Dienhart: A to Z look at 2016 Big Ten championship game
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Here’s an A to Z look at the Big Ten title game on Saturday night in Indianapolis between Big Ten West champ Wisconsin and Big Ten East champ Penn State.
A, for Awards. Penn State’s James Franklin (media) and Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst (coaches) each won Big Ten Coach of the Year honors.
B, for Barkley. Penn State’s Saquon Barkley is arguably the top running back in the Big Ten—if not the nation–and will be the best player on the field Saturday night. He hasn’t rush for 100 yards in any of the last three games. Barkley will need to if Penn State wants to win.
C, for Corey Clement, the Wisconsin back who has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the last four games and six of the last seven. Since Wisconsin’s bye week, Clement has run for 821 yards and eight touchdowns in his last seven games. He is one of the hottest players in the nation.
D, for Defense, which has surprised for the Nittany Lions under coordinator Brent Pry, who was promoted to the spot after Bob Shoop ditched PSU to join Tennessee, which struggled in 2016. Wisconsin also has a good defense, ranking No. 1 in the Big Ten vs. the run led by a top corps of linebackers paced by T.J. Watt.
E, for Eight wins in a row for Penn State, making the Nittany Lions one of the hottest teams in the nation. PSU’s last loss? Sept. 24 at Michigan. And know this: Penn State has won four of the last five games against Wisconsin. However, the teams haven’t met since 2013.
F, for Fake. Will we see a fake punt? Fake fields goal? This is the time to reach deep into the playbook for a special “fake” or gadget play that could turn the game around. Keep an eye out.
G, for Godwin. Penn State wideout Chris Godwin will be the most deadly wideout on the field. He has 47 catches for 762 yards with nine TDs.
H, for High-flying, which is what the Penn State offense is under new coordinator Joe Moorhead. He was hired from Fordham in the offseason and has made this one of the best attacks in the nation, scoring at least 38 points in six of the last seven games.
I, for Indiana, a state where Penn State will be playing for a third time this season after already winning at Purdue (62-24) and at Indiana (45-31).
J, for James Franklin, the third-year Penn State boss was 14-12 his first two seasons in State College and is 10-2 this season. The Nittany Lions are the sixth different team to make the championship game, joining Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa. The last time PSU won the Big Ten? The 2008 season.
K, for Kickoff return. Will we get a big one, perhaps for a touchdown? That would change mojo in the game.
L, for Limegrover. Penn State offensive line coach Matt Limegrover has done a boffo job molding a unit that still is dominated by youth. Not bad for a guy Minnesota let go as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
M, for McSorley. Penn State QB Trace McSorley is No. 1 in the Big Ten in passing efficiency and No. 2 in total offense. Is he the Big Ten’s best QB? Yep. McSorley has 56 pass plays of 20-plus yards, the most in the Big Ten this season. His 32 pass plays of 30-plus yards are easily the most of any Big Ten quarterback in the last five seasons.
N, for New Year’s Six Bowl, which is where both Wisconsin and Penn State will land in the postseason if this week’s College Football Playoff poll remains the same next week.
O, for Offensive line, which has made big strides all season for Wisconsin a year after struggling. This is and has been the identity of the program.
P, for Playoff, which may not be on the line Saturday. That’s correct, some pundits think the Big Ten will get just one playoff team. And that team will be Ohio State, if Washington (Pac-12) and Clemson (ACC) both win their league title games.
Q, for Quarterbacks. And Wisconsin likes to use two with Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston. But Hornibrook got knocked woozy last week. Will he be OK? The redshirt freshman lefty is listed as “questionable.”
R, for Rushing the ball. This game will feature the Big Ten’s No. 2 and No. 3 leading rushers. Wisconsin’s Corey Clement is No. 2 in the Big Ten (103.6 ypg), while Penn State’s Saquon Barkley is No. 3 (101.6 ypg). Whoever wins this battle will likely lead his team to victory.
T, for Three different coaches who have led Wisconsin to the Big Ten title game: Bret Bielema, Gary Andersen and Paul Chryst.
U, for Underrated, which is what Penn State TE Mike Gesicki is. He has 44 catches for 610 yards and three TDs. Speaking of tight ends, watch Wisconsin’s Troy Fumagalli, who also is underrated. He has 38 catches for 467 yards and a TD.
V, for Vicious, which is what Penn State’s pass rush is. The Nittany Lions rank second in the Big Ten with 37 sacks led by Evan Schwan and Garrett Sickels.
W, for Wisconsin, which is in the Big Ten title game for the fourth time, more than any other league team in the six-year history of the event. The Badgers join Alabama as the only power conference schools to make their conference championship game at least four times in the last six seasons.
X, for X-factor. And that could be the kickers in this game. Penn State has an edge with Tyler Davis, who is tied for the Big Ten lead with 21 field goals and has hit 91.3 percent of his attempts (21-of-23). Wisconsin’s Andrew Endicott has made just 11-of-16 (68.8).
Y, for Yards. Wisconsin allows just 292.0 per game to rank No. 3 in the Big Ten; Penn State allows 346.8 per game to rank No. 4. Which unit can make the most big plays Saturday night? Gotta give an edge to the Badgers vs. a high-flying Nittany Lion offense that is No. 3 in the league in scoring (36.6 ppg) and No. 4 in total offense (429.7 ypg). The Badgers average 28.5 points (No. 5) and 381.1 yards (No. 9).
Z, for Zero, as in zero drop-off in defensive performance for Wisconsin under new coordinator Justin Wilcox, who took over after Dave Aranda left for the same post at LSU. No wonder UW has won 10 games for the sixth time in the last eight seasons.