1. What's the feeling around Rutgers entering this game?
Two straight blowout losses to Ohio State and Nebraska have definitely tempered expectations since the Knights started the season at 5-1. Most fans knew it would be an uphill battle playing three division contenders one after the other, but it was still difficult to watch at times. The gameplan definitely centers on the running game, specifically Melvin Gordon. Ameer Abdullah just shredded Rutgers' defense, so there's not as much confidence that RU can stop Gordon either. I will say that some of us are excited to at least play half of a dual-threat QB. J.T. Barrett and Tommy Armstrong ran wild at times against the Scarlet Knight defense, so a lot of people are hoping to see more of Joel Stave than Tanner McEvoy.
2. If Gary Nova plays, what should we expect from the Scarlet Knights' offense? If it's Chris Laviano at quarterback, will it be much different?
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Not much will change if Nova or Laviano gets the call. Both are pro-style prospects who were recruited to stay in the pocket and take the snap from under-center. There seemed to be a lot more roll-outs when Laviano was inserted during the Nebraska game, but no one will mistake him as a dual-threat. Ralph Friedgen adapts his gameplan to the opponent, so it will really depend on what the Wisconsin defense shows against Rutgers. During the Michigan game, the Knights rode the hot hand of Nova all night long to the tune of 400+ pass yards and three touchdowns. Against Navy, Nova had 14 pass attempts for 151 yards, while the trio of Desmon Peoples, Paul James and Justin Goodwin combined for 284 rushing yards. Kyle Flood likes to establish the run, however, so expect a lot of rush attempts, either to keep Nova away from injury or to ease Laviano into the game.
3. What about their defense? What are its strengths, defenses and general things to know?
The pass rush has been the undisputed strength of the defense this year, as the Knights are second in the conference with 24. Defensive end Kemoko Turay has been the breakout star this year, notching 5.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman. Fifth-year senior Dave Milewski has been a force on the edge as well, but the leader is Darius Hamilton. He's undersized for a defensive tackle at around 265 lbs., but he has a tremendous first step that can wreak havoc in the offensive backfield. As a whole, the Rutgers defense is generally undersized. That was deliberate, as former head coach Greg Schiano favored speed over size when he built his defensive units. It remains to be seen whether this strategy can work in the Big Ten, as it worked well against Penn State but was a pain point versus Ohio State and Nebraska.
The weakness is the secondary, which goes back to last season. When the 2013 season began, Rutgers had to replace the entire defensive backfield, including three players taken in the NFL Draft. To make matters worse, the defensive coordinator left for an NFL job as well, leaving the secondary with youth and a new coach. They've been a little better this year, but they still give up big plays and blow coverages at times.
4. Is this a "big game" for Rutgers? Should Wisconsin be expecting a fired-up crowd?
It's very close to a sellout as we speak, and it's Homecoming, so the fans are definitely excited. Noon starts have elicited tons of complaints from fans who would like to tailgate for longer hours and for students who tend to sleep in, but television broadcasts have created a problem that cannot be addressed by the school. Noon kickoffs have been a point of contention on our blog for quite some time, as it seems to be a problem for Rutgers fans to get to their seats on time for noon kicks. The stadium usually fills up nicely no later than the second quarter, but it's always complained about whenever the networks announce early start times for Rutgers.
5. What's your prediction?
I'm tempted to call for an upset, but the poor tackling I witnessed against the Buckeyes and Huskers make me nervous. I've seen Rutgers struggle against beefier offensive lines, and Wisconsin is about as beefy as it gets. Badgers spoil Homecoming, 35-27.