The No. 21 Wisconsin Badgers (5-3 overall, 3-2 Big Ten) travel to New Jersey on Saturday to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-4 overall, 1-4 Big Ten) for their first meeting since 2018. The Badgers haven’t played at Rutgers since 2014, so a lot has changed for both teams in the interim.
Since we aren’t super familiar with Rutgers, despite employing New Jersey Minister of Culture J.J. Post, we asked friend of the blog Aaron Breitman of our SB Nation cousins On The Banks to drop some knowledge on us about the Scarlet Knights and their new, old coach Greg Schiano.
Here are Aaron’s answers to our questions!
I am not crazy enough to go and pick the results of every Big Ten game before the season starts, but if I had, I’d probably guess that I’d have Rutgers at 4-4 entering this game and, lo and behold, there they are! Since Wisconsin and Rutgers haven’t seen each other since 2018, how are things going out East? Are fans happy with the season and the direction of the program?
The Chris Ash Era was brutal and fans were at their breaking point. Bringing Greg Schiano back was what most Rutgers fans wanted and the improvements he made were almost immediate. Year one was a clear success in matching a program best three Big Ten wins despite not having a true offseason or training camp. However, it raised expectations to a level that was a bit unrealistic for this season.
While most fans seemed to agree a 5-7 season would be satisfactory in marking more progress, the reality of what that meant has been met with some dismay. After a strong 3-0 start and giving Michigan all they could handle at the Big House, doubt and angst set in following a blowout loss to Ohio State and mostly non-competitive defeat to Michigan State. It was the loss at Northwestern, where Rutgers was extremely banged up and it showed, that caused fans to question whether they would win another game this season.
It was extremely encouraging in how Rutgers responded from the bye week and beat Illinois at their own game, stopping the run and controlling the game on the ground. While play calling gripes will always exist, the coaching staff has done a good job and this is the latest in the season that RU has been .500 or better since 2014. That is the last time Rutgers went to a bowl game.
Playing meaningful games in the last month of the season is real progress and I think overall fans are happy. Of course, how the last four games go will ultimately determine how this team and season is remembered.
I’m just going to get this out of the way now: I think former Badger Aron Cruickshank is going to have a big game returning the ball. Wisconsin has struggled in the coverage department this season and Cruickshank is easily one of the best returners in the league. How else does RU get Cruickshank the ball when he’s in on offense?
Cruickshank has been tremendous and aside from his explosiveness in the return game, he has been their second best receiver since last season. He has made some big third down catches this season and scored touchdowns against Ohio State and Michigan State. He is used in the slot at times and Rutgers tries to get him in open space to utilize his speed after the catch. His score against the Buckeyes was a five-yard catch that he turned into a 75-yard touchdown due to his breakaway ability.
Unfortunately, he suffered a shoulder injury against the Spartans and has missed the past two games. His absence has been felt both on special teams, as Rutgers has gotten nothing in the return game, and in the passing game. Schiano essentially said he was questionable for Saturday and that obviously Cruickshank really wants to play. He is a great weapon for this team and pairs really well with top receiver Bo Melton. Getting him back on the field gives the Rutgers offense more opportunity to make big plays.
Should we expect to see 4-star freshman QB (who literally enrolled at RU in September after playing two high school games) Gavin Wimsatt on Saturday?
He made his collegiate debut in surreal fashion last weekend against Illinois. On a fourth and five on the Illini 33-yard line in what was the last play of the third quarter, starting quarterback Noah Vedral left injured for the second time in the game. This time, Rutgers sent Wimsatt out and he avoided pressure on a blitz, stepped up and threw a dart across his body to hit Melton in stride for the first down. I wrote how the play changed the game, as Vedral ran for a score two plays later to take the lead and Rutgers maintained control of the game the rest of the way.
Whether he plays against Wisconsin or not remains to be seen. The issue of whether he should redshirt or not is a major question. It’s possible that they keep him out of this game in order to set up his ability to play the final three games of the season against East opponents and still potentially maintain his redshirt. However, I believe they should play him this week.
He has the best arm on the team by a mile and showed great poise in his only play last week. Rutgers is only going to beat the Badgers by making big plays and that means throwing over the defense downfield. He gives the offense the best chance to do that. Schiano has made it clear they are bringing along slowly and he has set packages available to run, not a full grasp of the playbook just yet.
