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Grading Wisconsin’s win over Rutgers

The Badgers got right at home against the Scarlet Knights.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

After last week’s Halloween horror show at Northwestern, Wisconsin football got right at home on Saturday, beating an overmatched Rutgers team 31–17 at Camp Randall Stadium.

The now bowl-eligible Badgers (6–3) struggled early against the Scarlet Knights (1–8) before breaking things open in the second half.

Here are the unit grades.

Offense: B-

In addition to the 31 points, Wisconsin racked up 317 yards rushing (6.9 yards per carry) and had 156 yards passing.

Quarterback Alex Hornibrook returned to the lineup after missing the Northwestern game with concussion symptoms. Unfortunately, the junior reinjured his head on a sack at the end of first half and did not return. Hornibrook finished 7-of-16 for 92 yards and two interceptions.

Sophomore Jack Coan came on in relief of the injured Hornibrook. Wisconsin proceeded to run the ball 13 straight times in the third quarter, yielding two scores. Coan went 5-of-7 for 64 yards a touchdown to Danny Davis in the second half, looking much more comfortable in limited usage than he did in his first start last week against the Wildcats.

Wisconsin’s run game got back on track against the poor Rutgers defense. After a rough week at Northwestern where he ran for just 46 yards and lost two fumbles, running back Jonathan Taylor bounced back on Saturday, rushing for 208 yards and two touchdowns with no fumbles.

Defense: B+

Welcoming back several injured players including starting safety D’Cota Dixon, Wisconsin’s defense looked better than it had in several weeks.

Wisconsin held Rutgers to 72 yards rushing and 261 yards passing. The Badgers did not force any turnovers and had no sacks. Linebacker Ryan Connelly led the team with eight tackles.

With the offense struggling in the first half, the defense shut out Rutgers, holding fast in two quick-change situations. The effort kept Wisconsin ahead long enough for the offense to get back on track after halftime.

The defense was less impressive in the second half, getting gashed by several Rutgers screens and giving up 17 points, mostly in garbage time. Overall, though, it was a great effort by a unit that has been banged-up for the past few weeks.

Special Teams: A-

Kicker Rafael Gaglianone made a 32-yard field goal and all of his extra-point attempts. Zach Hintze had four touchbacks on five kickoffs. Connor Allen averaged 31 yards on two punts.

Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel blocked a Rutgers second-quarter field-goal attempt, leading to a 34-yard return by Dixon.

Coaching: B+

In Chryst we trust. Wisconsin navigated the loss of its starting quarterback in an unexpectedly close game well. Coach Paul Chryst put Coan in manageable situations that didn’t stretch the sophomore beyond his capabilities (abetted by huge holes opened by the offensive line that let Wisconsin run the ball for the entirety of the third quarter). Conservative fourth-down calls once again worked the Wisconsin Twitterverse into a tizzy.

Coordinator Jim Leonhard’s defense looked good with the return of Dixon and others, though it will be interesting if more talented offenses can make use of the success Rutgers had on screens.

Overall: B

Despite the close first half, this was a comfortable win against a weak Rutgers team. After last week’s debacle against Northwestern, it was good to see Wisconsin return to its winning ways, becoming bowl-eligible in the process. With three challenging games ahead (yes, I know this includes Purdue and Minnesota), it’s nice to lock in a post-season berth.