Penn State vs. Wisconsin score, takeaways: No. 19 Nittany Lions upset No. 12 Badgers in defensive slugfest

After a scoreless first half saw both teams searching for answers, No. 19 Penn State took control in the second half to upset No. 12 Wisconsin 16-10 at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday. The Nittany Lions benefitted from numerous Badgers' mistakes in the red zones while utilizing a tremendous defensive effort to give themselves additional necessary opportunities to try moving the ball against an equally stout defense.

The 0-0 score at halftime was misleading. While neither offense played well, Wisconsin had 132 yards of offense, while Penn State only had 43 yards and one first down to show for 30 minutes of trouble. The Nittany Lions figured things out on their first drive of the second half as quarterback Sean Clifford found a wide-open Jahan Dotson for a 49-yard touchdown to open the scoring. Just like that, Penn State had surpassed its entire first-half yardage total in one play.

The teams traded punts, scores, and missed field goals for the rest of the half. In the end, it was the Penn State defense saving the day. After the Nittany Lions took a 16-10 lead late in the fourth and missed the extra point, Wisconsin put together an excellent drive and had a first-and-goal inside the 5-yard line. For the second time in the game, the Badgers fumbled in the red zone but retained possession. However, they lost it a few plays later on fourth down when QB Graham Mertz didn't see Jaquan Brisker diagnose the play, leading to an interception.

Jahan Dotson was the star of the day on offense for the Nittany Lions, finishing with 102 yards receiving and a touchdown on five catches. Running back Chez Mellusi was the leader of Wisconsin's offense, rushing for 121 yards and a score in his first game since transferring from Clemson.

1. Rushers from Temple are a market inefficiency

The Nittany Lions held the Badgers to 3.8 yards per play, forced three turnovers. and had eight tackles for loss on Saturday. But while it was an outstanding performance from the Penn State defense overall, Arnold Ebiketie truly stood out. Ebiketie transferred to Penn State after picking up six sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss at Temple over the last two seasons. His Penn State debut went pretty well. Ebiketie finished with seven tackles, two for loss and another hit on Mertz; he even blocked a field goal for good measure.

You may remember that, last season, Quincy Roche transferred from Temple to Miami and had 4.5 sacks and 14.5 TFL for the Hurricanes before entering the NFL Draft. So, any coaches in need of an infusion to their pass rush after the 2021 season should probably check the Temple roster to see if a possible solution awaits them.

2. Penn State's inconsistent passing attack found success

Penn State's offense was a focal point for fans as new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich took over in his first game as the play-caller. Early returns are mixed. Penn State tried to mix in some tempo in the first half, but the offensive line was getting beat up, so it's hard to judge its effectiveness.

Thankfully for Penn State, we saw glimpses in the second half, but there are concerns. The Nittany Lions found something with vertical routes over the top using Dotson, but the underneath stuff is very much a work in progress. Clifford finished 18 of 33 for 247 yards with a touchdown but showed far more accuracy on deep throws than shorter to intermediate routes.

The Nittany Lions may be able to get by with nothing but deep shots paying off as the season progresses, but if this is an offense that will challenge Ohio State in the division, it must be more efficient. It will also help if Noah Cain gets going. The running back returned for his first game action since being hurt in the season-opener last season and finished with 48 yards rushing and 27 yards receiving.

3. Wisconsin has trouble stretching the field

Defenses will not feel uncomfortable against the Badgers if they don't have to worry about covering the entire field. We all know that Wisconsin will be able to run the ball against most teams, but Penn State's defense shut the Badgers down for the most part on Saturday. While Mellusi rushed for 121 yards, he needed 31 carries to get there. As a team, Wisconsin averaged only 31 yards per carry.

In the passing game, Mertz completed 22 of 37 passes for 185 yards. That's 5.0 yards per attempt and 8.4 yards per completion. That isn't nearly enough, and while Jake Ferguson is an excellent option in the seams at the tight end position, the Badgers didn't have much to offer on the outside. Unless they figure that out, defenses will continue stacking the box, making life a lot more difficult for everybody.

4. Games are won and lost in the red zone

Cliches are cliches for a reason. Coaches are always talking about taking care of the football and finishing drives. You win more often than not when you do that. Wisconsin didn't do that Saturday, and it lost. Not only did the Badgers turn the ball over three times -- though the third was on a desperate heave in the closing seconds -- they were horrific in the red zone. The Badgers had four red-zone possessions on Saturday yet managed only seven points. You're going to have a hard time beating bad teams playing that way, let alone a team ranked in the top 20.

