The well-fought game showed truly why Wisconsin is a dangerous team in the Big Ten, mixing in a strong rushing attack with a good defense that limited Rutgers on both ends of their offensive approach.
Coming off strong wins against Purdue and Rutgers, the Badgers look to continue their strong showing next week against a tough Iowa team.
The Badgers defense followed up last week’s first-half defense with another strong start.
They forced four three-and-outs as well as a pick-six by Ricardo Hallman to finish the half, which came at the end of a long, promising Rutgers drive.
The Scarlet Knights tallied only a total of 41 rushing yards, despite coming into the game averaging nearly 200 yards a contest, and less than 100 passing yards in the first half, with the defense holding them to a season-low 0 first-half points.
Mordecai and the offense also played a very solid first half, scoring 10 points with a chance to score more had it not been for a costly fumble inside the five-yard line by running back Braelon Allen.
Troubles with snapping and catching the ball also limited the offense in the first half, messing up the rhythm of the game and the timing of certain plays.
While the team struggled to pass the ball consistently, the rushing attack, combined with some great starting field positions, made it easy for the Badgers to control the tempo and essentially control the game.
The second half showcased a much more conservative play style from the Badgers offensively, but the defense still did not let up.
Holding the Scarlet Knights to only 23 yards rushing and 133 yards passing in the second half, the Badgers proved themselves as a solid defensive run team, contrary to many beliefs.
Coming into the game, Rutgers was considered a top-30 run team, averaging around 195 yards a game, but the Badgers held their ground against the dual-threat attack by holding a strong edge and keeping runs short and yards hard to come by.
In the secondary, Hunter Wohler tacked on nine tackles with a pass breakup, setting the standard of this tough defense.
The Badgers continued to push their strong run attack in the second with Braelon Allen, Jackson Acker, and Tanner Mordecai rushing for 101, 65, and 60 yards respectively, totaling over 200 yards total for the game as a unit
Offensively, wideout Will Pauling once again showed why he is Mordecai’s favorite target and the best receiver on this team, catching a team-high eight catches for 68 yards.
The only touchdown of the second half for the Badgers came on a long 15-play drive that was capped off by a four-yard touchdown pass from Mordecai to true freshman Tucker Ashcraft for the first touchdown of his young collegiate career.
The Badgers finished the game with a total of 213 yards on the ground and 145 yards through the air, but the primary takeaway from this game was their stout defensive performance, holding Rutgers to 13 points and only 65 yards on the ground.
Acker’s big game: The big question this week was how would Phil Longo make up for the loss of Chez Mellusi and help alleviate some of Braelon Allen’s load. The answer was really quite simple: Jackson Acker.
Averaging a total of five yards a carry, Acker was able to step in from the RB3 spot and provide those fresh legs to keep the Wisconsin running attack going.
Run defense: The big takeaway defensively has to be Wisconsin’s run defense. Running a 3-3-5, no one expects the run defense to be a strong suit for the Badgers, but great playcalling and execution kept the Rutgers run game stagnant.
The next step for the front six or seven is going to be reading the pass or run faster, and getting in better positioning, especially the linebackers.
Early in the first, we saw a crosser get open over Jordan Turner for a gain of 30 yards. Reading that play action faster will help take this linebacker core to the next level and help limit these big plays.
In the secondary, we saw glimpses of strong coverage from Maitre, Hallman, and Alexander Smith who were all challenged with 1-on-1 opportunities and held their ground … for the most part.
We saw a tough receiving touchdown late in the fourth, but other than that mishap, the secondary played a fairly strong game. If this secondary can continue to hold their ground and play well, the Big Ten Championship game will definitely be in the picture.