Defense helps No. 19 Penn State edge No. 12 Wisconsin 16-10

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
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MADISON, Wis. — Penn State’s defense continually stood tall and Wisconsin kept stubbing its toe whenever the Badgers approached the end zone.

Those contrasting approaches made the difference Saturday when the 19th-ranked Nittany Lions outlasted No. 12 Wisconsin 16-10 to end the Badgers’ 25-game winning streak in home openers.

Jaquan Brisker and Ji’Ayir Brown intercepted Graham Mertz‘s passes deep in Penn State territory in the final 2 1/2 minutes. Wisconsin had four scoreless trips inside Penn State’s 25, including three inside the 10.

“Our kids willed it to happen today,” Penn State coach James Franklin said.

Penn State won despite getting just one first down before halftime and allowing Wisconsin to control possession for over 42 minutes. The victory assured Penn State would have a better start this year after losing its first five games in the pandemic-delayed 2020 season.

Brisker picked off a fourth-and-goal pass at Penn State’s 2 and returned it 41 yards with 2:15 left to preserve a 16-10 lead. Brown sealed the victory with an interception on the game’s final play.

“I’m obviously not proud of how it ended,” said Mertz, who went 22 of 37 for 185 yards. “There are definitely a lot if things that fell on my plate that I need to clean up. I will.”

Penn State withstood a quality performance from Chez Mellusi, who rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries in his Wisconsin debut. Mellusi had just 27 carries all season last year while playing for Clemson.

The Nittany Lions also disappointed most of the 76,832 fans who poured into Camp Randall Stadium for the first time since November 2019. The Badgers had no fans at home games last year.

Noah Cain broke a 10-all tie and put Penn State ahead for good with a 2-yard touchdown run with 9:17 remaining, though Jonathan Stout’s extra-point attempt bounced off the left upright. Stout also missed a 23-yard field goal.

That set up the frantic final minutes.

Wisconsin had first-and-goal at the 1 on a drive that included a targeting penalty on Ellis Brooks that knocked Penn State’s top tackler out of the game.

Then things went awry.

Mertz lost the ball on first down, though Wisconsin’s Isaac Guerendo recovered the fumble at the 4. Guerendo lost a yard on second down, then Joey Porter Jr. broke up a pass.

On fourth-and-goal, Mertz lobbed a pass across the middle for tight end Jake Ferguson, but Brisker picked it off.

“I knew they love No. 84 (Ferguson), especially when they’re in the red zone,” said Brisker, who left the game due to cramps on multiple occasions but kept coming back. “They kept looking at him even if they missed him or he came up short. I figured I’d sit there and let the quarterback throw the ball.”

Wisconsin got the ball back on its own 18 with 1:11 left and reached Penn State’s 25 with 26 seconds remaining. But after an intentional grounding call pushed Wisconsin back to the 32, Brown picked off a pass to end the game.

“Our defense played extremely well, gutsy,” Franklin said.

Those weren’t the only opportunities Wisconsin wasted.

Wisconsin had first-and-goal at the 2 in the second quarter but ended up with nothing after Arnold Ebiketie blocked Collin Larsh’s 25-yard field-goal attempt. On Wisconsin’s next series, the Badgers faced third-and-6 from the Nittany Lions’ 8 when a botched handoff from Mertz to Mellusi resulted in a fumble that Nick Tarburton recovered.

“I think today there were points where we were playing against two teams – ourselves and against them,” Guerendo said.

BADGERS’ CHENAL OUT

Wisconsin played without one of its usual starting inside linebackers. Leo Chenal, whose 46 tackles ranked second on the team last season, announced on Instagram he would miss the first two games after testing positive for COVID-19.

The Badgers canceled two games last season due to an outbreak.

Mike Maskalunas, a sixth-year senior, made his first career start in Chenal’s place.

THE TAKEAWAY

Penn State: The Nittany Lions gained just 43 yards in the first half but won by opening up their passing attack in the second half and coming up huge on defense. Sean Clifford went 18 of 33 for 247 yards, including 206 in the second half. Jahan Dotson had a 49-yard touchdown catch and set up Penn State’s other touchdown with a 42-yard reception.

