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Rutgers Football Game #9 Preview at Wisconsin

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Both teams coming off loses to Northwestern, one unexpected.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Northwestern
Wisconsin really was two steps behind Northwestern last week.
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Rutgers (1-7; 0-5) At Wisconsin (5-3; 3-2)

Where: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI.

Kick-off: Saturday, November 3rd at 12:01 p.m. EDT

Weather: 45 degrees, partly cloudy with a 15% chance of rain, 9 mph winds

TV: BTN Kevin Kugler (play-by-play), James Laurinaitis (analyst) and Lisa Byington (reporter). Out-of-market channel finder.

Stream: BTN2go

Radio: Rutgers IMG Sports Network with Chris Carlin, Ray Lucas, and Anthony Fucilli - WCTC 1450-AM, WOR 710-AM, WENJ 97.3-FM, WNJE 920-AM, XM 386, Sirius 206. (WRSU 88.7-FM Jake Ostrove and Justin Sontupe)

Current Spread: Wisconsin -30.5

Against The Spread: Rutgers 3-5; Wisconsin 2-6

Series History: Wisconsin leads the all-time series 2-0.

SB Nation UW site: Bucky’s 5th quarter

Wisconsin Statistical Leaders

Passing: Alex Hornibrook - 93 for 156 pass attempts, 59.6%, 1251 yards, 11 TD, 6 INT. Jack Coan - 20 for 31 pass attempts, 64.5%, 158 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT.

Rushing: Jonathan Taylor - 1155 yards on 181 attempts, 6.4 ypc, 8 TD; Taiwan Deal - 361 yards on 56 attempts, 6.4 ypc, 5 TD; Garrett Groshek - 298 yards on 43 attempts, 6.9 ypc, 0 TD; Alec Ingold - 129 yards on 19 attempts, 6.8 ypc, 5 TD;

Receiving: Jake Ferguson - 23 catches for 328 yards, 14.3 ypc, 3 TD; A.J. Taylor - 21 catches for 373 yards, 17.8 ypc, 3 TD; Danny Davis - 18 catches for 205 yards, 11.4 ypc, 1 TD; Garrett Groshek - 17 catches for 142 yards, 8.4 ypc, 1 TD;

Defense: Ryan Connelly - 57 tackles, 6.0 for a loss, 2 sacks, 1 PD, 1 forced fumble, 0 fumble recovery; T.J. Edwards - 54 tackles, 8.5 for a loss, 3 sacks, 2 INT, 0 forced fumbles, 0 recovered fumbles, 2 pass defended; Zack Baun - 36 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 INT, 0 forced fumbles

Kicking: Rafael Gaglianone - 32 for 32 PAT’s, 6 for 9 FG attempts, Long of 42 yards

Wisconsin Statistical Comparison Versus Rutgers

S&P+ Advanced Stats Profiles: Wisconsin I Rutgers

What To Watch For

Energy

Every week when I try to predict Rutgers’s energy coming out of the gate I hear Vin Scully in 1988, “Talk about a roll of the dice ...” Seriously it’s that or a box of chocolates where you never know what you’re going to get in the first few minutes of action. For as good as the effort was two weeks ago against Northwestern, Isaih Pacheco dropped the opening kickoff and Rutgers was forced to start at their own one yard line. Rutgers was not discouraged initially, but other times this year we have seen the opposite. So it’s worth tuning in for the beginning of this contest for purely entertainment value.

As was true early in the Maryland game, it seemed being on the road may have been a good thing for the Scarlet Knights to get away from so much negativity. Rutgers has to hope this game is a huge let down for the Badgers as Wisconsin is coming into this game with some mix of being pissed off and potential apathy. Oddsmakers feel this makes them 30 point favorites. Under appreciated quarterback Alex Hornibrook is questionable with concussion protocol and did not play last week in the loss at Northwestern. Though he does not possess a cannon of an arm, he gets the job done and likely will fire up his team if healthy.

Speaking of quarterbacks ...

Sitkowski / McNulty watch

The RU offense as an entire unit really struggles on their first three plays of drives, so John McNulty has often called pass plays to try and achieve a first down or set up manageable second downs. It has not worked very often. With two weeks to prepare for a team that has not set the world on fire with their pass rush, the hope is that McNulty can draw up some plays for Art Sitkowski to get some easy completions. Wisconsin is not as sound defensively (55th in the country) as they have been in recent seasons, and when their offense (10th in the country) struggles to stay on the field, they break down like virtually every defense in the country other than LSU.

