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Penn State, No. 19, got things started with their first big win of the season against Wisconsin, No. 12. While Badgers fans shook Camp Randall at the sight of college football’s return, it proved to be the only spark of life from a lackluster Wisconsin performance on Saturday.
A goose egg in the first half for both teams preceded the contest’s first score in the third quarter when Penn State went up 7-0 off a 49-yard connection between QB Sean Clifford and returning senior wideout Jahan Dotson.
The Nittany Lions quarterback completed 18 of 33 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown. On the other side, Badgers QB Graham Mertz had a day to forget: errantly throwing an interception in the red zone, a second at the Penn State 25 and never accounting for a score as he watched the Nittany Lions go up 16-10 in the fourth — following a missed extra point from PSU’s kicker. Penn State then held on for the win.
Mertz ended the afternoon with 22 of 37 passes for 185 yards. Wisconsin outmatched Penn State in offensive yards, 359-297, but Mertz’s key turnovers kept the Badgers off the scoreboard. The takeaways were equally credited to Penn State’s stalwart defensive performance in the second half when it mattered the most, led by safeties Jaquan Brisker and Ji’Ayir Brown.
The defensive squad forced Mertz to commit a number of penalties on Penn State’s side of the field, but did have one Achilles heel for the afternoon: Wisconsin running back Chez Mellusi. Mellusi totaled 31 carries, 121 yards and a touchdown — a strong debut for the former Clemson back.
Penn State had entered the game missing a number of players, including safety Keaton Ellis, running back John Lovett, defensive tackle Hakeem Beamon, and offensive lineman Sal Wormley.
Camp Randall Stadium welcomed 76,832 fans, all hyped to see the afternoon matchup after a near two-year absence, and honoring the tradition of singing to a familiar House of Pain track — which may have been the ultimate highlight from Week 1 of college football action.
Follow along on Twitter: @AlejandroAveela