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WISC -5.5, O/U 48.5

Season Leaders

passing
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S. Clifford 2912 YD, 20 TDS, 6 INTS
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S. Clifford 2912 YD, 20 TDS, 6 INTS
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G. Mertz 1821 YD, 9 TDS, 10 INTS
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G. Mertz 1821 YD, 9 TDS, 10 INTS
rushing
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K. Lee 104 ATT, 495 YD, 2 TDS
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K. Lee 104 ATT, 495 YD, 2 TDS
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B. Allen 157 ATT, 1109 YD, 12 TDS
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B. Allen 157 ATT, 1109 YD, 12 TDS
receiving
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J. Dotson 91 REC, 1182 YD, 12 TDS
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J. Dotson 91 REC, 1182 YD, 12 TDS
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D. Davis III 32 REC, 478 YD, 2 TDS
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D. Davis III 32 REC, 478 YD, 2 TDS
Live updates
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@PennStateFball via Twitter
September 4, 2021, 7:49 PM
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An intentional grounding call might have just ended this game.

September 4, 2021, 7:48 PM
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Wisconsin gets the ball back at its 20 yard line with 1:11 to play and no timeouts. The Badgers need to go 80 yards here.

September 4, 2021, 7:44 PM
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@PennStateFball via Twitter
September 4, 2021, 7:39 PM
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@PennStateFball via Twitter
September 4, 2021, 7:39 PM
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@PennStateFball via Twitter
September 4, 2021, 7:39 PM
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@PennStateFball via Twitter
September 4, 2021, 7:39 PM
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INTERCEPTION! Mertz goes over the middle but throws it right to Jaquan Brisker who picks it off and returns it out near midfield. Right play, right time, great diagnosis of the play, and Mertz never saw him. That's the result of watching film.

September 4, 2021, 7:38 PM
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Joey Porter Jr. breaks up a pass and it's now fourth and goal from the eight. Wisconsin has to go for it. There's only 2:26 left to play.

September 4, 2021, 7:36 PM
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OH MY GOD Mertz drops the snap on the very next play and the ball bounces around before Wisconsin finally gets back on it. Absolute near disaster for the Badgers.

September 4, 2021, 7:33 PM
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Danny Davis with some HANDS to set up a first and goal inside the 5 for Wisconsin. Great coverage, amazing grab. First down.

September 4, 2021, 7:32 PM
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@BadgerFootball via Twitter
September 4, 2021, 7:32 PM
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Judge for yourselves.

September 4, 2021, 7:28 PM
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It's deemed targeting. Brooks has been ejected from the game.

September 4, 2021, 7:27 PM
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Graham Mertz got POPPED scrambling on 3rd and 6. Ellis Brooks lowered the boom and stopped him short. Was it targeting? I don't know. Nobody knows what targeting is anymore. They're reviewing the play for it. 

September 4, 2021, 7:24 PM
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Nice drive going here for the Badgers. They're into Penn State territory, just taking with the Nittany Lions are giving them. I'd expect PSU to bring pressure at an unexpected time here soon though.

September 4, 2021, 7:22 PM
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TOUCHDOWN PENN STATE: Noah Cain finishes off a 5-play, 68-yard drive for the Nittany Lions with a two-yard touchdown run. Penn State has been the much better team in the second half, and now the score line reflects it. Still, it wouldn't be THIS GAME without a missed extra point.

With only 9:17 left in the game, this next possession is going to be huge for both teams. It almost feels like a "have to score" possession for Wisconsin considering the rhythm the Penn State offense has found here.

September 4, 2021, 7:16 PM
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@PennStateFball via Twitter
September 4, 2021, 7:11 PM
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The throw deep to Jahan Dotson play has been there throughout the second half. This time it's completed for a 42-yard gain and Penn State's in business.

September 4, 2021, 7:11 PM
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@PennStateFball via Twitter
September 4, 2021, 7:10 PM
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Graham Mertz nearly picked off but Kendric Pryor does a good job of playing DB instead of his usual WR to break it up. 

September 4, 2021, 7:06 PM
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Another red zone possession ends in a field goal attempt, and this time it's the Nittany Lions splitting the uprights for the first time. We are tied once again. It's 10-10 with 11:26 left to play in regulation. You'll notice I say regulation, because I smell overtime.

September 4, 2021, 7:00 PM
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