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What should we take away from Wisconsin’s win vs. Rutgers?

Plus, a look ahead to Penn State.

Matt Fleming

The Good: What went well for Wisconsin on Saturday?

Drew Hamm: I liked how the defense played on Saturday, I think. They broke up eight passes and held the Rutgers rushing “attack” to 2.8 yards per carry. They also held the Scarlet Knights to 13 first downs. In the first half, Rutgers punted five times and had a field goal blocked on their six possessions. That’s good for the Wisconsin defense! At the end of the game, the Badgers allowed Rutgers to piece together two longish scoring drives and ended up giving up 17 points. To Rutgers. Buffalo and Kansas gave up fewer points to Rutgers sooooooo, that’s why “I think” I liked the defense.

Owen Riese: The defense played very well. They put a beating on true freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski and forced a lot of errant throws from him the first half. Rutgers put together some scoring drives in the second half, but only after Wisconsin was ahead 24–3 and some of the reserves were in on defense. The Badgers’ defense continues to progress, and is only going to keep getting better as the young players keep gaining experience.

Bob Wiedenhoeft: Love seeing the defense making some strides, in spite of a few errors and a couple of big plays allowed. The offense did enough to avoid overburdening the defense (see UW’s conference losses).

Tyler Hunt: I feel like the defense really looked like Wisconsin defenses of old. Granted, they were going against the worst offense in the FBS statistically, but you have to like the way they flew around and made plays. They really got some pressure, the poor Rutgers QB has to be sore after the hits Wisconsin put on him. I know a lot of people have punted on this season, but the more experience these young guys get the better they will be down the road. Improvement from week to week is always a good thing.

Kevin O’Connell: Wisconsin once again dominated a far inferior Big Ten opponent with the ground game, finishing with 317 yards on 6.9 yards per carry. For as disappointing as Wisconsin’s offensive line has been at times this year, we were reminded just how great this group’s run blocking can be. I also agree with Drew and Bob, the defense actually played well considering how many underclassmen are playing significant snaps right now. All in all, it was a pretty uninspiring victory over a Rutgers team that is truly awful on both sides of the ball.

The Bad: What can be improved upon heading into Penn State week?

Drew: 18 plays, 78 yards, field goal. That is the epitome of B1G football and it makes me want to puke. The passing game was trash. I hope Alex Hornibrook’s head is OK, though. He should probably not play next week or the week after because concussions are no joke and I don’t want him to have permanent brain damage over this season.

4th-and-five, Rutgers 36-yard line, 22-yard Connor Allen punt. WISCONSIN AVERAGED 6.9 (NICE!) YARDS PER CARRY! WHAT THE ACTUAL SHIT?!?!?! GO FOR IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And then Chryst goes for it on 4th-and-7 from the Rutgers 39 and Jack Coan loses four yards. I DON’T GET IT!

Owen: Other than the takes in this section regarding going for it on fourth down, there is a bit offensively that can be improved. The pass protection, which realistically is never going to be elite with this group, can continue to improve as they head into a hostile environment in Happy Valley. I’d also like to see some more quick-hitters from the UW passing game. It seems like nearly every throw that Wisconsin asks their quarterbacks to make on a consistent basis is contested. Making Wisconsin’s quarterbacks’ margin for error larger would be #good.

Bob: UW has an entire stats department, and they have faculty members that specialize in sports analytics. NBC is even running/has even run a special on Sunday Night Football interviewing UW faculty about sports analytics. (Here’s hoping they don’t cut that segment).

Have one of them explain to Chryst when, and more importantly why, certain situations you should go for it on fourth down. Make better decisions!

James Franklin is notoriously terrible at fourth-down decisions, so Wisconsin could get an edge if their fourth-down strategic thinking is better than Madden 99’s CPU.

Tyler: I’m not one to rip on Hornibrook too much, but the two interceptions he threw deserve some criticism. They just weren’t well-thrown balls and the offense seemed to just drag with Alex in the game. The play calling was a bit underwhelming too, as Drew mentioned earlier. He said exactly what I was thinking in a much more entertaining way, so I’ll leave it at that.

Kevin: The play calling was a bit conservative again. I understand not wanting to open up the playbook against Rutgers, a team you could beat by running the ball on every play, but Coan was only given seven pass attempts. I thought this was a game Coan could have gained some confidence in, so seeing Chryst use his backup signal caller so conservatively was a bit disappointing. It’s clear the passing game still needs tons of work, and with Hornibrook’s status unclear for next weekend and beyond, Coan is going to need to be relied upon to make difficult throws at Penn State.

Game Balls: Who deserves ‘em?

Drew: Well, Jonathan Taylor should have one for gashing the excuse for a defense that Rutgers brought to Madison. I’d also like to give Andrew Van Ginkel one for blocking that field goal and Saquan “Not Barkley” Hampton gets one for picking off Hornibrook twice and racking up 10 tackles. That was pretty cool. Lastly, any one of you that watched this entire game ... you get a game ball too. Way to support the team and 11 a.m. BTN games!

