The University of Wisconsin football team (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) will take on Penn State (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) in Happy Valley with bragging rights and potential Big Ten implications on the line.
For Wisconsin, this season has undeniably been a challenging one. Once contenders for the College Football Playoff, the Badgers are now on the brink of elimination from the Big Ten West — which most pundits see as the weaker of the two conference divisions.
Wisconsin comes off an encouraging, but not necessarily assuring 31–17 victory over Rutgers last week. Though Wisconsin performed well against Rutgers, even shutting them out in the first half, the reality is that the Scarlet Knights are a bottom feeder in the Big Ten with their only victory this year coming at home against FCS team Morgan State.
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But also coming out of the game versus Rutgers was another head injury for starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who left the contest at halftime. In the last full game Hornibrook missed, the Badgers were blown out by Northwestern 34–17 with backup Jack Coan taking the reins.
Thus far, Coan has been statistically adequate in his two games with a 65.2 percent completion percentage for 222 yards and two touchdowns through conservative usage, with the offense relying more heavily on the Jonathan Taylor led run game with Coan in last week. But with Hornibrook still listed as questionable, Badger fans can only hope that Coan will be more comfortable expanding the Badger offense now that he has a few games under his belt.
But a starter who certainly won’t be playing for the Badgers Saturday is nose tackle Olive Sagapolu, who will be out for the season with an arm injury. The loss of Sagapolu will make it more difficult to contain Penn State running back Miles Sanders within the tackles and also decrease the interior pressure on senior quarterback Trace McSorley.
With three weeks left, Wisconsin trails Northwestern by one game in the Big Ten West standings but must finish a game in front if they want to make the Big Ten Championship since the Wildcats won their head to head matchup back in October.
The Badgers also face the tougher schedule, needing to beat two of the more challenging Big Ten opponents in No. 20 Penn State and Purdue while also facing Minnesota whereas No. 21 Iowa appears to be the only match highlighted on Northwestern’s calendar. Northwestern’s two other contests will be against Illinois and Minnesota.
The game versus Penn State will kickoff at 11 a.m. Saturday from Beaver Stadium with live coverage available on ABC.