STATE COLLEGE, Penn.—As the Badgers and Nittany Lions approach kickoff, here are four things to keep an eye on as both teams close out the regular season.
Badgers senior tailback Montee Ball needs just one touchdown to pass Miami (Ohio) great Travis Prentice and become the NCAA’s all-time leader in total touchdowns. Ball, who currently sits at 77, tied Prentice’s mark on senior day last Saturday against Ohio State, but was denied reaching the record at home when he fumbled trying to leap over the line into the end zone in the fourth quarter.
In addition to the total touchdown record, Ball needs two touchdowns to pass Prentice’s rushing touchdown mark of 73. If Ball records two touchdowns, he will also tie the NCAA record for multi-touchdown games in a career. He currently has 24.
In Wisconsin’s last three games, it has faced two of the best rushing defenses in the league, to very different results. Oct. 27 against Michigan State, the Badgers rushed for just 19 yards. Nov. 17 against Ohio State, UW ran for 206 yards, including 191 from Ball. The Nittany Lions give up just 125.7 yards on the ground per contest. They will be without star MLB Michael Mauti, but it will still be a tall task for the Wisconsin offensive front.
In Big Ten play, Ball has averaged 151 yards per game, despite rushing for just 46 against the Spartans in October.
Bret Bielema was asked Monday if Wisconsin and Penn State boasted the two best linebacking corps in the Big Ten. He didn’t flat out say yes, but it’s clear both units are the strengths of their respective defenses. PSU will be without standout senior Michael Mauti, who suffered a knee injury last week against Indiana. The Badgers may be without their star middle linebacker, redshirt junior Chris Borland. Borland hurt his hamstring Nov. 10 against Indiana and did not play last week. He did some work this week and said he was optimistic, but it is hard to imagine the UW coaching staff would push the issue with the Big Ten Championship game waiting for Wisconsin next week.
Regardless of Borland’s play, keep an eye on how the Badgers line up on defense. A week ago against the mobile Braxton Miller, UW effectively used a 4-2-5 nickel package much of the time. Redshirt senior Mike Taylor and redshirt junior Ethan Armstrong manned the linebacker spots in that formation. Wisconsin faces another talented quarterback, but a much different one, in Penn State’s Matt McGloin. McGloin has set a PSU school record for passing attempts this year and hast 24 touchdown passes against just five interceptions.