|Wisconsin 30, Penn State 23|
|October 4, 2003|
|Beaver Stadium - University Park, PA|
|Kickoff Time: 12:10 p.m. EDT|
Sept. 27 -- Sunlight finally punched through the clouds above Beaver Stadium
yesterday just as Penn State raised its hopes for victory with a quick-strike
touchdown in the fourth quarter, forcing Wisconsin to look nervously over
In the end, though, after the Badgers decided that running again and again into the soft underbelly of the Nittany Lions' defense was the most efficient, if not the most exciting, way to win, all the sunshine served to do was illuminate the new ways Penn State had found to lose a close game.
"It's heartbreaking to work so hard all week and come away with a loss," quarterback Michael Robinson said after Wisconsin added to the Nittany Lions' misery by handing them a 30-23 defeat in a Big Ten Conference game.
Nine of Penn State's last 10 losses, extending back to 2001, have been by eight or fewer points.
Making his first start in place of injured Zack Mills, Robinson completed 22 of 43 passes for 379 yards. The redshirt sophomore tossed a pair of TD passes, throwing for 73 yards to 6-foot-8 tight end Matt Kranchick and for 5 yards to Gerald Smith. Penn State (2-4, 0-2 conference) had managed only one TD pass in its five previous games.
The Nittany Lions are not good enough to knock off a good team when they distribute as many gifts as they did.
The special teams, which had avoided blame for Penn State's problems earlier, were a mess. The Nittany Lions lost three fumbles. The one by punt returner Calvin Lowry gave Wisconsin (5-1, 2-0) the impetus for the touchdown that raised its lead to 17-9 at the end of the first half. The TD came on a 20-yard pass from Jim Sorgi to Brandon Williams.
"I was trying too hard and made some mistakes," Lowry said. "Overall, the team is trying too hard. We're only inches away from winning these close games."
"Turnovers killed us," Robinson said.
The Badgers didn't have to strain for their next TD, either. Jim Leonhard raced 65 yards up the middle with a punt to make the score 23-9 late in the third quarter.
Wisconsin also got a 55-yard kickoff return from Williams that set up a 46-yard field goal by Mike Allen.
Meanwhile, Penn State's Robbie Gould missed two field-goal attempts and an extra-point try.
"You talk about the mistakes we made on special teams and the missed opportunities - absolutely, that's what kills you," coach Joe Paterno said. "It's frustrating, but it's all part of it. When you're good, those things don't happen to you. We're not that good yet."
Unlike Penn State's other losses, this one didn't raise questions about play-calling, clock management or the ability of the receivers to catch the ball. It did raise more concerns about the run defense.
Like Minnesota, which beat Penn State, 20-14, last weekend, Wisconsin regularly uses a trio of tailbacks. Each of them has run for more than 100 yards in a game this season.
So Wisconsin's offense was tailor-made to move the ball on the ground against Penn State, and the Badgers didn't stop until they had amassed 234 yards.
Booker Stanley, who plays behind Anthony Davis and Dwayne Smith, ran for 119, including a 6-yard TD that gave the Badgers a 30-16 lead with 9 minutes, 42 seconds left.
Stanley became the sixth running back in six games to surpass 100 yards against Penn State.
"I think some of the problem is we're not always in the right place at the right time," linebacker Deryck Toles said. "They had three different running backs, like Minnesota, and each is a little different, which makes it a little difficult.
"We're trying to get better. We're really trying to stop the run."
In the second half, Wisconsin's enormous offensive line cleared lanes for the running backs, and the Badgers were able to play keep-away at critical times. After the Robinson-to-Kranchick touchdown, Wisconsin ran 13 consecutive times on its next possession, going 80 yards and chewing 6:57 off the clock before Stanley made it 30-16.
Penn State needed only 59 seconds to respond. Robinson completed four straight passes, the final one to Smith, and it was 30-23 with 8:43 to go.
"We wanted to ride that momentum," Robinson said. "But we made mistakes - a missed block here, a couple bad passes by me when guys were open."
On its next two possessions, Wisconsin went three and out. But Robinson had lost his hot hand. On first and 10 at the Badgers' 25, he tossed three incompletions. Then Gould missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt.
Later, after Penn State went three and out, its defense could hold up no longer, and Stanley used up most of the remaining time.
"The last three games, we've kind of ridden our offensive line and our running game," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said.
Notes: Robinson's 379 passing yards gave him the second-highest single-game total in Penn State history. Mills set the school record with 399 against Iowa last season... . Penn State dropped to 60-19-5 on homecoming day... . The Nittany Lions' 424 yards of total offense were a season high... . The Badgers' Sorgi completed only 9 of 26 passes for 140 yards, but two went for TDs.