Nittany Lions Fall to No. 17 Wisconsin, 13-3
First, the good: Paul Posluszny (Aliquippa, Pa.) broke the school record for career tackles by making 14 stops, 10 in the first half, giving him 349 for his career. Meanwhile, Sean Lee (Pittsburgh, Pa.) made a career-high 13 tackles, two sacks, recovered two fumbles and forced another. Dan Connor (Wallingford, Pa.) ¨C playing with a broken hand ¨C made 10 tackles, a sack and also forced a fumble.
Despite the overpowering defensive performance, the Penn State offense couldn¡¯t build any momentum and the Nittany Lions fell, 13-3, in their final regular season road trip of an up and down 2006 season.
To make matters worse, the Nittany Lions lost their head coach during the game. Joe Paterno was forced to leave the field with a knee injury following a collision with players near the end of the third quarter. Freshman tight end Andrew Quarless (Uniondale, N.Y.) rolled into Paterno after catching a sideline pass and the legendary coach was tended to by medical staff before eventually being taken to the locker room.
Paterno returned home on a University plane ahead of the team and was examined in State College by Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli, Penn State's Director of Athletic Medicine. Coach Paterno's left knee was X-rayed and he will be examined again on Sunday.
Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said the Lions knew what to do in the face of adversity. ¡°It¡¯s how we¡¯re trained,¡± he said. ¡°We kept working and that¡¯s what Joe would have wanted us to do. I¡¯m worried but he¡¯s tough. He¡¯ll probably be driving us nuts this week.¡±
With the victory, the Badgers own an 8-4 series advantage over the Lions, including a 6-4 edge since Penn State began Big Ten competition in 1993. Wisconsin improves to 22-4 in its last 26 games at Camp Randall Stadium, including a 17-1 mark since the start of 2004.
Coming into the game, the Lions had allowed just 13 points in the first quarter all season and held six opponents scoreless in the opening stanza. The Penn State defense muted Wisconsin's attack for all but the final seconds of the first 15 minutes, when Taylor Mehlhaff connected on a 37-yard field goal to give the Badgers a 3-0 lead as time expired in the first quarter.
Penn State answered on its next drive. Anthony Morelli (Pittsburgh, Pa.) led the Lions 58 yards in nine plays and Kevin Kelly (Langhorne, Pa.) tied the game with a 39-yard field goal three minutes into the second quarter.
On Wisconsin¡¯s next offensive possession, Connor hit Badger quarterback John Stocco and forced a fumble that Lee recovered at the Wisconsin 14-yard line. On the very next play, however, a Morelli pass was tipped twice and intercepted by Roderick Rodgers.
Stocco made the most of the second chance and steered the Badgers into field goal position, but Mehlhaff¡¯s 47-yard attempt with 5:39 left in the half sailed wide right.
The Badgers got the ball back before halftime and scored to take a lead they would not relinquish. Stocco¡¯s 14-yard touchdown pass to Paul Hubbard with 23 seconds remaining in the second quarter capped a nine play, 68-yard drive that included a successful fourth-and-short conversion. It was the seventh time this year the Badgers have scored the final two minutes of a first half.
At halftime, the Lions were in the game. The Badgers owned a time of possession advantage of 21 minutes to nine minutes, but their lead was just 10-3.
The only second half score came after a Penn State miscue. With five minutes remaining in third quarter, a Badger punt glanced off the leg of Lydell Sargeant (Lompoc, Calif.), resulting in a fumble that was recovered by Zach Hampton. The Lions kept Wisconsin out of the endzone but five plays later, Melhaff¡¯s second field goal stretched the Badger lead to 13-3 and ended the scoring.
Posluszny's big day remains the silver lining, especially since the Penn State record for career tackles might be the most prestigious mark at the school known as Linebacker U.
With two regular season games to play, Posluszny passed Greg Buttle, who had 343 tackles from 1973-75, for sole possession of first place in school annals. Earlier this year, the senior leapfrogged Lion greats Brian Gelzheiser, Dennis Onkotz, John Skoropan and Shane Conlan in the record book.
Already the proud owner of the 2005 Butkus and Bednarik Awards, Posluszny is a semifinalist for this year¡¯s Butkus, Bednarik and Rotary Lombardi Awards.
After the game he spoke about setting a new career tackles record. ¡°On a different kind of day it would mean a lot more,¡± he said. ¡°I¡¯d rather have a win.¡±
Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley praised the senior linebacker¡¯s effort. ¡°I played with Greg Buttle so I know the record is quite an accomplishment,¡± Bradley said. ¡°I am proud to have Paul on my defense and it will take a long time for anyone to break that record.¡±
The Nittany Lions return home to face Temple next week and Michigan State to close the 2006 season. Wisconsin goes on the road to play Iowa.