Wisconsin: The Badgers’ defense once again looks outstanding. It won’t matter unless the offense starts playing better. … Mellusi gave Wisconsin’s ground attack a new look. Jalen Berger, the Badgers’ leading rusher last year, didn’t play at all.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Wisconsin figures to fall out of the top 15. Penn State could move up to the top 15.

UP NEXT

Penn State hosts Ball State next Saturday.

Wisconsin hosts Eastern Michigan next Saturday.

No. 3 TCU loses 31-28 in OT to K-State in Big 12 title game

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Ty Zentner kicked a 31-yard field goal in overtime as 13th-ranked Kansas State beat No. 3 TCU 31-28 in the Big 12 championship game Saturday, leaving the Horned Frogs to wait another day to find out if they had already done enough to get into the four-team College Football Playoff.

The Wildcats set up the winning field goal after TCU (12-1) had the opening possession of overtime and Kendre Miller was stopped short on consecutive plays from inside the 1.

Deuce Vaughn ran for 130 yards and a touchdown and Will Howard threw two TDs for the Wildcats (10-3, No. 10 CFP), who six weeks earlier had jumped out to a 28-10 lead early in the second quarter before TCU scored the game’s last 28 points.

That was one of five games the Horned Frogs (12-1, No. 3 CFP) won when trailing after halftime. But they couldn’t do it again with the chance to guarantee being the first Big 12 team other than Oklahoma to make the playoff.

TCU, the first Big 12 team to complete a regular season undefeated since Texas in 2009, could still get into the playoff. While their case was helped when fourth-ranked Southern California (11-2) lost 47-24 to Utah in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night, the Frogs now have to wait until the final CFP rankings come out Sunday.

Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark said before the game that TCU, with first-year coach Sonny Dykes, already deserved to be in the playoff.

“You look at their strength of schedule. You think about how they’ve performed all year long,” Yormark said. “I think regardless, they should be in, for sure.”

No. 4 USC falls to Utah in Pac-12 Championship, damaging playoff hopes

Utah vs. USC
USA Today
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LAS VEGAS — No. 12 Utah pounded a limping, bloodied Caleb Williams and roared past No. 4 Southern California 47-24 on Friday night to win the Pac-12 Championship and put USC’s College Football Playoff hopes in doubt.

The loss by the Trojans (11-2) could open the way for Ohio State (11-1) to take their spot in the playoffs. USC is fourth in the CFP rankings, the Buckeyes are one step behind.

Ohio State had to be Utah’s biggest fan. The Buckeyes move up in playoff consideration, with 12-0 Michigan at No. 2 with the Big Ten championship game on Saturday, that would give the Big Ten conference two playoff teams for the first time. It also would extend the Pac-12′s playoff drought — Washington in 2017 is the last team from that conference to make the playoffs.

Utah (10-3) is heading to the Rose Bowl, but the Utes already were going there regardless of the outcome of the title game. They are responsible for USC’s only losses, having edged the Trojans 43-42 on Oct. 15 in Salt Lake City.

The Utes rolled up 533 yards of offense in the rematch, and Cam Rising passed for 310 yards and three touchdowns.

Williams threw for 363 yards and three TDs. He entered the game as the leading Heisman Trophy candidate, but wasn’t the same after getting injured in the first quarter.

The Trojans looked as if they were going to run away with the game, taking a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter behind some stellar play by Williams.

He appeared to hurt his left knee or leg in the first quarter on a 59-yard run in which he took a big hit at the end, and he suffered a bad cut on the pinky finger of his throwing hand. He spent most of the game limping, and wasn’t the same after a sterling first quarter in which the Trojans outgained Utah in total yards 194-70, and Williams had both touchdown passes.

After USC failed to pick up a fourth-and-8 from Utah’s 37-yard line, the Utes scored two touchdowns in the final 3:55 of the first half, and suddenly the game was tied at 17. Instead of a rout, the game was beginning to look like the shootout the Utes won in October.

The game took on that tone at times in the second half, but USC had no answer for how to slow down Utah, which outscored the Trojans 44-7 in overcoming that two-touchdown deficit.

ATTENDANCE RECORD

A announced sellout crowd of 61,195 made this the largest for a neutral-site Pac-12 Championship. It beat the previous record of 58,476 fans. who watched Southern California-Stanford in Santa Clara, California, in 2015.