The Wisconsin football team is just a few days away from kicking off their 2021 campaign. They will face Penn St. on Saturday at 11:00 am at Camp Randall Stadium.
While Penn St. is a conference opponent, they aren’t an opponent the Badgers play every year. The Nittany Lions are in the East division, so they don’t play each other every year. In fact, the Badgers haven’t played the Nittany Lions since 2018, when they lost 22-10 on the road.
A lot has changed from that game three years ago, including most of the active players. The Nittany Lions are a team some Wisconsin football fans aren’t too familiar with, so I wanted to highlight a few players that fans might want to keep an eye on during the game on Saturday. Odds are, their names will pop up more than once.
1. QB Sean Clifford
Yes, it’s pretty obvious we should keep an eye on the opponent’s starting quarterback, but Sean Clifford is a huge part of Penn St.’s offense. Last season, Clifford threw for 1,883 yards, 16 touchdowns, and nine interceptions while completing 60.6% of his passes in nine games.
He can get it done through the air, but he’s not just a pocket passer. Clifford actually led Penn St. in rushing attempts last season as well. He carried the ball 99 times for 335 yards and three touchdowns. He was the second-leading rusher, behind freshman Kevyone Lee, who had 438 rushing yards on 88 carries during his first collegiate season.
The Badgers are going to have to limit Clifford on the ground and try to contain him through the air, which could also be tough, considering they have one of the better receivers in the conference as well, which brings me to our next Nittany Lion to keep an eye on.
2. WR Jahan Dotson
The Big Ten is loaded with wide receiver talent this year, and Jahan Dotson is right up there with the best of them. He enjoyed a nice breakout year in 2020, catching 52 passes for 884 yards and eight touchdowns in just eight games.
Patrick Koerbler from Black Shoe Diaries, Penn St.’s SB Nation site, named Dotson no. 1 in his Penn State Football Preseason Top 10 list. From Koerbler on what to expect from Dotson in 2021:
"Greatness. Dotson has the chance to etch himself into the pantheon of greatest Penn State receivers of all time. If the 2020 season had been a normal 13-game season, Dotson would have finished with 75 receptions, 1,276 yards, and 11 touchdowns — just some ridiculous stats that very few Penn State receivers have reached. While DaeSean Hamilton’s receptions record of 214 is likely out of reach, Dotson is just 87 receptions shy of No. 2 Deon Butler’s 179. Now granted, Dotson would need a heck of a season to reach that, but it’s certainly possible with just how important Dotson will be for this offense."
The secondary for the Wisconsin football team needs to be ready, otherwise, they could be in for a long day with the Clifford-Dotson connection.
3. LB Jesse Luketa
Jesse Luketa was forced into a meaningful role last season after their starting linebacker Micah Parsons opted out of the season. Luketa stepped in and produced for the Nittany Lions right away. He finished the season second in tackles (59) and second in sacks (2.5).
He was named a team captain this offseason and will reportedly have multiple roles within Penn St.’s defense. According to Daniel Gallen from pennlive.com, Luketa will be playing both defensive end and linebacker for the Nittany Lions this year.
The offensive line for the Wisconsin football team is going to have some new starters this year, including starting left tackle Tyler Beach. Luketa is likely going to move around a lot, so the offensive line is going to need to know where he each play because he will be around the ball, constantly trying to make a play.