Penn State is making its first trip to the Big Ten championship game and no one saw it coming. Now that the shock is over, it is time to look forward to the Nittany Lions chances against the Wisconsin Badgers.
Earlier this week we look at important stats to watch, today we give you a look at the three players who hold the keys to PSU’s success on Saturday night.
Saquon Barkley, RB
It is the Big Ten Running Back of the Year against the Big Ten’s best rush defense. Something is going to have to give, and for the Penn State Nittany Lions it needs to be Saquon Barkley doing what no running back has really been able to do all season long.
Wisconsin’s defense allowed just 42 yards to Justin Jackson and never more than the 138 yards, which came in the season opener to LSU’s Leonard Fournette, to any running back this season. Against the top running backs from every team this season, Wisconsin is only allowing an average of 61.3 yards per game.
Barkley, well he is averaging 101.6 yards per game and a total of 1,219 yards on the season and has been one of the most dynamic running backs the conference has to offer. Can he be that dynamic player after suffering an ankle injury this past weekend and not being 100 percent this weekend? It’s the question that may tell all we need to know about Penn State’s chances to win this game.
As we said, something will have to give between PSU’s explosive run game and Wisconsin’s explosive run defense.
Garrett Sickels, DE
Stopping the run game is crucial to both PSU and UW, and for Penn State that means manning the edges better than any team has over the past month or so against Wisconsin’s rushing attack.
Enter one of the most dynamic defensive ends in the Big Ten — Garrett Sickels. He comes in to the championship game with 43 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks on the season. Those numbers indicate a player who isn’t just a pass-rushing specialist but also someone adept at blowing up opponents rushing games.
It will be another interesting matchup, as Sickels is likely to move between the two end positions as Ryan Ramcyzk was a first-team All-Big Ten pick at left tackle and there is David Edwards who has limited experience as a starter.
Look for defensive coordinator Brent Pry to try to figure out how Sickles can be most effective and we’re guessing Sickels finds a way to effect the game in some fashion. If not, it could be major trouble for the Nittany Lions.
Tyler Davis, K
Special Teams play has been critical to Penn State’s success this season and no player has been more important than kicker Tyler Davis.
All he has done is hit 21 of 23 field goals on the season and tie for the Big Ten lead in field goal percentage (91.3) with talking10 Kicker of the Year Emmit Carpenter of Minnesota.
In a game with as much pressure as the B1G title game can provide, making sure to secure all the points you can is critical. There’s little doubt that Penn State’s biggest advantage comes in the kicking game, as Wisconsin counters with the inconsistent Andrew Endicott. He hit just 68.8 percent of his field goals (11 of 16) on the season after being thrust in to action thanks to back surgery to regular kicker Rafael Gaglianone.
Look for Davis to have an impact on this game.
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