1. Catch Wisconsin fans up on your season -- I think we've heard about most of the negatives, but what about positives and storylines that have flown under the radar?
Through all the adversity of this season, the team has shown to be mentally tough and has stuck together. Leonte Carroo is the best receiver in the Big Ten and when he plays, the offense is at a different level. Rutgers has a good trio of running backs with Robert Martin, Josh Hicks and Paul James. Janarion Grant is the best kick returner in the Big Ten and is the only player to have a combined three touchdowns on returns this season (two kickoffs, one punt). Linebacker Steve Longa is also second in the nation averaging over 12 tackles per game.
2. What should Wisconsin fans know about Rutgers's offense?
The offense averaged 34 points a game before it was shut down by Ohio State. Rutgers played well against Michigan State, but has yet to prove itself against an elite defense like Wisconsin. The issue with the running backs has been they are rotated throughout the game, sometimes stifling their ability to get into rhythm. Martin entered last week as the leading rusher and had one carry in the first half. James had a 72-yard run in the first half against the Spartans, only to have one more carry all game. Kyle Flood insisted on sticking with the rotation, although he was finally willing to stick with Martin when he got hot against Indiana.
Carroo's health will be a big factor, as he is listed as questionable for a second straight week. He hurt his ankle two weeks ago and played the first half of the Ohio State game before sitting out the second. Rutgers's starting quarterback is Chris Laviano, who leads the conference in completion percentage and is second in passing efficiency. However, he can be inconsistent and somehow has fumbled three games in a row without losing one. Rutgers will try and establish the run in order to set up play-action in the passing game. If the Scarlet Knights can't run effectively, good defenses stack the box and dare Laviano to beat them. He has failed to do that so far.
3. And what about the defense?
The defense is running on fumes. The secondary was already depleted by the early-season arrests and dismissals of three starters. Now injuries are wrecking havoc, with the starting free safety declared out for Saturday and a starting cornerback listed as questionable. The two-deep has all true freshmen and redshirt freshmen in the secondary with the exception of safety Anthony Cioffi, who has three interceptions. Longa, captain Quentin Gause and Kaiwan Lewis combine for an athletic linebacking core that is the strength of the defense. The line up front has been a major disappointment, failing to generate consistent pressure all season. Its best effort of the season was against the injury-riddled offensive line of Michigan State, so that gives Rutgers some hope as Wisconsin has had similar issues, as you know.
4. What's the vibe among Rutgers fans for this game? Is it a big one? Should Badgers fans expect to see a lot of Scarlet Knights fans heading out to Madison?
It's a big one as every conference game is huge for us, as we need to prove our worth to the rest of the Big Ten Conference. Rutgers still needs three wins to become bowl-eligible and has games against Army and Maryland remaining. However, even if they do win those games, getting one more against Wisconsin or Michigan is unlikely. Nebraska at home is our best chance.
I think we will have a few thousand fans travel. I would say typically Rutgers fans travel decently, but not anywhere to the extent the conference heavyweights do. There is a lot of debate as to whether Flood should be fired at season's end, so another lopsided loss would upset the fanbase even further. A victory over Wisconsin would be the signature win the program has been searching for since joining the conference.
5. Do you have a prediction?
I've been hopeful for big games before, but I don't have a lot of faith heading into this one. Wisconsin's defense is great and with Carroo's health a major question mark, I am not confident the offense will be able to move the ball consistently. I do think with Wisconsin's offense is so beat up that it gives our defense a chance to be competitive. Our special teams has the ability to win games but hasn't performed great recently. I think Rutgers will play tough, but ultimately wear down against Wisconsin, who will put it away with a late touchdown. Wisconsin 21 Rutgers 10.