No.12 Wisconsin, No.19 Penn State hungry for new beginnings
The two should have plenty of motivation ahead of Saturday’s Big Ten season opener between the 12th-ranked Badgers and 19th-ranked Nittany Lions.
“We had a below average year last year, and a lot of guys aren’t happy with that,” said Wisconsin outside linebacker Nick Herbig. “We have a lot to prove.”
Herbig understands that badgers aren’t the only ones feeling this.
“Penn State, they also have something to prove,” Herbig added. “They are (checked) too.”
It should set the mood for as fans return to Camp Randall Stadium for the first time since 2019.
Wisconsin was ranked in the top 10 at the start of the pandemic-delayed 2020 season, but finished 4-3 as their offense disappeared in a three-game skid. Penn State struggled even more. While many key players have retired or been injured, the Nittany Lions lost their first five games before winning their last four.
The Nittany Lions want to avoid a slow fresh start. Since the start of last winter, Penn State has kept a timer in the football building that counted the days until that game.
It’s not uncommon for college programs to publish this type of countdown during the offseason, but it was new to Penn State. The magnitude of this showdown caused Penn State coach James Franklin to try something different.
“I think it was a big motivator and motivator for all of us during the offseason,” Franklin said.
Both teams have good reason to believe they will bounce back.
Wisconsin returns eight starters on either side of the ball after placing fifth nationally in total defense and tied for ninth in scoring defense last year.
Penn State’s offense includes fifth-year senior quarterback Sean Clifford and a receiving corps of veterans.
“I obviously can’t wait until Saturday,” Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson said. “It’s going to be a show.”
THE RETURN OF CAIN
Penn State running back Noah Cain ran for more than 100 yards in back-to-back games against Purdue and Iowa two years ago before capping this season with a two touchdown performance in a Cotton win. Bowl against Memphis.
But he injured his leg in opening practice for the 2020 season and didn’t play the rest of the year. He’s back now and leading a rushed Penn State offense that will face a big challenge against the Wisconsin defense.
Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz managed 20 of 21 and threw five touchdown passes in a season-opener Illinois blowout last year, but had a total of five interceptions and four assists. affected the rest of the year.
Mertz thinks he’s a better quarterback this year. He will have more targets after injuries limited Kendric Pryor to three games and Danny Davis to two games last season.
STRIES IN PLAY
Penn State is a 5-point underdog but has won its last four meetings with Wisconsin. The Badgers’ last victory over Penn State was a 45-7 rout in 2011.
Wisconsin are looking to win an opener at home for the 26th consecutive season. The only Subdivision Bowl program with a longer active winning streak in home opener games is Florida with 31 straight games. Oklahoma have also won 25 straight home opener games.
YURCICH START IN PENN STATE
Mike Yurcich is Penn State’s new offensive coordinator after serving in the same role in Texas last year. Yurcich was the Oklahoma State Offensive Coordinator from 2013 to 2018 and the Ohio State Passing Coordinator in 2019.
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst is calling games again for the Badgers after handing over those responsibilities last year to Joe Rudolph, who went from offensive coordinator to offensive line coach.
Both teams could get big transfer contributions.
Arnold Ebiketie could become one of Penn State’s top assistants this season after recording 8 tackles for a loss at Temple a year ago. John Lovett of Penn State has run over 1,800 yards for Baylor in the past four seasons.
Other transfers on the Penn State roster include cornerbacks John Dixon (South Carolina) and AJ Lytton (Florida State), guard Eric Wilson (Harvard) and defensive tackle Derrick Tangelo (Duke).
Wisconsin’s first team running back is Chez Mellusi, who has racked up 427 yards and six touchdowns at Clemson in the past two years.
AP freelance writer Travis Johnson contributed to this report.
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