A blocked punt changed everything. 10:41 into Saturday's clash between Wisconsin and Rutgers, the Badgers and Scarlet Knights had combined for just 14 yards. That's when A.J. Jordan busted through the line of scrimmage to block a Tim Gleeson punt. The Badgers took over at the Rutgers 20-yard line, and three plays later, Melvin Gordon found himself in the end zone for a 13-yard score. Wisconsin rolled from there with dominant rushing and defensive performances, winning 37-0.
Corey Clement and Gordon, who walked off the field on his own power in the fourth quarter favoring his left knee, combined for 263 yards and averaged 8.0 yards per carry. The story of the day, though, was Dave Aranda's defense, which pitched its first shutout of the season and forced Rutgers' first shutout in 12 years.
Rutgers' 13 drives would even make even far less attractive Rob Lowe grimace: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, interception, punt, punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs, punt, punt.
But the Wisconsin quarterbacks were dull as ever. Joel Stave completed less than half of his passes for 81 yards, zero touchdowns and zero picks. Tanner McEvoy was 1-for-4, threw a pick and missed Alex Erickson for a wide-open touchdown. However, Saturday was still a hugely positive day for Gary Andersen's squad.
In spite of the convincing win, I'd be surprised to see the win propel the Badgers into the College Football Playoff Rankings, but the only important ranking for the Badgers remains their position in the Big Ten West.
Around the Big Ten
With Iowa beating Northwestern and Nebraska handling Purdue, Wisconsin still control its own destiny in the West, likely needing at least two wins in its last three games against Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota -- all teams with one conference loss, just like the Badgers.
|Big Ten West Standings
Before the aformentioned season-ending trifecta, the Badgers will head to West Lafayette next Saturday to take on a Purdue team (3-6, 1-4 Big Ten) with a few close losses in conference play. Austin Appleby, who didn't start the season for the Boilermakers, has been an efficient leader for the Boilermakers' offense with a quarterback rating of 123.4.
Fortunately for the Badgers' rolling defense, which allowed just five plays of 2+ yards in the first half Saturday and now has given up just 14 points per game, no facet of Purdue's offense can truly roll through opponents. Running backs Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert both average 6 yards per carry and certainly possess some firepower, but Purdue's offense, 91st in the country, isn't anything to fear.
Defensively, the Boilermakers are equally mediocre. Gordon and Clement shouldn't have any difficulty dominating the Purdue front that gives up 176 rushing yards per game. The passing defense also falls near the bottom of the nation (95th), but Stave and McEvoy won't need explosive games. As per usual, Gordon and Clement will take care of things for the Badgers' offense.
Especially for the Badgers' defense, Saturday was an impressive effort, as Aranda's crew asserted itself as one of the nation's best. A win's a win, but a powerful showing against Rutgers can only do so much for Wisconsin.
The home stretch is approaching, during which Wisconsin faces against three stingy opponents all in the heat of the Big Ten West race. If they hope to win the conference and compete in the Cotton, Fiesta or Peach Bowls, the Badgers will need to ready themselves to turn in their three best performances of the season.