After a beneficial week off, the Wisconsin Badgers return to the field Saturday morning (ugh) to take on the 4-1 Rutgers Scarlet Knights, who have been far better in 2023 than recent versions of the team.
So, let’s look at three possible scenarios for this game: A best-case scenario, a worst-case scenario, and a most likely scenario, to try and make some sense of things.
Best Case Scenario: These are my favorite, and my Purdue one was damn near a bullseye, so I’ll start here.
Wisconsin comes out strong, putting its early-season first-half struggles even further in the rearview. The offensive line looks more cohesive, and Braelon Allen runs with added purpose, as the Badgers jump out to a 10-0 lead.
Alexander Smith picks off Gavin Wimsatt a few minutes into the second, leading to a balanced scoring drive for the Badgers, capped off by a 15-yard Tanner Mordecai to Bryson Green touchdown. The two squads trade punts for the rest of the half, and Wisconsin leads at the break, 17-0.
After a long Rutgers scoring drive ending in a Christian Dremel touchdown grab pulls the Scarlet Knights to within seven, Wisconsin responds with its best, most balanced drive of 2023, capped off by a four-yard Mordecai keeper to push their lead out to 24-7.
The teams trade early fourth-quarter touchdowns, and Wisconsin tacks on a late touchdown scamper from Braelon Allen, ending up with an impressive 38-14 win to build on for Iowa week.
Worst Case Scenario: We thought what we saw at Purdue coupled with a bye week had made Wisconsin’s first-half problems a thing of the past. But, a motivated and much-improved Rutgers team (and a startingly quiet early Peacock game Badger crowd) combine to see the Scarlet Knight dominate on both sides of the ball.
They parlay a Badgers turnover-on-downs at the Wisconsin 48 into a seven-yard Kyle Monangai rushing touchdown at the end of the quarter on a drive with at least four Badger missed tackles. The quarter ends with Rutgers leading 13-3.
Punts and a turnover from each team rule the day in the second quarter, and the Badgers head into halftime to a smattering of boos down 13-3.
A long Chimere Dike punt return halfway through the third gives the Badgers a short field, which they take advantage of, ending up with Allen punching it in from the goal line to cut Rutgers’s advantage to three, 13-10.
But that’s as close as Wisconsin gets in this absolute shocker, with Rutgers tacking in a fourth-quarter field goal after a Mordecai interception to make the final margin 16-10 Rutgers.
The Badgers’ margin is now totally gone, and they’ll need to beat Iowa and Ohio State in consecutive weeks to jump back to the top of the dreadful Big Ten West.
Most Likely Scenario: A rested Badgers team comes in with fire, scoring on a Braelon Allen touchdown plunge before even 75% of the students are seated, but Rutgers quickly shows it’s not the joke squad that Graham Mertz’s team eviscerated 52-3 in Piscataway two years ago.
Wimsatt hits JaQuae Jackson on a nice fade to pull Rutgers even late in the first quarter, and it’s clear that the Scarlet Knights came to play.
Wisconsin bounces back with a nice 10-play scoring drive, capped by Mordecai finding Dike for a 21-yard score, before Rutgers responds with a late FG drive to leave things 14-10 Badgers at halftime.
After the teams exchange long 3rd quarter-scoring drives, the game hangs in the balance at 21-17 as a nervous Jump Around takes us into the fourth.
Wisconsin converts a key fumble recovery by James Thompson Jr. after Hunter Wohler strips the ball from Wimsatt, with Braelon Allen scampering in from the six-yard line with 5:22 remaining through a now-gassed Rutgers defense to push the Badgers’ lead out to 28-17.
Rutgers responds with an up-tempo drive that stalls at the Wisconsin 21-yard line, electing to kick a field to make it a one-score game with 3:26 left. But, Wisconsin recovers a surprise onside kick and converts two big third downs, getting a dagger FG from Nathanial Vakos to take an insurmountable 31-20 lead with just 1:33 left.
Rutgers gets no closer than their own 48 on their last-gasp drive, and the Badgers emerge with a 31-20 victory over a solid and spirited Rutgers squad, pushing their record to 4-1 and 2-0 in the Big Ten heading into the Iowa game.