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OTB staff predictions: No. 21 Wisconsin at Rutgers

Our contributors make their picks ahead of Saturday’s game.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 30 Rutgers at Illinois

Wisconsin will travel to Piscataway for just the second time ever on Saturday. The Badgers have won four in a row while Rutgers is coming off the win over Illinois. To run and stop the run, that is the question of this game. Our contributors make their predictions. (Editor’s

Note: Season records for each contributor were requested and you will now see them next to each person’s name moving forward. Not everyone has picked every week, so that is the reason for the record imbalance for some.)

Fred Gaudios (6-2): There is a way for Rutgers to get to six wins and bowl eligibility this season, but few of these paths feature a win against #21 Wisconsin. I wish I felt this game would be close, and it’s certainly possible it’ll look closer than it ends up being, but it’s hard for me to imagine Rutgers putting up more points than Iowa did against a very stout Wisco defense. If I put on my optimist’s hat — and I definitely drank pessimistic coffee this morning, re-reading what I wrote here — I suppose I might say well, low-scoring games can go either way, maybe Rutgers breaks one on special teams, etc. But I just don’t see it. I’ve seen nothing from this Rutgers team that suggests they can break through against a top-25ish team this season, which isn’t a knock against anyone or anything in particular. It’s just what the team looks like, given their body of work so far. Maybe Rutgers goes bowling, but they’ll have to endure a 4-5 record to get there. Wisconsin 24 Rutgers 3

Art Stein (6-2): When looking at this game, the only advantage I give to the Scarlet Knights is that the game is at home. Wisconsin in some ways poses a tougher challenge than Michigan and Michigan State. Wisconsin is Big Ten; “BIG” on both sides of the line. They are built to dominate games by running the ball on offense and a stifling defense. Rutgers will have to play mistake-free football and count on Wisconsin mistakes to win this game. I think Greg Schiano and staff will have Rutgers ready and I believe him when he says, “he welcomes the challenge.” But at the end of the day, the Badgers should prevail. Wisconsin 37 Rutgers 13

Cara Sanfilippo (5-2): I have so many mixed feelings about this matchup. Wisconsin, who struggled earlier this season, seems to be back in full force. We are meeting them at the wrong time when they are firing on all cylinders. This team just beat a top 10, at the time, in Iowa and have strong, big talent on both sides of the ball. However, for the pure sake of being an optimist, the hope that Aron Cruickshank will be back and provide the opportunity for a return against his old team, and the new offensive weapon in Gavin Wimsatt that this team will have to prepare for, I am calling out a close win. I feel like after some of the close top 10 team games RU has been in recently, they can MAYBE pull it out. Maybe NW was a fluke. I think the home crowd will be there and be excited. Again, I understand I am probably delusional but everyone is allowed one crazy pick, right? Rutgers 24 Wisconsin 21

Andrew Cangiano (5-1): I wish I had a better outlook on this home tilt against Wisconsin. The Scarlet Knights have some serious momentum after earning their first Big Ten win of the season in Champagne against Illinois last week. Unfortunately, Rutgers faces one of the nation’s hottest teams, a Wisconsin squad that has won four in a row and blew past Iowa 27-7 last week.

I have several serious concerns about this game. One is can Rutgers defense slow down the Badgers rushing attack of Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi? Allen, a 17-year-old true freshman, has four consecutive 100 yard performances and seems to get better with every game. As SB Nation’s Drew Hamm said in this week’s Q&A, the Badgers offensive line is much improved since the beginning of the year, especially when it comes to running the football.

This means that Rutgers will again have to stack the box and try to force quarterback Graham Mertz and the Badgers passing attack to beat them. This formula worked for the most part against Illinois last week (although Rutgers did give up some big passing plays). Robb Smith’s defense will need to tackle just as well and absolutely stuff the run if they want to pull off the upset.

My greater source of anxiety is how Rutgers offense will be able to get anything going against Wisconsin’s terrific defense. As Hamm points out, the Badgers probably have the nation’s second-best defense (Georgia’s is in a league of their own), a unit which held the Hawkeyes to 24 yards rushing last week. Wisconsin was extremely stingy on 3rd and 4th down, limiting Iowa to 2 of 16 conversions. This done not bode well for Rutgers, who has struggled to score points in Big Ten games this season and likes to gamble on fourth down.

This will be the toughest test Rutgers patchwork offensive line has faced this season. Wisconsin has playmakers on defense in nose tackle Keeanu Benton, and linebackers Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal (who Hamm called “tackling machines”). Yards will be at a premium. Noah Vedral will need to be prolific with both his legs and his arms if the Scarlet Knights are to have a chance. Will Rutgers be able to open any running room for Pacheco and Monangai? It’s going to be an uphill climb.

