Wisconsin Badgers football is red hot right now, coming off two wins over top-25 teams and controlling their destiny in the Big Ten West. However, that does not mean the season is over and Wisconsin will have to once again gear up for a road test, this time against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights who have been a puzzling team all season long on both sides of the football.
What do the Badgers need to do to come away with a victory in this spot? Let’s take a look.
Patient with the run game
When looking at the numbers of Rutgers this year their defense has been really puzzling to figure out. They are a unit that can be best described as hot and cold, especially against the run. When facing two top-ten rushing attacks in Syracuse and Michigan the Knights’s defense allowed just 67 and 112 yards on the ground in those two games.
However, when facing Michigan State and Ohio State both teams were able to run wild. Last week Rutgers held up well against Illinois ground heavy attack, so it will be interesting how they perform here against another good test in Wisconsin.
For the Badgers, I think patience in the run game is going to be key. It’s clear they have no problem sticking with the ground attack when it's working. However, if the run game does stall some, will the staff continue to go with it? I think so, and I think that will be important.
Early on I could see this Rutgers rush defense doing everything in their power to stop the run and having some success. They’ve been a group that has faced some talented units and done so early.
However, I think Wisconsin will need to continue to lean and wear this group down with Braelon Allen. Allen’s 240-pound battering ram frame should allow Wisconsin to tire out this group and expose the Rutgers defensive issues in the tackling department where they have struggled this year. I think things may get stuffed up early, but eventually, Allen should wear Rutgers down and start to break tackles and bust some big plays and put this game away.
Attack this struggling front
Last week we saw a suffocating performance from this Wisconsin defense in their win over Iowa. It seemed like every play the Badgers had either Nick Herbig, Leo Chenal, or Jack Sanborn somewhere in the Iowa backfield. At times it looked like the Hawkeyes front was just mentally exhausted trying to slow down each and every look. That same performance is possible again this week as Rutgers continues to deal with offensive line injuries.
The Scarlet Knights have dealt with some injuries to the offensive line and they’ve been down two starters for a large portion of the year in Raiqwon O’Neal and Reggie Sutton. In turn have had to deal with the issue of trying to find plausible backups to fill it, something they just don’t seem to have just yet in a program that is “building up”.
Similar to Wisconsin, Rutgers has had to shuffle their offensive line around a lot to try and just keep the ship from sinking altogether. The Knights were better against Illinois off of a bye, but that is Illinois, and this Wisconsin defense will be a completely different test.
If the Badgers want to come away with a victory here they’ll need to do what they’ve done all year long and simply overwhelm a front that cannot handle this type of pressure. I have no doubts that Wisconsin will halt the Rutgers run game, so if they can get home in the passing game and confuse this line trying to protect they should be able to swarm and suffocate a unit that just is not made up to defend a defensive attack like this.
Play a clean game
Last week Wisconsin did a great job of not letting turnovers and special team's miscues hurt them. In fact, the opponent took on that role, and look at what it did for Wisconsin! Crazy to think that turnovers and blunders hurt you, right? Once again that key will be important this week as the Badgers take on a Rutgers team that plays fairly clean.
Coming into this week Rutgers has done a good job playing clean football. In the turnover department they rank No. 5 in turnovers lost, and No. 26 in turnover margin. Wisconsin has done better of late but they still rank No. 115 in turnover margin and No. 116 in turnovers lost, so still a very significant gap. Additionally, Rutgers has done very well in terms of penalties as the Knights rank in the top fifteen in terms of penalty yards and penalty yards per game.
As you can see Rutgers coach Greg Schiano is very focused on playing clean football at Rutgers. At a program like Rutgers, you can’t afford to have sloppy mistakes as the talent may not run as deep to make up for them. The Badgers are much more talented, but if they make silly mistakes in the turnover department or commit silly penalties you allow a team like Rutgers, who plays with a lot of grit and energy, to hang around in this game. Rutgers is no longer a bottom feeder in college football, so focus and attention to detail need to be there from the jump.