The Big Ten Leaders Division title will be on the line when No. 19 Penn State travels to No. 16 Wisconsin this week. The focus is squarely on the Nittany Lions' conference-leading scoring defense (13 ppg) clashing with the Badgers' league-best scoring offense (44.8 ppg).
If PSU quarterback Matt McGloin has his way, the Lion offense will figure significantly into the outcome, as well.
I think this week, we're going to have to put some points on the board, he said in a conference call Wednesday. That offense we're going up against is one of the best we've seen.
But even on those possessions where PSU does not tally points, the offense can do its part to help the cause.
The Lions (9-2 overall, 6-1 in conference) are in position to win the division even though they are averaging only 18.6 ppg in league play (ranking 10th). However, they check in at No. 5 in first downs, averaging 19.3 per contest.
Further, they rank third in time of possession, second in kickoff coverage and have allowed a total of 25 punt-return yards to Big Ten foes.
Each time we step on the field, we're moving the ball a little bit, McGloin said. Not necessarily scoring, but getting a couple of first downs and punting. We see that as a positive.
McGloin has been the poster boy for that approach. Criticized for being a risk-taker in 2010, he has toned down his game significantly this season. He has only four interceptions on 214 attempts. He has not had more than one pick in a game.
When Tom Bradley took over as interim head coach two weeks ago, one of his first orders of business was to end the two-quarterback system Joe Paterno had been using. McGloin was named the outright starter and sophomore Rob Bolden was benched.
Now I feel more confident and relaxed at the position, McGloin said.
On Tuesday, Bradley summoned McGloin to his office for a one-on-one meeting. It is something Paterno had never done with the redshirt junior quarterback.
McGloin described it as a man-to-man talk and added we were able to open up. He initially declined to give more details, but later said Bradley had met with several upperclassmen to discuss leadership.
He just wants to make sure we're able to relay what he's saying to other members of the team, McGloin said. He wants us to understand this is a tough football game.
A tough game in a tough environment.
Wisconsin (9-2, 5-2) is 6-0 at home this season and has won 15 straight games at Camp Randall Stadium. The Badger offense, led by All-America candidate quarterback Russell Wilson and standout running back Montee Ball, is averaging 52.3 points per game at home.
And a Camp Randall crowd of 80,000-plus should be in prime form for the late-afternoon game.
We love going into a tough environment like that on the road, (where) people hate us, McGloin said. It's part of the game that we really enjoy going out there and trying to silence the crowd.
There is no better way to do that than to score early. How the Lions attempt to pull that off remains to be seen. They caught Ohio State off guard by using the Wildcat formation last week and it led to an opening-drive touchdown.
McGloin said Penn State is working on a lot of stuff this week, but was not more specific. Yet after lining up in the slot last weekend and catching a pass off an end-around vs. Nebraska two weeks ago, he joked that you never know where he might play.
If they want me to line up at tackle whatever they want me to do to help the team win I will, he said.