Wisconsin Opponent Preview: Rutgers

Wisconsin Opponent Preview: Rutgers

Football

Wisconsin Opponent Preview: Rutgers

Another tough loss for Wisconsin leaves the Badgers in the usual position of being the chasers entering the final month of the regular season. Northwestern’s 31-17 win over the Badgers last Saturday means the Wildcats have the easiest path to the conference title game. UW needs a ton of help to catch the Wildcats, which includes winning its final four games and having the Wildcats lose two of their final three, but all the Badgers can really do now is focus on themselves.

This weekend the Badgers host Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are coming off their bye week and one of their better games of the season, a narrow 18-15 loss at home to Northwestern. The Scarlet Knights struggled offensively against the Wildcats, which has been the story of their season with the program being last in the Big Ten in scoring at 15.1 points per game.

Throwing for only 81 passing yards against Northwestern, Rutgers has thrown for only 1,111 passing yards, completed 49.6 percent of its passes, three touchdowns and a whopping 17 interceptions. In a 34-7 loss to Maryland Oct.13, Rutgers quarterbacks completed two passes to their receivers and five to Maryland defenders.

Freshmen quarterback Artur Sitkowski – a former UW target – has struggled this season, only throwing for over 175 yards once against an FBS team and not being a threat to run the football. His best game throwing was a loss against Illinois, going 29-for-46 for 267 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

Rutgers’ run game is also led by a freshman, as tailback Isaih Pacheco has emerged over the last two weeks. Running 22 times for 107 yards and a score against Maryland, Pacheco had 76 yards and a score against the Wildcats. Sophomore Raheem Blackshear might be the team’s best offensive threat, rushing for a team-best 399 yards and two touchdowns and leads the team with 27 catches (154 yards).

With two seniors, two juniors and the rest sophomores and freshmen making up Rutgers’ starting offense, this will be a difficult test for the Scarlet Knights’ young offense against an experienced team on the road.

Wisconsin’s defense was built in the preseason with a number of veteran defenders, but senior D’Cota Dixon has missed three weeks and nose tackle Olive Sagapolu has been ruled out for this weekend with an arm injury. While UW has relied on senior inside linebackers TJ Edwards and Ryan Connelly, senior safety Evan Bondoc and senior outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, but the Badgers are going to have a difficult path ahead of them because they are in somewhat of a rebuilding stage, as well. This game will be a battle against young men needing to step up for their teams and seniors.

This factor was exposed playing against Northwestern for both teams. Due to the young players being thrown into the fire, there will be mistakes made in crucial situations. Not because of technique, but due to the lack of experience among the certain situations throughout the game. Northwestern, on the other hand, has an experienced team that has come up big late in games. Though the Badgers’ defense created three turnovers by three different players, that inexperience hurt UW on offense Saturday.

With quarterback Alex Hornibrook unable to play because of a concussion, sophomore quarterback Jack Coan stepped into the starting job, throwing for 158 yards on 20 of 31 passing in his first game this 2018 season. Coan did have a touchdown pass but it didn’t come until late in the game with the victory out of reach. To be fair, he wasn’t the only player who struggled. Sophomore running back Jonathon Taylor broke his streak of rushing for over 100 yards with a season-low 46 yards on 11 carries, two of which he fumbled. It was not a pretty sight for the offense.

Rutgers’ defense kept it a close against Northwestern to give the offense a chance to win, as sophomore defensive lineman Elorm Lumor had a productional day with 1.5 sacks. The defense as a whole finished with three sacks and five tackle for losses. Though struggling, giving up 33.8 points and 407.5 yards per game, Rutgers will still be grinding out the season in order add more wins to the win column.

Wisconsin is a 30-point favorite to beat Rutgers. However, I see this game being another challenge for the Badgers. Though struggling with its season under former UW defensive coordinator Chris Ash, Rutgers is still hungry and will test Wisconsin physically on the field. No game should be taken lightly, even against a team whose record is 1-7. Anybody has the chance to win. It depends how hard a team is willing to work and whether players are going to give everything they have on the field in order to get the victory.

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