For Rutgers to win, the Scarlet Knights will need to have some explosive plays through the air (receivers Bo Melton and Wisconsin transfer Aron Cruickshank will need to be spectacular) and on special teams in the return game. A few turnovers by the defense resulting in great field position wouldn’t hurt either. Overall, I just don’t think Rutgers matches up favorably with Wisconsin on either side of the ball. My heart say’s the Scarlet Knights will win, my head says otherwise. Wisconsin 24 Rutgers 10

Dave White (4-4): The Land of Punt was an ancient kingdom which was a trading partner of Ancient Egypt. No one knows exactly where it was located, but scholars think it was likely in one of three areas: the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula or Sri Lanka. The ancient Egyptians referred to the area as God’s Land, thinking it was their ancestral homeland. Egypt would visit and explore Punt and return with gifts. Eventually it became a land of myths and legends. Hmph. Learn something new every day. Thank you, Wikipedia. Rutgers 10 Wisconsin 7

David Anderson (5-3): Wisconsin has by pure stats, the best front seven in the country. Their secondary is where you need to attack them and Rutgers showed signs of life in the passing game against Illinois, but has not proven they can win games or even be competitive through the air. Rutgers should have the edge on special teams. Wisconsin’s offense plays the act same game plan as Michigan, Illinois, Northwestern, and several other teams littered throughout the conference. Rutgers beat Illinois at the exact same game plan, but dropped the other two thus far. Like last week, if Rutgers opens things up and plays well they can and maybe should win. My heart says to pick Rutgers because they have to snap this streak against ranked teams, sometime right? But my head says Wisconsin will be a lot better than Illinois who Rutgers snuck by last week by six points, even then this will come down to the wire potentially. Wisconsin 19 Rutgers 17

B Vincent P (4-3): Wisconsin has transformed itself back into a title contender for the Big Ten West, with 4 games to go. With the Badgers having the #1 Defense in the NCAA and Rutgers continuing to struggle to move the ball down field to open up the run, points will be hard to come by for the Knights. This will all be up to Schiano and staff to put players in a position to execute. Without a solid RU QB option, Rutgers will need to keep Wisconsin to 14 points if they plan to pull this one out. I am an RU homer, but this game does not look promising. Wisconsin 24 RU 17

Aaron Breitman (5-3): I think it will be a competitive game and Rutgers will fight until the end. I do think the lack of a passing game from Wisconsin gives Rutgers a real chance to pull the upset. It’s the teams with explosive playmakers that gives this team the most trouble. They tend to play up in games that are true hard nosed grinders in the trenches. That being said, Wisconsin’s defense is elite and I’m skeptical that Rutgers will be able to generate much on offense. I think the inability to sustain drives in the second half will wear the defense down and Braelon Allen runs for his fifth straight 100 yard game.

One point I wanted to make is that if Rutgers is truly playing to win, they have to run a package of a few plays with Gavin Wimsatt. The Badgers defense is vulnerable to throwing over the top downfield and Wimsatt gives you the best chance to do that. Playing him doesn’t kill the redshirt possibility yet and it does give you a potentially game changing weapon to employ. The only way RU can pull off the upset is by making a few big plays in the passing game and/or on special teams. Also, if there really is a college football god, let Aron Cruickshank be healthy enough to play! Wisconsin 24 Rutgers 10

Greg Patuto (6-2): This is a game where Wisconsin will be able to slow things down and physically beat down Rutgers. Over the course of 60 minutes, sometimes it is about who can keep up the energy. For the Scarlet Knights, it is hard to imagine the offense putting together drives against a Wisconsin defense that is looking elite once again. The Badgers were written off but seem to be back on track a bit. This is not to say that they will come into Piscataway and dominate the Scarlet Knights but that seems more likely than Rutgers finding a way to win this game. Wisconsin will take control early and cruise. Wisconsin 27 Rutgers 13

Sean McGrath (2-2): I think Rutgers has a great chance to keep it close. So far this season, the defense has been able to hold its own against some of the best rushing offenses in the country. Wisconsin is very one dimensional so they will be able to stack the box and make Graham Mertz beat them with his arm. It will be crucial for them to force a couple turnovers to have a chance. The offense has to find a way to get in the end zone and having Cruickshank back would be a huge help. If he is good to go and the defense plays stout, they have a puncher’s chance. If it’s a close game going into the 4th, watch out. The weather looks perfect for a November college football game. First one to 10 wins. Rutgers 13 Wisconsin 10

Three courageous souls out of ten picked a Rutgers victory. What do you think? Let us know in the comment section.