MADISON, Wis. – The No. 19/20 Penn State football team opened its 2021 campaign with a 16-10 road victory against Big Ten foe No. 12 Wisconsin on Saturday.
The Nittany Lion defense shined in the game, forcing three turnovers in the contest including two in the game’s final minutes. Linebacker Ellis Brooks led all players with a career-high 11 tackles. He also recorded a sack. Arnold Ebiketie was strong off the edge, adding a sack, two tackles for a loss and a blocked field goal. Penn State sealed the victory with key interceptions by Jaquan Brisker and Ji’Ayir Brown.
Penn State (1-0, 1-0 Big Ten) gained 297 total yards, with 247 yards coming from its passing attack. Quarterback Sean Clifford completed 18-33 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown. Senior Jahan Dotson had a big day on the outside, highlighted by a 49-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter and a 42-yard grab in the fourth that led to Penn State’s second touchdown of the game. Noah Cain capped off that drive with a two-yard TD run in his first game since Penn State’s season opener in 2020.
Wisconsin (0-1, 0-1 Big Ten) found success on the ground on Saturday, led by a 31-carry 121-yard day from junior Chez Mellusi. Penn State held Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz to 185 yards passing and forced two interceptions.
The win is Penn State’s first season-opening victory against a ranked opponent since 1999 when the Nittany Lions defeated No. 4 Arizona, 41-7. The Nittany Lions have now won their last five contests against Wisconsin.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Both defenses were on display in a scoreless opening quarter. Wisconsin threatened on its first drive of the second, getting inside Penn State’s five-yard line. The Nittany Lions would stand strong, holding the Badgers to a field goal attempt that was blocked by Arnold Ebiketie to keep Wisconsin off the board.
The Badgers would once again reach the red zone on their next drive, when their 12-play drive ended on the game’s first turnover. Nick Tarburton jumped on a fumbled exchange between Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz and Chez Mellusi to give the Nittany Lions their first takeaway of the 2021 season.
The game would remain scoreless at the half, marking the first time since 2011 that Penn State and an opponent were tied 0-0 at halftime.
The Nittany Lions struck first on their opening drive of the second half when Sean Clifford found Jahan Dotson deep down field for a 49-yard touchdown. Penn State went 86 yards on just four plays for its first score of the year.
Wisconsin would even the score on the ensuing drive, capping off a 10-play, 75-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run by Mellusi.
The Badgers took their first lead of the game early in the fourth on a 43-yard field goal by Collin Larsh to make it 10-7.
Penn State followed with a field goal of their own, when Jordan Stout knocked a 24-yarder through the uprights. The drive was highlighted by a 34-yard carry by Noah Cain.
The Nittany Lions jumped back in front, 16-10, with 9:17 remaining in the fourth on a two-yard touchdown rush by Cain. Clifford and Dotson once again connected on a big play on the drive, this time on a 42-yarder to get Dotson over the 100-yard receiving mark.
The Penn State defense continued to make big plays to close out the victory. With Wisconsin threatening inside the 5-yard line, the Nittany Lion defense stood strong with three consecutive stops, capped off by an interception by Jaquan Brisker on fourth down.
The Badgers would get the ball back with 1:10 remaining and quickly got into the red zone again. The Nittany Lions closed out the game with two big defensive plays, first a sack by Ebiketie, followed by a game-sealing interception by Ji’Ayir Brown to clinch the 16-10 victory.
COURTESY PENN STATE ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS