Penn State Football

How did Penn State push past Wisconsin for the win? Here’s the turning point

Penn State defensive end Shareef Miller sacks Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan during the game on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018.
Penn State defensive end Shareef Miller sacks Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan during the game on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. adrey@centredaily.com

Immediately, minutes following every Penn State game, we’ll take a closer look at the turning point to each game. You can find our more in-depth stories after speaking with coaches and players on centredaily.com

Saturday afternoon’s turning point during Penn State’s 22-10 win over Wisconsin came earlier than usual.

In fact, you didn’t even need to watch past the first quarter to spot it.

Is it obvious yet? Let’s set it up: The Nittany Lions were reeling early in the game, after Badgers phenom Jonathan Taylor rushed right up the middle for a 71-yard touchdown. Penn State responded with its own TD drive to tie the game. But fans and reporters alike wondered: Could the Nittany Lions stop this rushing attack?

Taylor led the nation in rushing, after all. And Wisconsin’s offensive line completely manhandled Pen State MLB Jan Johnson and OLB Koa Farmer early on. The defense could’ve been in for a long day.

Until a Wisconsin mistake started to unravel everything.

On third-and-1, at the Penn State 47, Wisconsin was driving again with about six minutes left in the first quarter. But the Nittany Lions didn’t need to do much. Sophomore quarterback Jack Coan, making his second career start, bobbled the exchange with the center and fumbled.

Defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos dove on the pigskin to recover and put his team in great field position. Instead of a potential touchdown or field goal for Wisconsin, the Nittany Lions capitalized with their own 49-yard field goal by Jake Pinegar.

Penn State led 10-7 and never relinquished the lead from there.

There were plenty of other important plays — Miles Sanders’ 23-yard rush on third-and-7 in the second quarter of a TD drive, Johnathan Thomas’ first-down run on a fake punt in the third quarter of a FG drive, the defensive line’s series of third-down sacks, etc. But that recovered fumble put an early end to Wisconsin’s momentum and effectively flipped the game.

The Badgers are a run-first team that’s designed to protect leads and not produce comebacks. So that recovery may have just been a first-quarter play, but it played a pivotal role in the Nittany Lions’ win.

It was this game’s turning point.

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