Owen: Ryan Connelly and T.J. Edwards, man. They’re the the engine of this Wisconsin defense, and they’re the best inside linebacker pairing in the country. Offensively, the run game was good, and while they get the headlines, the defense allowed the offense to operate at their pace.

Bob: Dagnabbit, Drew. I left Camp Randall with three minutes left in the game. I didn’t know I was missing out on a game ball. It would have gone for $35 at least on eBay.

I’d give it for Taylor if his 208 rushing and 30 receiving yards weren’t incredibly standard and boring. Ryan Connelly is really good and made a ton of tackles again. He gets the game ball that I missed out on. Connelly is everything I hoped for when he tackled Leonard Fournette…

::checks watch::

…two years ago.

Tyler: Taylor always earns one, so i’m going to give one to Connelly as I always have to give him props when he performs well, which is every week. The guy is just unbelievable. He’s in on nearly every play. I don’t know where he’ll end up at the next level but whoever gets him is going to be landing a hidden gem of a player. I’d also give one to Van Ginkel. He’s starting to look like the AVG of last year.

Kevin: Taylor certainly deserves a game ball for his 208-yard and three touchdown performance, but I’ll change it up and go with wide receiver Danny Davis. The sophomore pass catcher finished with season highs in both receptions (six) and yards (60), and came down with his second touchdown on the year. It has been a somewhat disappointing season for Davis both on and off the field, but it was encouraging to see him have a productive game and hopefully he can finish the season strong.

Up Next: Penn State. The Nittany Lions were tamed by Michigan on Saturday. How does Wisconsin get a key road win in State College this week? Do you feel they will have an opportunity to steal one from a 6–3 and potentially fuming James Franklin squad?

Drew: In their last five games, Penn State has lost to Ohio State at home, lost to Michigan State at home, squeaked by Indiana by five on the road, barely beat Iowa by six at home, and been decimated by Michigan on the road. Does Penn State secretly blow? Maybe! Trace McSorley is banged up and the Wisconsin defense is getting healthier. Hornibrook is banged up too, so maybe the quarterback situation is a wash. What I’m trying to say is, Wisconsin could win this game. They need to run the ball and not turn the ball over. Two things that, somehow, are a major problem for this team sometimes. I think they can steal one from PSU, but I don’t really know if they will. Let’s wait until the injury reports come out for this week and see what each team is dealing with.

Owen: Wisconsin will win this football game if they contain Trace McSorely. He decimated Wisconsin in the second half of the B1GCG two years ago with his scrambling ability and extending plays. If Wisconsin can make McSorely take with UW gives him, they’ll be fine.

If not, Wisconsin could find themselves in a shootout, which is somewhere they don’t want to be with Penn State’s athletes on the perimeter.

Bob: Beating Penn State would be a nice insurance policy in case Iowa fails to win out, but otherwise it’s not as important as the Purdue game in two weeks. I think the Penn State game would do a lot to build momentum in the final stretch of the season and make me believe once again that 10 wins is possible. I feel pretty confident that the defense is going to be in a position to have their best game of the year, and if Chryst can finally put the pieces together for the Wisconsin offense, I think Bucky will win in a big way.

But I swear by the statue of Pat Richter, if Wisconsin punts on 4th-and-short in Penn State territory, I’m going to wind up my steel-toe boot Charlie Brown style and kick that black and orange feral cat that keeps wandering onto my porch to the moon. If that happens, it’s on you, Paul.

I think Wisconsin will beat Penn State. The Nittany Lions are reeling, and Wisconsin has an opportunity to get a win vs a name brand team.

Tyler: If the defense can perform similar to Saturday, I really do like their chances to win this game and stay alive in the hunt for the West. One thing you have to do is tame the crowd. Happy Valley is a tough place to play and if you go in there tight, we could have another Michigan game on our hands. Granted, Penn State has looked very bad this year, but they still have the offensive weapons to wake things up at any moment. Taylor will have to have a big game again, especially with Hornibrook’s status up in the air. I’m not sure why, but this game just feels like a game that Wisconsin will win to bolster the season a bit.

Kevin: I like Wisconsin’s chances in this game. Jim Leonhard’s defensive unit has made some nice strides the past few weeks and Penn State’s defense can be definitely be scored on. This match-up will ultimately come down to how well the Badgers fare on third down. They finished 2-of-11 in third-down conversions against Michigan and struggled mightily to complete passes throughout that game. Whether Hornibrook or Coan is under center, Wisconsin’s passing attack must be a factor if they want any chance at winning in a tough road environment at Happy Valley. While I’m not especially confident in either quarterback’s ability to play well on the road, the Badgers seem due for at least one marquee win this season, right?