Big mistakes and big gambles have staked No. 6 Wisconsin to a 28-14 lead over No. 7 Penn State through one half of the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis.
The game opened perfectly for Wisconsin and vice versa for Penn State. The Badgers forced a three-and-out on the opening possession and promptly moved 81 yards in 14 well-crafted plays, consuming eight minutes on the dot to set up a 1-yard Austin Ramesh plunge to put the Badgers on the board. Wisconsin then forced another three-and-out and again turned its offensive opportunity into points, though these came on a 67-yard Corey Clement scoring dash.
Penn State answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive, punctuated by a 33-yard beauty from Trace McSorley to Mike Gesicki, and threatened to climb all the way back in the game after forcing a Wisconsin punt. But an errant snap went over McSorley’s head and the quarterback, looking at the red-and-white calvary and not the football, could not corral the ball as Wisconsin defender Ryan Connelly returned the loose pigskin 12 yards for a touchdown.
Perhaps overcompensating for that mistake, Penn State’s next possession ended when James Franklin elected to go for a 4th-and-2 at his own 42 and McSorley’s pass fell incomplete. Wisconsin again punished the Nittany Lions for that mistake with a 5-play scoring drive, putting Penn State’s faint Playoff hopes in serious jeopardy with a 28-7 deficit with 5:15 to play in the second quarter.
Penn State again went for a 4th-and-short at midfield on their next possession. This try ended in a T.J. Watt sack, though Wisconsin did not turn this short field into points.
McSorley’s second touchdown pass of the half, a 40-yard coverage bust to Saeed Blacknall, pulled the Lions back within two scores at the 1:08 mark of the second quarter. McSorley has hit 12-of-20 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns.
Bart Houston garnered the start for a banged up Alex Hornibrook and hit 6-of-10 passes for 66 yards while Clement carried 13 times for 113 yards and a touchdown. As a team, Wisconsin has out-rushed Penn State 164-39.
Wisconsin will receive to open the second half.