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Penn State offense 'good fit' for Moorhead

| Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, 8:30 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Penn State wide receiver Saeed Blacknall pushes against Michigan State cornerback Vayante Copeland on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, at Beaver Stadium in University Park. Penn State won 45-12.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead talks with quarterback Trace McSorley (9) during the spring game Saturday, April 16, 2016, at Beaver Stadium in University Park.

UNIVERSITY PARK –– One year ago today, Penn State coach James Franklin fired offensive coordinator John Donovan.

Now, the seventh-ranked Nittany Lions are preparing for their first appearance in the Big Ten Championship game, against No. 6 Wisconsin. Under Donovan in 2015, the Lions had the 101st-ranked scoring offense in the FBS. Now, they rank 25th.

Franklin credited the hiring of offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead as one of the reasons for his team's quick turnaround. Moorhead's up-tempo, spread offense, Franklin said, was the right fit for the Lions' personnel on offense.

“I brought Joe in because I thought his system would fit the personnel that we have,” Franklin said. “The offensive line, our numbers are better, our size and strength is better. The running backs that we've talked about, the wide receivers that we have, the mobility at the quarterback position. It's a good fit, and it's good timing.”

Unlike the Lions, the Badgers run a more traditional, between-the-tackles offense built around the power-run and stout offensive line. Running back Corey Clement has rushed for 1,140 yards this season on 271 carries, 13 of which went for touchdowns.

Penn State defensive end Evan Schwan said the Badgers offense resembles that of Michigan State more than any of the Lions' other opponents this season. Both teams use their ground game to control the clock and wear down opposing defenses.

“If I were to compare Wisconsin to any other team, I think it would be Michigan State actually,” Schwan said. “I'm happy that we got to play Michigan State this week because it's going to prepare us for the game that we have this week.”

The Lions defense struggled at first against the Spartans last week. The Spartans had 256 yards of offense and four trips to the red zone in the first half. They wore down the Lions defense, controlled the clock and kept Penn State's explosive offense off the field.

What helped Penn State, though, was that it forced Michigan State to settle for field goals in the first half instead of reaching the end zone. Trailing by two points, the Lions made the necessary halftime adjustments to pull well ahead of the Spartans by the end of the third quarter.

Penn State remained the No. 7 team in the College Football Playoff rankings, despite now-No. 5 Michigan's loss to Ohio State, which gave the Lions the Big Ten East title.

The Buckeyes stayed at No. 2 after beating the Wolverines in overtime, while Clemson and Washington fill out the top four.

Kirby Hocutt, the chairman of the selection committee, said the committee doesn't look ahead at future matchups and defended the committee's decision to leave Penn State and Wisconsin on the outside looking in.

“(Penn State's) not close in the eyes of the selection committee.” Hocutt said.

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