badgers (6-4, 4-3) five times. Philadelphia's Shareef Miller and Wisconsin native Robert Windsor each had two sacks.
Freshman Jake Pinegar added field goals of 49, 42, and 23 yards.
After hearing about the Badgers' physical offensive line all week, the Lions offensive line showed its muscle. Sanders, who finished the game with 1,007 yards for the season, had six carries of 10 yards or more and displayed the moves and balance he had become known for.
The junior from Pittsburgh vowed during the week that "we will get the running game back on track this weekend," and he was right. He was impressed with his line's physical play.
"It's just having control of the game, having the confidence, with the [offensive] line just pushing everybody off the ball, being able to run the ball, being more balanced," Sanders said. "I think the passing game was very effective today, too."
Penn State's previous four opponents ran an average of 24.5 more plays, while controlling time of possession. But, against the Wisconsin, the Lions held a 72-57 advantage in plays and almost an eight-minute advantage in time of possession. They converted 6 of 15 third-down chances, while their defense limited the Badgers to 4 of 15 efficiency.
"It was more about us being more efficient on third-down offensive [plays] and more about our defense being able to get off the field on third down," head coach James Franklin said. "It wasn't like we went into this with a different plan. That was the difference, to me, in time of possession."
After Jonathan Taylor, the nation's leading rusher, stunned the Nittany Lions with a 71-yard touchdown run on the Badgers' third play of the game, the visitors were rather silent. The former Salem High School star finished with 20 carries for 185 yards, but Wisconsin only managed a field goal the rest of the game.
"We wanted to make a big statement," said Miller, a George Washington High graduate. "They kept talking about the offensive line the whole week, kept hearing the offensive line, this and that. We understand that they were a great offensive line, and we were ready for the test."
Coan played in place of junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook, the Malvern Prep graduate who did not make the trip after suffering a concussion last week against Rutgers. The freshman completed 9 of 20 passes for 60 yards.
McSorley left the game after a sack late in the second quarter. After linebacker Zach Baun made the initial hit on the Lions quarterback, linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel came in for the assist as McSorley was hitting the ground and bent the quarterback's leg up.
"For me, it wasn't a question of whether I would come back," McSorley said. "It was just at that moment I had pain, so I kind of had to get out and keep it loose [at halftime] and kind of just let the pain fade away."