Wisconsin used its bye week to its advantage by putting together a four-quarter game to beat Big Ten newcomer Maryland 52-7. The key now is can Wisconsin duplicate that performance when they travel to Rutgers (5-3, 1-3) for the first time in program history.
Rutgers could be without senior starter Gary Nova at quarterback after he suffered a knee injury in the first half of their loss to Nebraska. Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said during his Monday press conference that he hopes to know by midweek whether or not Nova will start. If Nova is out, Rutgers will turn to redshirt freshman Chris Laviano for his first career start.
The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week, and need. It was not easy determining who would play an important role in helping the Badgers possibly register their first road win of the year.
Last Week’s Rankings in Parentheses
1, Melvin Gordon RB (1): When you only rush for 122 yards and it’s considered an off day, that should tell you what kind of success Gordon has had this year running the football. Despite the low rushing attempt Gordon did have three rushing touchdowns for his 15th over the last five games. Having one of the nation’s best rush defenses a year ago, Rutgers has struggled this year against the run, ranking 12th in the Big Ten allowing 178.2 yards a game. In the last two games Rutgers has allowed Ohio State to rush for 324 yards and Nebraska to run for 292. Gordon should have the potential to bust a big run considering Rutgers has given up an average of 7.6 yards a carry over the last two weeks. Gordon has averaged 7.6 yards a carry on the season, which ranks sixth in the NCAA, meaning he is primed to bust a big run this week. Over the last two games, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig has tried to get Gordon more involved in the passing attack. Gordon may only have three catches over the last two games but it is another way to keep defenses honest with him and also allows him another chance to get outside.
2, Joel Stave QB (4): Even though Stave attempted only 15 passes last week, he was efficient throughout the game and, most importantly, he showed improvement since the Illinois game. Stave most notably was able to complete a throw down the field, which helped open up the passing game and take some pressure off of Gordon. Prior to the game against Maryland, the longest pass play of the season was 37 yards by Tanner McEvoy but Stave was able to complete two 40 yard passes both to Alex Erickson, giving Gary Andersen what he has longed for in the passing game. Even though Rutgers has struggled against the run, Stave will need to turn in another good performance at quarterback to make sure Rutgers doesn’t load the box. Just like they do in the run, the Scarlet Knights also rank 12th in pass defense allowing 249.2 yards a game. Stave could have his chances again to complete a pass down the field and will have to be able to convert if presented with the opportunity. It also helps that Stave didn’t commit a turnover and was able to distribute the football to nine different players. Continuing to develop that rhythm should help going forward and won’t allow teams to just focus on Erickson as the only threat to catch a pass.
3, Derek Landisch MLB (2): Landisch was one of the many linebackers who was consistently supplying the pressure last week, registering a team leading eight tackles, two tackles for loss and had one quarterback hurry. With Laviano possibly getting the start in replace of Nova, who ranked second in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (243.6), getting after Lavino will be key in trying to cause the young quarterback into making a mistake. Lavino has only appeared in three games so far this year and has gone 6-for-11 for 59 yards. With his inexperience, pressure from the linebackers could force mistakes, especially if the Badgers bring the same heat like they did against Maryland. One would assume they would considering how effective it was completely disrupted a Terrapins passing attack that has had success all year.
4, Darius Hillary CB (3): Although Hillary, Sojourn Shelton, and Derrick Tindal all took their turns defending Stefon Diggs and holding him to only one catch, it was Hillary who drew the assignment most often during the game. Once again Hillary will draw another tough assignment when he goes up against Leonte Carroo, who is second in the Big Ten in receiving yards (775 yards) and is third in receiving yards per game (96.9). Hillary’s cushion against Diggs varied at times, and regardless if he was pressing at the line of scrimmage or was giving a five-yard cushion, Hillary was determined to not let Diggs have success. Hillary is going to need to play with the same kind of effort and mentality like he did against Diggs if Wisconsin is going to slow Carroo down.
5, Michael Caputo S (NR): Andersen mentioned during his Monday press conference that Caputo is currently the face of the defense. Quite lofty praise for Caputo but understandable considering everything he does for this unit. Against Maryland he was unleashed on blitzes, did his job by causing pressure and forcing quick passes that disrupted timing. The timing of the blitz on Caputo’s end was impressive, as he timed his pressure nearly perfect almost every time. Andersen attributed that to consistently watching film and studying so he could be prepared. With Caputo likely coming on the blitz again against Rutgers he should be able to Rutgers has given up 14 sacks on the season, so the opportunity is there. When Caputo isn’t blitzing or lining up as a rover linebacker, he’ll be counted on to help keep Rutgers passing game in check.
6, Alex Erickson WR (5): Stave and Erickson had nice chemistry going during the game by connecting on five passes and being able to catch two contested passes. Both Andersen and Erickson mentioned after the game that contested catches was an area they focused on during the bye week, which evidently paid off. Once again it will be preached upon that the receivers need to be able to catch those types of balls during practice. If Erickson can continue to make those types of play, Wisconsin’s offense will take another step closer to becoming more balanced and effective.
7, Tyler Marz LT (7): With the run once again being an important factor, Marz will have to display his dominance when he’s facing David Milewski, who has six tackles for loss on the year, and Darius Hamilton, who also has six tackles for loss and is second on the team with 3.5 sacks. Marz played well but was responsible giving up a sack late in the first half that stalled a possible scoring drive. If Marz and the rest of Wisconsin’s line can do its job in slowing down Rutgers defensive line and help set up short third-down situations, they should be able to continue to move the football down the field. Rutgers has had trouble getting off the field on third down, ranking 13th in the league at a 45.9 percent opponent conversion rate.
Others to Note
Warren Herring, NT: Herring's success along the defensive line played a big role in allowing what the Wisconsin linebackers did this past Saturday. Even though Herring didn't show up in the stat sheet, his presence and the experience he brought helped bring a little extra juice to the defense. In order for the linebackers to once again be disruptive, Herring will have to continue to occupy blockers. With Rutgers ranking in the middle of the Big Ten in sacks allowed (14), the Badgers should have their opportunities against Rutgers offense to create some pressures.
Tanner McEvoy, QB: Even though McEvoy won’t start, he will continue to see time like he has over the last two weeks to run the option. Rutgers struggled against Ohio State’s quarterback J.T. Barrett, who rushed for 107 yards on just seven carries. McEvoy should have success running and picking up positive yards. He also could have a chance to bust a big run if Gordon and Corey Clement can consistently wear down the Rutgers rush defense.
Joe Schobert, OLB:Schobert has been good at creating fumbles, forcing a team-leading two on the year. What helps Schobert is he has consistently been getting after the quarterback, also leading the team with four QB hurries. When not pass rushing, Schobert has done a nice job in pass coverage with three deflections and three pass break ups.
Marcus Trotter MLB: Trotter was all over the field coming back from his groin injury, which caused him to miss the last seven quarters. If it wasn’t Landisch in Maryland’s backfield, it was a safe bet that it was Trotter, who finished with six tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. Trotter simply looked explosive and was playing with an extra energy. Rutgers, which prefers to pass then run (eighth in Big Ten rushing offense) is averaging 155.9 yards a contest. Trotter has shown all year to be strong against the run. If Rutgers decides to hand the football off to Desmon Peoples (441 yards), he won’t have much success rushing the football.