On offense Rutgers has beaten themselves simply too much this year with silly timeouts, penalties, drops, blown assignments, etc. Sitkowski has had some games where he was not the problem, so if this turns out to be one of those can the offensive line get a little more push in the run game? The revolving door due to injuries has not helped, but there is still no excuse for the inability against basic four man fronts to not get the back to the second level. Last year Rutgers had an offensive identity to pound the rock, but it will be very hard to do that these final four contests.

I’m hoping to see Shameen Jones or Bo Melton get involved early. We know Eddie Lewis will be a mixed bag regardless of what goes on around him, but Melton and Jones need to do something to get the safeties to leave the box and get confidence for Art. If they don’t early in this game, I want Rutgers to play three tight end sets or even three back looks. This may present some more complex reads for Sitkowski if everyone is bunched up in the middle, but he has shown at times to be better when he just reads and reacts. Plus I think everyone who knows Rutgers football has more confidence in the top 4 tight ends on the roster (not even counting Johnathan Lewis) to complete basic pitch and catch than the wideouts.

Chris Ash, D.C.

Did Chris Ash make THAT much of a difference with the defense against Northwestern or was it the elements coupled with no experience at RB for the Wildcats? Then even if he did, will we be able to tell this week with all the distractions? Then even if RU puts together a decent defensive performance and Hornibrook does not play, does that mean anything either? As has been the case all season, peeling back the onion with this Rutgers group has been very difficult. No one area can be said to be having a good year and positively impacting those around it.

On a college football team, the offensive and defensive players live in their separate worlds for most of practice, film, and often lifting so the offense might be able to remove themselves from what happened this past week. There is no way for anyone on the outside to truly know what is happening inside the locker room particularly on defense in that regard. My take is a lot of this comes down to whether or not the whistle blower was A. on defense and B. a respected member of the team or not. So rather than speculate the entire gamete of the dynamics, here the best/worst case. Best case is the team unifies by all being on the same page that there’s just four games left, use an actual game to block out everything else, and seniors such as Saquan Hampton, Deonte Roberts, and Trevor Morris play with reckless abandon because there is no (football) tomorrow for most of them. Worst case is that not everyone is in agreement for how everything has gone down and brings to the field personal feelings and personal goals without any semblance of cohesiveness.

Depth

As has been the case seemingly every week since the Ohio State game, Rutgers is facing an opponent that would be ripe for the picking by an average Power Five team. The Wisconsin injury report is massive with EIGHT players questionable and EIGHT already ruled out never mind any other nagging injuries 23 through the season. As was debated at length in the comments sections all week on OTB, most Big Ten teams have rosters filled with mostly three-star recruits and only a few game changers. The margin for error and health is very thin. The Badgers may have viewed this as a trap game anyway and surely are disappointed after losing a game most thought they would win and tumbling out of the top 25 polls.

Unfortunately, Rutgers is not a good football team this season. For all the injuries Wisconsin has, Rutgers has just as many players inactive for a plethora of reasons. The Scarlet Knights who will suit up don’t have many guys to push them in practice or give breathers to in game. Regardless of all the other factors, this game will be a blowout if the Badger offensive line can wear out the RU defensive front. Even with questions at QB or an injury to one of their several RBs, Wisconsin has more and better O-lineman than RU has defensive linemen. Elorm Lumor is a key guy to be healthy, hold up in the run game, and still have something left to lead the pass rush. If Lumor can, there’s a trickle down effect to Mike Tverdov then Kevin Wilkins shifted inside on passing downs, and last but not least whomever is rotating at the other inside spot (Bateky/Turner/Previlon).

Final Thoughts

When I turn on my PS3 to play a virtual version of college football with the current rosters (thank these guys) in the few spare moments I have, I get excited both for the games AND the other activities that go one during the “week” like recruiting. This 2018 Rutgers season in real life has been quite the opposite. During the week we can’t wait for the actual game in the hopes that something dramatic has improved on the field, but in most games a point is reached where we as fans can’t wait to turn the page.

The bye week couldn’t come soon enough and when it finally did, Rutgers was coming off their best defensive and possibly best overall performance of the year even in defeat. Then RU got a commitment on the defensive line and a re-up from their highest touted offensive lineman, so things were trending up rather than down for a few days. Then after 1-0 losses in the B1G tournament by field hockey and women’s soccer a little air was let out of the balloon for RU athletics in general. All remaining helium dissipated with the Izaia Bullock news. So now we’re back to not being able to wait for actual football to be played.

As I noted last game, perhaps Northwestern alum Mike Wilbon did get nervous against Rutgers. Then without warning, the Wildcats rebounded to play lightyears better against Wisconsin. Talk about what a difference a week makes in college football. Let’s hope the same is true for Rutgers Football this weekend.

Let’s hope Pacheco gets more run on the field than in social media this week ...