Struggling Scarlet Knights head to Wisconsin to face angry Badgers
It’s not a good week to be a member of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights’ football team as the Wisconsin Badgers have to be seething after last week. Dropping a 31-17 decision to Northwestern and having control of their Big Ten West destiny ripped from them has no doubt put Paul Chryst’s team in a foul mood. Even worse for Rutgers, their biggest weakness plays right to Wisconsin’s greatest strength, which we’ll get into in a moment.
The series is rather young considering the Badgers and Scarlet Knights hadn’t met before the most recent Big Ten expansion. Wisconsin owns a 2-0 advantage having won 37-0 and 48-10 in Madison and New Brunswick, respectively. Chryst’s 2018 Badgers (5-3) already have as many losses as any Wisconsin team during his four-year tenure. In his third year at Rutgers, Chris Ash is likely looking at his worst season to date. The Scarlet Knights haven’t won a game since opening the year against Texas State, while Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State await following their tilt with Wisconsin.
Do the Badgers have what it takes to turn this into a bloodbath? Let’s look at the tale of the tape.
Rutgers at Wisconsin
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 3 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Wisconsin -30
Three Things to Watch
1. Wisconsin’s quarterback situation
With Alex Hornibrook out last week because of concussion protocol, sophomore Jack Coan stepped in. While he had a fairly effective day passing (20-of-31 for 158 yards and a touchdown), a fumble recovered by the Northwestern defense helped the Wildcats clinch victory. Hornibrook has been cleared to return and will start against Rutgers, but he shouldn't need to do much for Wisconsin to win this game.
2. Jonathan Taylor’s confidence
Taylor came into the Northwestern game with two fumbles on the year. By the time the clock hit all zeroes, he’d put another couple on the turf which helped fuel the Wildcats’ victory. The Northwestern game also marked the first time he didn’t top 100 yards rushing this season as he finished the day with 46, the fewest since he tallied since Wisconsin’s loss to Michigan (101).
Fortunately for him, he should be able to get his groove back against a Rutgers defense that ranks 116th nationally in trying to stop the run giving up 224 yards per contest.
3. Bryson Williams’ performance
With senior nose tackle Olive Sagapolu sidelined thanks to an arm injury, the true freshman out of Lincoln, Nebraska, will get the start against the Scarlet Knights. He chalked up a quarterback hurry versus Northwestern, but Rutgers may actually provide a bigger challenge with center Michael Maietti along with guards Mike Lonsdorf and Jonah Jackson.
The Scarlet Knights have actually done a better job of keeping their quarterbacks upright this season, giving up only 12 sacks versus Northwestern’s 19. Regardless, this contest may very well show us just how high Williams’ ceiling is.
This should be a game that’s good for Wisconsin’s soul following a stunning loss. No doubt Jonathan Taylor wants to show he’s still the same running back that can have 150-plus yard days, and that looks probable considering how Rutgers has defended the ground game this season. This matchup should be easy for Chryst to break down.
If the Badgers continue battering Rutgers’ defensive line, the dam will eventually break again and again. Wisconsin should have absolutely no problem demolishing the Scarlet Knights up front, so if Taylor can secure the football, it should be a banner day. Regardless of who the Badgers trot out at quarterback — even with Alex Hornibrook starting it doesn't seem like a bad idea to get him out early and let Jack Coan get some more snaps — their day is likely pretty easy as well.
They simply must make sure handoffs are clean, hit the occasional intermediate or deep pass to keep Rutgers honest about trying to stymie Taylor and let the big men up front do their job. It’s a great opportunity for Wisconsin to gain momentum heading into next week’s bout with Penn State at Happy Valley and it’d be no shock to see them take full advantage of it.
Prediction: Wisconsin 38 Rutgers 10
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces).