STATE COLLEGE — C.J. Olaniyan is ready to take a run at stopping Wisconsin’s powerful rushing attack.
Penn State’s 6-3, 244-pound defensive end is well aware that the Nittany Lions (6-5, 3-4) must control the running back tandem of Melvin Gordon and James White in order to stay in Saturday’s game against the 14th-ranked Badgers (9-2, 6-1).
Physical play is the key, he said, to try to limit Gordon, who has rushed for 1,375 yards, and White, who has gained 1,281. Those two players make Wisconsin the country’s only team to have two 1,000-yard rushers and two running backs averaging at least 100 yards rushing per game.
“I love when we play teams that run the ball because I like to be physical, so I know it’s going to be a physical game,” Olaniyan said. “Each play you have to bring it, so my mindset going into the week is that I have to get ready to play a physical game.”
Both Badger backs “bring something different to the table,” said Olaniyan, who also cited Wisconsin’s overall balance. Quarterback Joel Stave has thrown for 2,075 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“The team that runs the ball like Wisconsin does, you know there’s going to be a play-action coming,” he said. “You have to watch enough film to know the reads that their tackles give you when it’s play-action so you can get a jump on the snap.”
Penn State’s defense has improved considerably since allowing 63 points against Ohio State in late October. It’s given up an average of 21 points in four November games.
As Olaniyan’s play picked up, the defense followed. He’s ranked in the Big Ten’s top 10 in forced fumbles (three), sacks (five) and tackles for loss (11). He also has 47 tackles through 11 games, including 25 unassisted.
“I try to study the playbook and understand the defense so I can know what everybody is doing out there,” Olaniyan said. “I think that’s what helps me being versatile because I understand the defense. We just have to be prepared so we can play the best game we have all year.”
Olaniyan has had added incentive on this season, he said, because of the April birth of his daughter, Nala.
“This year’s been really special for me because my daughter was born this year (April 21) and that helped me with motivation,” Olaniyan said.