MADISON – Is anyone surprised to see that Michigan is tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks with 29?
The plaudits handed out to Michigan’s pass rushers this season have been earned.
Yet look which team shares the top spot with the Wolverines:
Eleven players have recorded at least one sack for the Nittany Lions (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten), who host Wisconsin (6-3, 4-2) at 11 a.m. Saturday.
The bulk, however, have come from the front four.
Ends Yetur Gross-Matos (seven), Shaka Toney (five) and Shareef Miller (four) and tackle Robert Windsor (3 ½) have combined for 19 ½ of the team’s 29 sacks, or 67.2 percent. Tackle Kevin Givens has just one sack but has five tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries.
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“It’s a good defense,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “I think they’re doing it a number of ways.”
Gross-Matos had the Nittany Lions’ lone sack last week in a 42-7 loss to Michigan and has recorded at least one-half sack in each of the last four games. He has 5 ½ sacks during that span.
Toney recorded four of his sacks in the fourth quarter at Indiana to help the Nittany Lions hold on for a 33-28 win.
“They’ve beat guys with clean rushes,” Chryst said, “and so many times when you see sacks, there is one guy disrupting it and maybe another guy finishes.
“It is an active front. But they also do a great job of adding (guys), whether it is linebackers or secondary.
“I think they’ve got a well-designed scheme and the players play fast. In my opinion they’ve got good players doing it. It will be a good challenge for our whole group.”
UW has allowed a total of 13 sacks in nine games, tied for the third-lowest total in the league.
The Badgers have passed only 217 times, the second-lowest total in the league. Nevertheless, the protection afforded Alex Hornibrook and Jack Coan generally has been solid.
With Hornibrook recovering from a second concussion suffered this season, Coan is preparing to start this week.
Coan is more mobile than Hornibrook but he also has less experience in the pocket and will have to be sharp.
Left guard Michael Deiter raved about Penn State’s ability to harass quarterbacks.
“They do a lot defensively, so you get a lot of twist games,” he said. “And they are good defending the run so they can get teams in passing situations, which ends up in sacks eventually.
“But I also think they’re really good winning one-on-one matchups. They’ve got the physicality and the athleticism, everything you need to win one-on-one.
“We’ve got to be ready for all of that.”
Right tackle David Edwards noted that Miller and Gross-Matos are both 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds.
“They are long and they can move,” he said. “And (Givens) is quick twitch.”
Edwards believes the Nittany Lions’ line is as talented as Michigan’s front.
“They’ve got really good players,” he said. “I think they do a really good job taking advantage of their (individual) matchups, knowing when they are manned up away from the slide (protection).
“Because they have such great players, I would say they don’t have to run as many pressures because they are able to get after the quarterback so efficiently.”
Brent Pry’s first season as Penn State’s defensive coordinator was 2016. The Nittany Lions recorded only two sacks in their 38-31 victory over UW in the Big Ten title game but they brought a variety of blitzes.
“They’re talented up front,” said Joe Rudolph’s UW offensive coordinator/line coach. “They’re talented throughout their whole defense.
“Individually they are so different. Each guy has a whole different skill set. It’s not like preparing for a team. You’ve got to prepare for the individuals and the matchups.
“And they do a great job of mixing pressures with that.”