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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions (6-5, 3-4) will conclude the 2013 season with a trip to No. 14 Wisconsin (9-2, 6-1) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (TV-ESPN) inside Camp Randall Stadium.
Penn State and Wisconsin will meet in the regular season finale for the third-straight year. The two teams are not scheduled to meet again until the 2018 season after the conference begins its new East and West Division alignment in 2014. Saturday's game marks Penn State's sixth contest against a team that is nationally ranked this season.
Junior running back Zach Zwinak gained 149 yards last week in Penn State's 23-20 overtime setback to Nebraska. Zwinak heads into the season finale with three-straight 100-yard performances. Allen Robinson's eight catches for 106 yards against the Huskers moved him into second on the career receiving chart with 169 receptions. Robinson is 10 catches shy of Deon Butler's 179 grabs from 2005-'08.
Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg is among the Big Ten's top signal callers, ranking second in the conference in completions (210) and passing yards (237.8). Hackenberg has eight 200-yard passing games this year, breaking the Penn State freshman record and ranks in the top five on the school season completions and yardage lists.
The Badgers enter the final week of the season on a six-game winning streak following a 20-7 road victory over Minnesota. Wisconsin averages 297.8 rushing yards per game, which ranks eighth in the NCAA and second in the Big Ten. The Badgers are 6-0 at home during the 2013 season.
Welcome to the Gameday Preview for Penn State's final regular season matchup of 2013.
What to Watch For - Penn State
1. November has been a strong month for Zach Zwinak during his Nittany Lion career. In eight career games during the month, Zwinak has rushed for 1,062 yards. In his last three outings, the Nittany Lion junior has 448 yards on the ground. In addition to Zwinak, Bill Belton, who has 796 yards in 2013, is expected to return this weekend against Wisconsin. Success on the ground against a talented Wisconsin defense will create opportunities for Hackenberg in the passing game. The true freshman has connected with Robinson on 17 passing plays of 20 or more yards this season.
2. Since the second half of the Minnesota game, the Nittany Lion defense has played its best football of the 2013 season. During that span of 10 quarters and one overtime period, the Nittany Lions have held opposing offenses to 30 total points. Junior linebacker Mike Hull said this week that one of the biggest keys to the way Penn State has been playing on defense is communication. The Lions have done a great job of communicating with one another in simple terms before the snap to ensure they are lined up in a good place to make plays. Additionally, Penn State's defensive unit has played with great passion in recent weeks. Look for that to continue on Saturday as seniors DaQuan Jones, Glenn Carson, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Malcolm Willis all line up for the final time in a Penn State uniform.
3. Against a Badger offense averaging 36.8 points per game in 2013, the Nittany Lions will be looking for a very quick start on the offensive side of the ball. Efficient play from the offense, especially on third down and in the red zone, will play a big role in Penn State's success against the Badgers. Wisconsin has out-scored its opponents 103-26 in the first quarter this season.
What to Watch For - Wisconsin
1. Redshirt sophomore Melvin Gordon and senior James White make up the top running back duo in the nation. Gordon has rushed for 1,375 yards (8.2 ypc). White has rushed for 1,281 yards (6.5 ypc). Both players have at least one touchdown run of 80 or more yards. As a team, Wisconsin has 36 rushing plays of 20 or more yards and 13 rushing touchdowns of 20 or more yards this season. Simply put, Gordon and White are potential game-changing players every time they touch the ball. Additionally, Wisconsin's offensive line is a superb unit.
2. On the defensive side of the ball, senior linebacker Chris Borland is the heart and soul of the Wisconsin 3-4 defense. The fifth-year senior leads the team in tackling with 92 stops. In his last five full games (missed time due to injury), Borland has averaged 11.2 tackles and 1.3 tackles per loss. Borland plays a central role on a Wisconsin defense that has allowed just 6.0 points per game in the six games contested at Camp Randall Stadium this season.
3. Although Wisconsin has 67 plays of 20 yards or more on offense, the Badger attack is a very efficient group led by sophomore quarterback Joel Stave. Stave, who has thrown for 2,075 yards while completing 63 percent of his passes, is very good in the play-action game. Senior wideout Jared Abbredaris is his favorite target in the passing game. Abbredaris has made 61 receptions for 916 yards. The Badgers are 45-for-51 in the red zone, including 34 touchdowns.
The Final Word:
The Nittany Lions will put on the Blue and White for the final time in 2013 on Saturday. While they were honored last week in Beaver Stadium, it will be a special day for the 17 Penn State seniors, who will take the field for the final time as a college athlete. The Nittany Lions enter the game knowing they need to play mistake-free football on both sides of the ball. The battle in the trenches will play a key role in deciding the outcome on Saturday. Penn State has a great opportunity to play one of the top teams in the nation on the final regular season Saturday. Tune in at 3:30 for the ESPN coverage with Mike Patrick and Ed Cunningham on the call.
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