What a difference a weekend makes. Just one week ago, the Wisconsin Badgers were looking at a potential trap game and a Homecoming that could've well been if they couldn't stop Stefon Diggs. In case you missed the fun, Wisconsin got to 52 and Maryland got to 7 with one minute to go. Now everyone's happy.
Saturday at noon, the Badgers look to continue the fun traveling up to Piscataway, N.J., for a morning road battle with Rutgers. Can they continue the whimsy? Read on.
First of all, wide receiver Leonte Carroo is a transcendent talent who's at once Rutgers' best player and had almost 70 percent of his catches go for a first down. Quarterback Gary Nova throws it up, and more often than not, you'll find that Carroo will come down with it. He also has an Abbrederisian level of catches for the Rutgers offense, as his 39 grabs are worth 31 percent of Rutgers' receptions. Carroo is a great player, and Wisconsin cornerback Darius Hillary is going to have a challenge. Not that he didn't handle a similar one last week, but the streak continues.
As it stands, Nova's questionable for the game after suffering a knee injury against Nebraska. If he doesn't go, Chris Laviano will get the start. The redshirt freshman does have some mobility, getting 54 yards rushing in relief against the Huskers. Considering the Badgers' defensive style -- averaging three sacks per game with 13 different players getting one -- an injured drop-back quarterback might just be a sitting duck for defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. And after running back Paul James suffered a torn ACL earlier this season, Rutgers' running game is hovering just under 4 yards per carry. Now it faces a top-15 rush defense.
|Wisconsin's Rushing Defense Game-by-Game (per CFBStats.com)|
|08/30/14||*16 LSU||L 24-28||47||126||2.68||1|
|09/06/14||Western Ill.||W 37-3||30||54||1.80||0|
|09/20/14||Bowling Green||W 68-17||29||93||3.21||2|
|09/27/14||South Fla.||W 27-10||19||72||3.79||1|
|10/04/14||@ Northwestern||L 14-20||46||203||4.41||1|
With an increasingly healthy Wisconsin defense, there will likely be plenty of emphasis on getting the ball to Carroo. It's unlikely the Badgers will be beaten by the tag team of running backs Desmon Peoples and Justin Goodwin -- Rutgers is going to need points through the air to match-up with the Badgers.
Why? Because Saturday is also Melvin Gordon vs. the 110th-ranked rush defense on a per-play basis. On that alone, Wisconsin has a decided advantage; Rutgers usually only faces an opponent that runs 35 times a game or less. That's not happening this week. Gordon and Corey Clement should have successful days, and if the Badgers let Tanner McEvoy do the things he can do, McEvoy may wind his way through the defense for a big gain or two ... kinda like this:
Through the air, Rutgers' pass defense is as good as its pass rush allows. This isn't meant to be an insult; the Scarlet Knights had 24 sacks through six games, so it's been effective, though Nebraska and Ohio State were able to keep their quarterbacks upright. I'm not saying it's a guarantee Wisconsin is going to score 40 points if it follows this path, but there are openings in Rutgers' passing coverage. We likely won't see McStavoy rely too much on throwing it, but there's no reason to think 15-to-20 passes aren't going to lead to a successful day for Alex Erickson or Sam Arneson.
Long story short: the Badgers should be able to get that all-important road win. They match up well with Rutgers, and with the defense healthy, Wisconsin could well continue the momentum for the all-important final three-game stretch.