However, I think now that they’ve opened the door and Schiano preaching they will play the best players that give them the best chance to win regardless of class, I believe that he will play.
Wisconsin has the No. 1 defense in the nation in terms of per game yards allowed and rushing yards allowed, the No. 5 defense in passing yards allowed, the No. 11 defense in tackles for loss per game and the No. 13 defense for sacks per game. How will Rutgers try and attack this Badgers unit?
On a wing and a prayer, maybe? The Rutgers offense has struggled all season and Illinois was the first Big Ten opponent they scored more than 13 points against in five games. Their inability and even unwillingness at times to throw downfield really hinders their ability to put up a lot of points.
The offensive line has been a major issue and they’ve mixed and matched players along the line all season. Injuries have taken a toll as starting right guard Reggie Sutton is out for the season and starting left tackle Raiqwon O’Neal missed a few games before returning last week. Ireland Brown, who played really well against Illinois at guard, is a converted defensive lineman and didn’t switch until September. Another converted defensive lineman, Brendan Bordner, has started five games at tackle.
Overall, the group has been unpredictable. They had really poor performances against Michigan State and Northwestern, but after the bye looked as good as they have against Illinois. They didn’t allow a sack and Rutgers rushed for over 200 yards.
All that being said, I can’t see this offense being able to run the ball effectively, at least consistently, against the Badgers. They are going to have make big plays in the passing game. That means getting the ball to Bo Melton and throwing downfield. I also think getting the backs involved in the short passing game like Isaih Pacheco and Kyle Monangai are important too.
Jovani Haskins is a former All-Big XII tight end who needs to get the ball more, as does converted tight end and sometimes short yardage QB Johnny Langan. Rutgers has to take chances and make big plays to beat Wisconsin. Expect a couple trick plays as well.
Looking at Rutgers’ defensive numbers everything seems to be kind of...average. Two questions then: 1) is that accurate? 2) what DOES Rutgers do well on defense?
When the Rutgers defense can stop the run, they are their most competitive as an opponent. They stopped the run against a pretty solid Syracuse team on the road and won. They stopped at the time the leading rushing attack in the country against Michigan, producing four consecutive three and outs to start the second half that changed the game. They stopped an Illinois ground game that rushed for over 300 yards against Penn State the week before and held them to just 107 yards.
If the defensive line can generate pressure and get off of blocks to make tackles, Rutgers can hold their own against Wisconsin. If Braelon Allen gets through the front of the defense early one and the linebackers have to be heavily relied on to stop him, I think they’ll struggle. I worry about the defense wearing down in the second half. Julius Turner and Kyonte Hamilton play nose tackle and are key players to watch for. If they are being contained, that’s bad news for Rutgers.
Lastly, the secondary has been susceptible to big plays in the passing game and have allowed at least one long touchdown pass in each of their last four games. They’ve tighten up some the past two games, but it’s still a concern.
No question here, but shoutout Rutgers for not only being the No. 1 net punting team in the Big Ten this year, but the whole dang nation too. That’s committing to the conference.
Adam Korsak could walk into any establishment in New Brunswick and do whatever the heck he wants. The Aussie punter is a legend already, as he should be. 94 consecutive punts without a touchback and he has had four punts downed at the one this season. He is a true weapon and can impact games with his legs in a big way. His consistency is astonishing and the special teams unit overall is really good. The coverage teams do a great job and everyone seems to feed off of Korsak.
If he doesn’t win the Ray Guy Award this season, the entire fan base might storm somewhere, not quite sure where, maybe the ESPN end of season awards, but wherever it is, we will be pissed off. I’m not ruling out a statue of Korsak around the Stadium at some point in the future.
You don’t need to give an exact score if you don’t want to, but who do you think wins and how do you think they do it?
I think it will be a competitive game and Rutgers will fight until the end. I do think the lack of a passing game from Wisconsin gives Rutgers a real chance to pull the upset. It’s the teams with explosive playmakers that gives this team the most trouble. They tend to play up in games that are true hard nosed grinders in the trenches.
That being said, Wisconsin’s defense is elite and I’m skeptical that Rutgers will be able to generate much on offense. I think the inability to sustain drives in the second half will wear the defense down and Braelon Allen runs for his fifth straight 100 yard game. Wisconsin 24 Rutgers 10.