Walking out of Champaign a 24-13 victory over Illinois, Wisconsin certainly pay a price for its victory. Quarterback Joel Stave (concussion), wide receiver Rob Wheelwright (left leg) and center Dan Voltz (right leg and out for the remainder of the season) all left the game early, adding their names to a growing list of walking wounded for Wisconsin.
Stave has the best chance to return to the lineup this weekend but it depends on how he progresses through the week. The question is when do the injuries start to take its toll on Wisconsin? Despite losing players at key spots, the Badgers have been able to get backups to fill in nicely and have made sure the unit doesn't miss a beat.
The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week and need. Here are our seven players most important in helping the Badgers to a win over Rutgers (3-4, 1-3).
Last Week's Rankings in Parentheses
1, Joe Schobert OLB (2): Not registering a tackle for loss, sack or a quarterback hurry for the first time this season, Schobert led the team in tackles for the first time since the Alabama game. Schobert, who continues to get extra attention of opposing team’s offense, will still be counted on to get after quarterback Chris Laviano in the pocket and open up opportunities for the other linebackers. Ohio State was able to consistently pressure Laviano last weekend, registering five tackles for loss and two sacks. Rutgers has only allowed 37 tackles for loss this season but Schobert comes in having registered 14.5 of Wisconsin’s 43 tackles for loss this season. Supplying pressure on Laviano will be key since Rutgers leads the Big Ten in offensive pass efficiency at 150.2. In order to make sure Laviano can’t have the time he needs in the pocket (he’s completing 67.2 percent of his passes), Schobert needs to do a better job of getting into the backfield and making sure Laviano doesn’t settle into a rhythm.
2, Alex Erickson WR (4): Erickson had a career day against Illinois after quickly became Bart Houston’s go-to target on offense, registering a season-high 10 receptions for 96 yards and his second touchdown of the season. Outside of playing a pivotal role in the passing game, Erickson gave the ground game a spark with 81 yards on four carries. With the ground game still struggling, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Erickson get the ball on jet sweeps. Erickson was one of the main reasons why Wisconsin consistently moved the football down the field against Illinois, as seven of his 10 catches and two of his four runs resulted in a fresh set of downs. Wisconsin has started consistently converting on third down over the last two games, and Erickson is talented enough to find the soft spots in Rutgers’ defense. The Scarlet Knights rank 11th in the Big Ten in first downs - giving up 21.4 a game.
3, Darius Hillary CB (3): Although Hillary and the rest of the secondary didn’t give up many big plays in the passing game, Wes Lunt still became the third quarterback to pass for over 200 yards against Wisconsin. Laviano averages 215 passing yards a game but could be without his top wide receiver, Leonte Carroo, who is currently fighting a foot injury that knocked him out the second half of the Ohio State loss. If Carroo does play, Hillary will need to be ready for a receiver that averages 105.4 yards a game and has nine touchdowns on the year. Outside of Carroo, only three other Rutgers players have at least 100 yards receiving. Hillary was able to play well in pass defense against Illinois with five solo tackles and will again be counted on to limit big plays on his side of the field, especially against Carroo.
4, Joel Stave QB (1): The reports after the game were encouraging that Stave will have a chance to play Saturday, but he will continue to be examined throughout the week. Stave was getting pummeled in the pocket early in the game, resulting in his head injury, so the offensive line needs to do a better job of giving Stave time to examine his options down the field as he tries to get a chemistry with Erickson. Considering Rutgers only has registered 11 sacks this year, which ranks 12th in the Big Ten, and the line improved as the game wore on, the unit up front should be in a better position to succeed. If Stave is given the proper protection in the pocket, he should be able to find success against a defense giving up 310.6 yards per game.
5, Michael Caputo S (5): Caputo was able to come up with some timely turnovers against Illinois in the second half, registering his second interception of the season and forcing his first fumble this season. Although Wisconsin hasn’t created a lot of turnovers this year, Caputo has been responsible for helping create four of the team’s 11 turnovers. Rutgers on the season has committed 12 turnovers (seven interceptions and five fumbles) so there will be a chance for plays on the ball if the pass rush can be consistent. If Caputo can find a way to cause a miscue, it will continue to help Wisconsin have another opportunity of putting points on the board. Even if Caputo can’t register a turnover, the senior captain will still need to be able to assist the secondary making sure that the windows that Laviano are throwing into are tight.
6, Dare Ogunbowale RB (6): Ogunbowale has started to become more productive the last two weeks catching the football compared to running it, as he has rushed for 98 yards on 34 carries compared to 11 receptions for 114 yards. That might not change with Rutgers allowing 148.3 yards per game on the ground. But if Wisconsin’s offensive line can create the lanes for Ogunbowale to have success, he’ll need to generate significant plays to take some pressure off the passing attack. In the passing game, Ogunbowale has shown the willingness and, at times, elusiveness on certain catches to fight for extra yards to try and help pick up a first down, as two of his five receptions resulted in first downs last week. The targets should keep coming for Ogunbowale, as there has been only two games this season in which he didn’t register a catch.
7, Conor Sheehy NG (NR): Sheehy registered a season-high four tackles with four and recorded a half tackle for loss against Illinois. Sheehy will be counted on to make sure the defensive line gets the better push so the linebackers can make the necessary plays in the backfield. Sheehy will also be counted on to help make sure Rutgers can’t establish the run (185.6 yards a game), as Wisconsin’s rush defense has only allowed a combined 115 yards the last two weeks, 36 of which came on one play last week. Sheehy will need to make sure he engages his blockers well to make sure Robert Martin can’t get to the second level, as he averages 6.2 yards per carry.
Others to Note
Vince Biegel OLB: Biegel was able to register two quarterback hurries against Wes Lunt and will need to continue that pressure. If Biegel can once again make his presence felt, he and Schobert should help Laviano get rattled and possibly force him into an error with the football.
T.J. Edwards MLB: Edwards will need to be in his right lanes to help slow Martin down from consistently picking up positive yards. Sheehy and the rest of Wisconsin’s defensive line consistently getting the better penetration will make Edwards job easier. Edwards has started to show he is capable of making plays in the backfield, registering 1.5 tackles for loss in each of the last two games.
Troy Fumagalli TE: Since Austin Traylor has been out with his injury, Fumagalli has stepped up as over the last three games, recording 15 catches for 157 yards and one touchdown. Although Fumagalli isn’t going to burn defenders with his speed, he has shown to be reliable making plays. With Wheelwright out for the game against Rutgers, Fumagalli will be targeted often on third downs or on a quick route to help take some pressure off of Erickson.
Alec Ingold RB: Ingold continues to be reliable in red-zone situations, scoring four rushing touchdowns over the last three games in short-yardage situations. Ingold has done well fighting for yards on his way into the end zone and faces a Rutgers defense that has allowed 12 rushing touchdowns inside its 20 this season.