They were right. But unfortunately for them, the wrong squad came up with the show-stopping defensive performance.
In a matchup of the conference's top-scoring offense and stingiest defense, it was Penn State's defense that won the battle, leading the Nittany Lions (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) to a 35-14 win in front of 109,865 fans, the second-largest crowd in PSU history, at Beaver Stadium Saturday evening.
"It's frustrating, disappointing — obviously we got our butts kicked so there's nothing more frustrating than that," tailback Brian Calhoun said.
The Lions now hold their conference championship fate in their own hands, as Penn State, which enjoys a bye this week, is set to take lone possession of the Big Ten crown with a victory over Michigan State Nov. 19.
The Lions hold the tie-breaker over Ohio State, the Big Ten's only other team with one loss, by virtue of their 17-10 victory over the Buckeyes earlier this season.
Alternately, the loss drops the Badgers (8-2, 5-2) out of contention for a Bowl Championship Series game for the second time in as many years. It also marks the second consecutive season Wisconsin has let its conference title dreams fall from its own hands.
"It's very disappointing," wide receiver Brandon Williams said. "Having a shot two years in a row where you've only got to win one more game to be Big Ten champion, and you just can't get it done, it's very painful."
Fueled by an emotional high courtesy of Senior Day festivities for 23 PSU players, the Nittany Lion defense gave the high-octane Wisconsin offense fits from start to finish, as the Badgers were never able to find a rhythm. The Penn State defensive front dominated the Badger offensive line consistently, holding Calhoun in check, allowing the junior only 38 rushing yards on 20 carries.
Wisconsin also failed to find any success through the air, as the relentless Nittany Lion pass rush sent quarterback John Stocco flailing to the turf on nine separate occasions, four courtesy of senior defensive end Tamba Hali.
"We allowed way too many sacks, and way too many pressures, we didn't give John enough time to work back there," junior left tackle Joe Thomas said. "Their four defensive linemen and three linebackers are outstanding — there's no weak links … they really out-played us today."
Wisconsin appeared to figure out the Lion defense at the open of the second quarter, driving the ball all the way down to the Penn State five-yard line. But on second-and-goal, Stocco was intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Alan Zemaitis.
After being flushed to his right, Stocco tried to throw the ball high to tight end Owen Daniels in the back of the end zone, but didn't get it high enough as Zemaitis made a diving play on the ball to stuff the Badger drive.
"I was trying to make a play," Stocco said. "I think they just did a great job executing and that's a very good defense."
For the second consecutive week the defense struggled to contain the opposing team's quarterback, as Michael Robinson became the second quarterback in as many weeks to rush for over 100 yards against UW.
Robinson, who led PSU to a quick 21-0 lead in the first half, added 238 yards and two touchdowns through the air to go along with his 125-yard rushing performance as the senior became PSU's single-season total yardage leader, breaking Kerry Collins' 1994 record of 2,660 yards.
"It's not a good taste at all," defensive tackle Mike Newkirk said. "It shouldn't get to that point. We shouldn't have to give up 21 points just for us to get 3-and-outs, and getting off the field and putting our offense in positions to do what they do. Overall it's a disappointment."
Wisconsin now returns to Madison, where they will try to avoid a similar fate to the one endured last season when Wisconsin dropped its final two conference games of the season. However, Alvarez believes the loss changes little for his team, reiterating that his squad's preseason goals remain intact.
"Our goals haven't changed," Alvarez said. "We can knock three of them off [this] week and reach every goal that we set. One of them is a January 1st bowl game. I think if we win next week we have a chance to play in one."