PISCATAWAY, N.J. - After throttling the Big Ten’s two newest editions in consecutive weeks, Wisconsin sophomore linebacker Vince Biegel has a statement he wants to make to those who thought the Badgers’ defense was going to be soft in 2014.
“We didn’t have a lot of high expectations put on us, and people didn’t get us a lot of respect at the beginning of the year,” said Biegel, referring to those who said Wisconsin would struggle having to replace nine starters. “To go out here, on the road, at Rutgers, I can’t say enough about our guys, and I’m excited to see what we can do the rest of the season.”
Wisconsin didn’t need its “A game” to unleash a 37-0 throttling of the Scarlet Knights at High Point Solutions Stadium to give them its first victory away from home in 49 weeks and keep them in control of their fate in the crowded Big Ten West Division.
But the Badgers (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) delivering their first Big Ten shutout since 2009, their first road conference shutout since 1998 and their biggest road shutout since 1983 raises more than a few eyebrows.
Granted Wisconsin was facing an offense with a hobbled quarterback and deficiencies at tailback and offensive line, but the Badgers held Rutgers (5-4, 1-4) to 139 yards on 56 plays, an average of 2.5 yards per play, and took a premier wide receiver out of the game for the second straight week.
“I think the guys who rush think its best to get to the quarterback so the secondary doesn’t have to cover very long,” said linebacker Joe Schobert, as Wisconsin is bowl eligible for the 13th straight year, extending its school record and the longest active streak in the conference.
“Those guys in the back end have been locking down on these high-profile receivers and making them do what they want. It’s been a great overall team effort.”
Wisconsin’s running game – paced by Melvin Gordon and Glassboro, N.J., native Corey Clement – carried the offense to the tune of 298 rushing yards and four touchdowns, including three scoring runs of at least 36 yards.
The special teams navigated through windy conditions to outperform Rutgers’ unit and got a big boost from junior defensive back A.J. Jordan to create the momentum play of the game.
Wisconsin managed only 31 yards through three drives in the first quarter, but led 7-0 thanks in part to an athletic special teams block by Jordan, who sprung through the right side of the protection to block the attempt with his left hand.
That gave the ball to Wisconsin on the Rutgers 20, and Gordon cashed it in with a 13-yard run three plays later.
“I feel like it was a big spark for the offense and the team as a whole,” said Jordan. “I’m just glad I made the opportunity when I had the chance.”
Wisconsin delivered quick scoring strikes of 52 and 51 yards, the latter of which was a run by Gordon on the first play of the second half to make it 27-0, and sustained drives of 10, 9 and 9 plays that ended with field goals by Rafael Gaglianone.
Wisconsin’s defense also entered the season with similar expectations. Despite having to replace the entire front seven, including a nose tackle (Beau Allen) and a linebacker (Chris Borland) currently playing in the NFL, the returning players saw enough young talented players who could make a difference.
That notion was altered when senior defensive tackle Warren Herring missed five games (and the fourth quarter against LSU) with a knee injury and senior linebacker Marcus Trotter missed another two; missed games that overlap with UW’s two lone losses.
Since their returned last week, the defense has been nearly unstoppable. The Badgers have only given up one touchdown (in the final minute last week with the reserves in) and held Maryland and Rutgers to a combined 314 yards on 113 offensive plays, an average of 2.8 yards per play.
The closest Rutgers got to scoring was the Wisconsin 26-yard line on the Scarlet Knights’ final drive when all they were doing was trying to run out the clock and sulk back to the locker room.
The stadium was practically barren by then except for the wet, vocal Badgers contingent gathered in one corner of the end zone, the final witnesses to another decisive defensive performance that is starting to put the conference on notice.
“To come out here on the road to get our first road victory and put zero points on the board, that’s a big deal,” said Biegel. “That’s something we’re going to hang out hat on and build off of the rest of the season.”