Homecoming Game Preview: Wisconsin at Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Rutgers returns home for the first time since a historic moment for the program in beating Michigan Oct. 4 and storming the field. Losing two straight on the road to ranked teams, the Scarlet Knights face yet another game as double-digit underdogs in the Wisconsin Badgers.

Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1) at Rutgers (5-3, 1-3)

Time:Noon, High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.

TV/Radio: ESPN, 1450 AM WCTC, 710 AM WOR

Series: First Meeting

Last meeting: First Meeting

Coaches: Rutgers – Kyle Flood (3rd season, 20-14); Wisconsin – Gary Andersen (7th season, 44-37, 2nd with Nebraska, 14-6)

Storyline Central

  • Homecoming Havoc -- Homecoming in the modern Rutgers football era has not been friendly to the Scarlet Knights. Ugly losses to the likes of Tulane, Kent State and Houston represent the lowlights, and even the wins were not pretty (see 12-10 win over Connecticut and fans booing senior quarterback). Most schools target easier games for Homecoming, but not Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights face 5-2 Wisconsin, which comes off a blowout win against Maryland.

  • An Arm and a Leg -- Uncertainty reigns at quarterback where Gary Nova continues rehab from knee and ankle injuries suffered against Nebraska. Red-shirt freshman Chris Laviano took over for Nova in the second half of a loss to the Huskers. He ran the first team during the majority of the practice week and could be the first non-Nova/Chas Dodd starter at Rutgers since Tom Savage. Officially Nova is a game-time decision – “questionable” with a lower body injury.

  • Strength vs. Weakness -- Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is a legitimate Heisman candidate in the running game. Backup Corey Clement – from Glassboro, N.J. – is another major rushing weapon for the Badgers. Since holding Penn State to 64 rushing yards in a 13-10 home loss, the Rutgers defense averages 219.4 yards allowed on the ground per game at a clip of 5.77 yards per carry. That includes the Nebraska school record 341 total yards by Ameer Abdullah last week. The Badgers ran for 311 net yards against the Terps last week, including 122 yards and three touchdowns for Gordon.

Matchup to Watch

Rutgers center Betim Bujari vs. Wisconsin nose guard Konrad Zagzebski

Flood harped all week that running game needs to improve. The last thing Rutgers needs with questions at quarterback is 3rd and long after 3rd and long. This is a senior center going 1-on-1 with a senior nose guard in the 3-4 scheme, and the winner of this battle dictates the rushing attack. Bujari is a third-year starter in his final stretch in scarlet. Zagzebski has 10 starts under his belt over four seasons in the space-eating role at nose.

Scarlet Knights Win If…

They Find a Spark -- Rutgers needs a spark somewhere – and maybe that comes from Laviano at quarterback or the increased role from Robert Martin at running back. Maybe a return by Nova lifts up a struggling offense. Rutgers needs an emotional boost, a big turnover, a trademark special teams play, something to get going because it is hard to just flip a switch and bounce back from two straight bad losses.

Badgers Win If …

They Run, Run and Run Some More -- Rutgers could not stop Ohio State or Nebraska on the ground, and the Badgers are just as good with a hulking offensive line and special talents at tailback. Rutgers forced punts when Nebraska got too cute in the passing game, and intercepted a pass when the Huskers should have been running. The Badgers should stick with the run as long as Rutgers cannot slow it down. Don’t give the dangerous Rutgers pass rush a chance to get back into its early groove.


Impact Player

WR Leonte Carroo — Without Paul James as an option, Carroo remains the biggest threat on the Rutgers roster. He made an early impact, again, against Nebraska before the Huskers devoted multiple defensive backs to him the rest of the game. With the rest of the Rutgers receivers unable to create consistent opportunities, whichever quarterback starts needs Carroo to continue his All-Big Ten level of play. Carroo’s 775 yards and six touchdown have him well on the way to becoming the first 1,000-yard Rutgers receiver since Mohamed Sanu.

Something to Prove

RG Chris Muller – Nebraska defensive tackle Maliek Collins dominated at the line of scrimmage, giving the sophomore Muller a very hard time. Muller’s role in the running game goes a long way in Flood’s goal of establishing the run. That has to improve against Wisconsin and a run defense that allows just 3.1 yards per carry and 106.7 per game.

Looking to Build

RB Robert Martin – The pride of Harrisburg becomes the third member of the class of 2014 to earn a spot as a starter. Following long snapper Alan Lucy and cornerback Dre Boggs, the talented running back checks in as a co-starter alongside Desmon Peoples and Justin Goodwin. Martin scored his first career touchdown against Nebraska, and showed a tackle-breaking ability that has not been seen at Rutgers since the loss of James with a torn ACL.

Freshman to Watch

QB Chris Laviano – He better be ready. Laviano’s shot may not be tomorrow, but if it is, Rutgers needs 100 percent of what he can offer. Offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen protected Laviano with fewer responsibilities in the second half against Nebraska. He made the most of his week with the first-team Rutgers offense, and they need a big effort against Wisconsin to turn Homecoming into a celebration.

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