Five stats that defined Wisconsin’s 16-10 loss to Penn State

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That wasn’t the way 80,000 fans were supposed to be welcomed back to Camp Randall. Wisconsin opened the season with a 16-10 home loss to Penn State in a game where they had every chance to pull out a victory. The game, however, ended in justice with Penn State’s defense yet again stopping a promising Badger drive at the death.

There were numbers, such as first half time of possession, that would scream a vintage Wisconsin performance. It was in the biggest moments offensively where the Badgers failed to finish, as QB Graham Mertz looked uncomfortable in the red zone.

In the first half, the Wisconsin defense looked like the top-ten unit in the country that many expect them to be. Specifically with LB Jack Sanborn flying from sideline to sideline and at the line of scrimmage, the Badger defense stalled anything the Nittany Lions wanted to do early.

Then the second half came, and with it came a change of pace for QB Sean Clifford’s group. The Badger secondary was all of a sudden leaking, as chunk plays to WR Jahan Dotson helped give Penn State the win.

In a game where Wisconsin’s units looked night and day different from the first to the second half, let’s try to summarize the loss from a statistical perspective:

0 points from 2 first-half red zone trips

Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The game may have been lost late, but a 0-0 halftime score left Penn State feeling like they had already won. Wisconsin dominated long stretches of the first half, but when the Badger offense came within inches of pay dirt, they came up empty. A missed field goal came after a costly false start against Badger center Kayden Lyles, and on the ensuing possession Wisconsin had an unforced fumble on a botched hand-off from Mertz to Mellusi. Wisconsin may have controlled time of possession, but couldn't come away with key points.

Wisconsin dominates up front defensively, allows only 50 rushing yards

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How would Wisconsin's defensive line look after replacing key pieces? That turned out to not be the lead question when discussing the Badger defense. Led by Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin looked solid up front all day long. The Badgers held Penn State to just 50 yards rushing on 18 attempts (2.8 yards per rush).

Penn State gained over 2 yards per play more than Wisconsin

Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

While Wisconsin ran nearly double the offensive plays of Penn State, the Nittany Lions averaged 5.8 yards per play compared to the Badgers 3.8. The reason? A few massive chunk plays, including the longest play of the game on a 49-yard pitch and catch from Sean Clifford to Jahan Dotson. The Nittany Lions found holes in the Badger secondary throughout the entire half, exploiting them for big gains that Wisconsin couldn't match.

Penn State's two touchdown drives took a total of 2:08

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When the Nittany Lions struck, they struck fast. The long bomb to Dotson and another chunk of pass plays finished off by a Noah Cain run defined the two Penn State scores. Following a first half where Penn State could not move the football, the Nittany Lions came out with added pace that threw Jim Leonhard and the Badger secondary off guard.

Wisconsin only had three passing plays for more than 10 yards

Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

In a game where Mertz went 22-37 for 185 yards, it was not so much the downfield misses as it was the lack of Wisconsin's offense wanting to take a shot that proved worrisome. The Badgers barely threw the ball vertically, and only found a smidge of success when they did. Mertz looked thrown off early and often as did the Wisconsin offensive line. One of the shots downfield proved to be the game decider, as Mertz missed an open Chimere Dike in the end zone late in the fourth.

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