Penn State Football

Penn State football: Defense repels Badgers’ tough running attack, forces key turnovers

Glenn Carson took a few minutes to address his teammates after Penn State beat No. 15 Wisconsin 31-24 at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.

He talked about resiliency and told his younger teammates never to forget the night when nobody but them — the supposed three-touchdown underdogs — believed they could beat the bowl-bound Badgers.

Then he grabbed a pair of scissors and went looking for his long-haired teammates center Ty Howle and Adam Gress.

“I always joked around about taking some scissors to their hair,” Carson said. “I made them promise if we won this game that they would let me cut their hair.”

Howle and Gress walked into the media room with hair that was longer in some places and jagged around the edges, but overall, shorter.

“It’s all over the locker room,” Carson said with grin.

Carson and the rest of Penn State’s defenders did their best to ensure Howle and Gress would get haircuts. But their primary goal was to stymie a Wisconsin offense that had bowled over nearly all its opponents this season with a physical running attack led by a hefty offensive line and two 1,200-plus-yard running backs.

Once both teams had retreated to their locker rooms, Wisconsin rushers Melvin Gordon and James White had combined for just 147 yards, 95 yards short of their combined per game average. Meanwhile, the Badgers as a team finished with just 120 net rushing yards, the second lowest total of the season for the nation’s eighth-ranked rushing attack.

Mission complete.

“We’re just out to prove everyone wrong every week,” linebacker Mike Hull said. “We felt comfortable with the matchup, especially because of last year, taking it to them.”

Penn State opted to use a nine-technique or wide-nine look with its defensive ends, as C.J. Olaniyan, Deion Barnes and Anthony Zettel routinely lined up on the outside shoulders of tight ends in order to more effectively set edges and funnel White and Gordon to the inside.

They got help from cornerbacks Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams who pinched in and collapsed the line of scrimmage when Wisconsin aligned its running backs in the I-formation.

As a result, Gordon and White notched just three combined carries for 34 yards around the edge.

“Our defense hung in there and played a whale of a game,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said.

It did so without a key contributor for most of the game. Junior cornerback Adrian Amos, who nursed a sprained foot in the days leading up to the game, started but came out on Penn State’s first defensive series. Williams, who switched from receiver in the offseason and started the season at cornerback opposite Jordan Lucas, stepped in and made an impact by forcing a turnover.

It was one of three for the Badgers and Penn State took advantage with 10 points of its first two interceptions and sealed its win with a third.

Williams intercepted a Joel Stave pass intended for Jared Abbrederis two plays into the fourth quarter. Abbrederis tried to catch the overthrown pass but unintentionally deflected it to Williams who returned it 33 yards. Williams’ turnover helped set up a 59-yard touchdown pass from Christian Hackenberg to Geno Lewis three plays later.

Penn State was also without senior safety Malcolm Willis for portions of the second half. O’Brien said Willis was hurt but couldn’t pinpoint when. Redshirt freshman Malik Golden replaced him and also came up with a big play for the Nittany Lion defense.

Late in the third quarter with Wisconsin in its own territory, Golden flew toward the line on a blitz and batted away a third-down pass to force a punt.

The Badgers, who had outscored their opponents 195-61 entering the game, were forced to punt twice, turned the ball over three times and turned the ball over on downs once in the second half.

Freshman linebacker Brandon Bell continued his strong play. Not only did Bell start for the first time in his career, he also forced a turnover midway through the third quarter when he blitzed and drilled Stave as he threw. Olaniyan intercepted the ball and returned it deep into Wisconsin territory to set up a 28-yard field goal from Sam Ficken.

Senior defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, along with Willis, Carson and Kyle Baublitz, was among the defensive starters who played their final game for Penn State. Jones said the younger players stepping up gave him hope that the program is on good footing for seasons to come.

“You come here and you play football and you play it with some tough guys that will never quit,” Jones said. “I think that’s something Penn State will always have.”