One of the newest editions to the Big Ten conference, Wisconsin and Rutgers will play for only the second time in both school’s long football history. The first meeting a year ago couldn't have gone any better for Wisconsin, as the Badgers’ dominating performance delivered a 37-0 shutout in New Jersey. In a touch of irony, the Badgers delivered a 37-0 shutout over Purdue the last time Wisconsin played on Halloween in 2009. Kind of spooky, isn’t it?
Here are Badger Nation’s five keys to a victory for Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) over Rutgers (3-4, 1-3), which would extend UW’s winning streak to four games.
1, Containing Rutgers offense
Wisconsin’s defense has become tough to score on over the last seven games, allowing only 7.7 points a game. UW’s defense will be put to a test against a Rutgers squad averaging 30.4 points a game and one that has found ways of moving the football down the field effectively, ranking fourth in total offense (426.6 yards) in the Big Ten. The Badgers might catch a break if stud wide receiver Leonte Carroo misses the game due to a lingering ankle injury. Although Carroo is the clear cut favorite target of quarterback Chris Laviano, the redshirt sophomore still has capable targets. The players who rank second, third and fourth on the team in receiving yards have combined for 733 yards.
2, Striking a balance
Wisconsin has struggled to consistently strike a balance on offense with so many new faces on the offensive line and no Corey Clement (heck, no Melvin Gordon either), forcing the passing game to carry the load. That could change on Saturday against a Rutgers defense allowing 458.9 yards of total offense (13th in the Big Ten). The biggest problem for Rutgers is defending the pass due to a youthful secondary. If Wisconsin can establish the pass, it could allow Dare Ogunbowale to find some success running the football. The Scarlet Knights give up 148.3 yards a game on the ground.
3, Containing inside run
Thirty-six of Illinois’ 55 rushing yards last week came on one play, as Ke’Shawn Vaughn was able to exploit Wisconsin in a corner blitz and cutback to the middle on his touchdown run. Wisconsin’s interior linebackers - T.J. Edwards and Chris Orr - will need to prevent tailback Robert Martin from getting up the field. Martin is averaging 6.2 yards per carry, and if Wisconsin doesn’t do a better job of plugging the middle and making life difficult for Martin, it could prove costly with UW opening itself up to big hits in the passing game and sustained drives.
4, Striking early
Rutgers has allowed an average of 32 points a game, an average that jumps to 40 in its four Big Ten games. Wisconsin’s offense has struggled to consistently finish drives but the opportunity is certainly there this weekend if it can strike a balance. Considering the Scarlet Knights are giving up 310.6 yards through the air, the Badgers’ offense should find itself in positions to put points on the board. The big key for UW is getting out of its own way, as red-zone turnovers have been an issue over the last two games.
5, Overcoming injuries
Wisconsin added three more names to the injured list following its win over Illinois. Dan Voltz (right knee surgery) and Rob Wheelwright (left knee) won’t play against Rutgers, but it appears Joel Stave (head) is on track to start after suffering a concussion against Illinois. Assuming Stave does start, the timing should be down between him and his wide receivers. If Stave can’t go, Bart Houston will need to pick up where he left off against Illinois. Houston should be able to learn from his two red-zone interceptions and be able to find ways of moving the football down the field.
Wisconsin’s defense should be able to make life difficult for Rutgers’ offense, especially if Carroo can’t play. Even though Wisconsin hasn’t been able to score consistently, the Badgers should be able to find themselves with plenty of opportunities to score against a Rutgers defense that hasn’t stopped any Big Ten team consistently. Wisconsin wins, 34-13.