Saturday's Big Ten: Defense helps No. 19 Penn State edge No. 12 Wisconsin
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 2½ 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.
More Big Ten
►(At) No. 18 Iowa 34, No. 17 Indiana 6: Riley Moss returned two first-half interceptions for touchdowns and Iowa intercepted quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. three times and had a fourth wiped out by a roughing-the-passer call.
Tyler Goodson rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown for the Hawkeyes. Quarterback Spencer Petras had a 9-yard touchdown run, but hit 13 of 27 passes for 145 yards.
Penix, coming off a knee injury late last season, had four interceptions in six games last season. He threw for 156 yards.
It was the seventh consecutive win for the Hawkeyes dating to last season. It was only the third loss for Indiana in its last 18 season openers.
Iowa opened the game with two touchdowns just over two minutes. Goodson had a 56-yard touchdown run on the fourth offensive play. Three plays into the Hoosiers’ first possession, Moss intercepted a pass that went through the hands of Indiana receiver D.J. Matthews and returned it 30 yards for a score.
Moss had a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter to push the lead to 28-3.
Caleb Shudak had field goals of 41 and 35 yards for Iowa.
► (At) Maryland 30, West Virginia 24: Taulia Tagovailoa threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns, and Maryland topped turnover-prone West Virginia.
With his brother Tua on the sideline watching, Tagovailoa threw touchdown passes of 66 yards to Dontay Demus, 18 yards to Chigoziem Okonkwo — and then a 60-yarder to Rakim Jarrett in the fourth quarter that gave the Terrapins (1-0) a 30-21 lead.
West Virginia (0-1) turned the ball over four times and lost despite holding Maryland without a first down the in third quarter. Leddie Brown scored three touchdowns for the Mountaineers, but his fumble late in the third was a turning point.
West Virginia led 21-20 at the time, but after Brown’s fumble in Maryland territory, the Terrapins drove for a field goal. The Mountaineers then drove into the red zone, but Jarret Doege was intercepted in the end zone.
► (At) Nebraska 52, Fordham 7: Adrian Martinez ran for two touchdowns and passed for another, and Nebraska broke away from Fordham in the second quarter.
Samori Toure caught eight balls for 133 yards and ran three times for 35 yards and a score as the Cornhuskers (1-1) bounced back from a loss at Illinois last week. Markese Stepp added 101 yards on 18 carries, and the Huskers finished with 633 total yards.
Fordham linebacker Ryan Greenhagen finished with 30 tackles, the most in Division I since Donald Payne had the same number for Stetson against Campbell in 2014.
The Rams (0-1) gouged the Huskers for 221 yards in the first two quarters. The Rams had 71 yards and one first down after halftime.
Fordham quarterback Tim DeMorat threw three interceptions in Nebraska territory, and the Huskers converted each into touchdowns. Deontai Williams had two of the picks and he also blocked a field goal.
► (At) Rutgers 61, Temple 14: Aron Cruickshank had a career-high 206 all-purpose yards as Rutgers opened the season with a win and scored over 60 points for the first time since 2016.
Noah Vedral was 15-of-27 passing for 138 yards and a touchdown for Rutgers. He also had a team-high 58 yards on eight rushes. Cruickshank returned four kicks for 113 yards and two punts for 55 yards, and he carried it three times for 24 and caught one pass for 14.
Rutgers opened up a 26-0 lead before Temple put its first points on the board on an 11-yard touchdown run by Edward Saydee.
D'Wan Mathis (Oak Park) scored on a 3-yard run to make it 26-14 after the first drive of the third quarter. However, Mathis went to the medical tent to get his left ankle taped, and exited the game shortly after, going 8-of-24 for 148 yards and an interception.
Rutgers would run away from there, as Temple finished with just 261 total yards and five turnovers.
►(At) Purdue 30, Oregon State 21: Purdue coach Jeff Brohm promised to make changes heading into this offseason. On Saturday, it paid dividends.
Jack Plummer threw for 313 yards and two late touchdowns while the revamped defense made sure it was enough to give the Boilermakers a win i the 500th game played at Ross-Ade Stadium since 1924.
Purdue has won 291 games in their home venue, this one coming in prime time and in front of its biggest home crowd in 644 days. And it was largely because the Boilermakers converted two fourth-down stops in the second half into 10 points.
The first led to Mitchell Fineran’s third field goal, which gave Purdue a 16-7 lead late in the third quarter. The second resulted in Plummer’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Payne Durham for a 23-14 edge with 4:56 to go. Plummer sealed it with a 50-yard TD pass to Durham with 2:09 to play.
Plummer was 29 of 41, hooking up with David Bell caught eight times for 134 yards and Durham seven times for 120 yards. Zander Horvath ran for 81 yards and one TD.
Sam Noyer was under heavy pressure in his Oregon State debut and was pulled late in the third quarter. Chance Nolan led the Beavers (0-1) to two fourth-quarter scores to get the Beavers within two twice. The Beavers lost their fourth in a row despite getting two TD runs from B.J. Baylor.
►UTSA 37, (at) Illinois 30: As impressive as UTSA was, you’d never guess the Roadrunners’ football program is only a decade old.
Or that it was UTSA’s first time facing a Big Ten opponent.
UTSA never trailed in the season opener as Frank Harris was 20 of 32 for 280 yards and a touchdown and ran for a second score. Sincere McCormick carried 31 times for 117 yards and Brenden Brady ran 11 times for 67 yards and two touchdowns. Zakhari Franklin caught 10 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown for the Roadrunners.
Artur Sitkowski was 22 of 42 passing for 266 yards and 3 touchdowns for Illinois. Reggie Love III rushed for 39 yards.
Isaiah Williams caught 8 passes for 101 yards, while Daniel Barker hauled in 5 passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns. Deuce Spann caught a 31-yard pass for a touchdown, his only reception of the game.
Illinois nearly tied the game with seconds left, but an offensive pass interference call on tight end Luke Ford pushed the Illini back to the 25. Sitkowski tried to hit Isaiah Williams in the end zone with time expiring but the ball sailed over his head.
Illinois, which knocked off Nebraska in its season opener, started slowly and UTSA took advantage. The Roadrunners scored first on a 9-yard run by Harris with 1:32 left in the first quarter. The run capped an impressive 94-yard, 13-play drive. Brady then scored on a seven-yard run with 11:31 left in the second quarter and UTSA led 14-0.
Illinois answered with a 31-yard pass from Sitkowski to Deuce Spann with 9:21 left in the first half – Sitkowski’s first completion in four attempts.
After a UTSA field goal late in the second quarter, Illinois went 75 yards on 8 plays, ending with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Sitkowski to Daniel Barker. On the ensuing kickoff, the Illini’s Kerby Joseph touched the ball but couldn’t field it. UTSA recovered on the Illinois 21.
The Roadrunners settled for a field goal and led 20-14 at the half.
In the second half, the Illini’s James McCourt kicked field goals of 52 and 53 yards, his fifth and sixth career 50 yards-plus field goals, an Illinois school record.