The Wisconsin football team is on a hot streak right now. They are have won their last four games, including two over wins ranked opponents in the last two weeks. They are hitting their stride at the right time to end the season on a high note. They are currently in second in the Big Ten West, but they can control their own destiny by defeating Minnesota in a few weeks.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, the Wisconsin football team needs to go undefeated before then to ensure they have a shot to win the division. They have a date with Rutgers this weekend on the road.
The Scarlet Knights come into the game with a 4-4 overall record and a 1-4 conference record. Their lone conference win came against Illinois last week when the Scarlet Knights won 20-14 in Illinois.
Rutgers is a program that is still trying to break through the losing and become a relevant program. It’s tough to do when you are in the same division as Ohio St., Michigan, Michigan St., and Penn St. Heach coach Greg Schiano is back and looking to turn the program around. It looked early like he may have made some early progress, but they are in a bit of a skid the last month.
Both of these programs seem to be trending in different directions at this point in the season, which will favor Wisconsin.
So let’s compare the teams. We’ll compare the Badgers and Scarlet Knights on offense, defense, and special teams on the Week 10 tale of the tape.
Last week, the Wisconsin football team took on a tough Iowa defense. In that game, the Badgers were still heavily dependant on the running game. When they do that, things tend to work out pretty well for them. They ran for 166 yards while throwing for just 104.
But just because they threw for just 104 yards, doesn’t mean Graham Mertz didn’t play well. He looked good early. He was completing some strikes on third downs early in the game. His efficiency started to fall a bit later in the game but luckily, the Badgers were up 20-0 at the half, meaning they didn’t have to throw the ball if they didn’t want to. With this defense, the offense can afford to be a bit conservative, especially when you have Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen in the backfield.
This offense is starting to get things figured out. They aren’t a high-powered and dynamic offense, but they have been taking care of the ball the past six quarters and have shown the ability to run the ball and own the time of possession. That works just fine.
Say what you want about the Wisconsin offense, but they are actually ranked higher in yards per game than Rutgers is. The Badgers are 100th in the NCAA in yards per game (353), and Rutgers is 106th (342).
Rutgers gets a majority of their yards through the air. Their leading rusher, Isaih Pacheco, has just 420 yards on the ground this season. Quarterback Noah Vedral is second on the team with 250 yards. I think the Scarlet Knights could have some trouble getting the running game going against Wisconsin on Saturday.
Luckily for them, their pass protection holds up pretty well. Through eight games, Rutgers has given up just 14 sacks (1 more than Wisconsin). They are tied for 45th in the country in sacks given up. However, the way Wisconsin has been playing lately, it wouldn’t surprise me if Rutgers can’t get their passing game going because the Badgers are consistently pressuring the quarterback.
We won’t need to spend a ton of time on this subject. The defense for the Wisconsin football team is one of, if not the best defense in the country. They are now officially the top run defense and total defense in all of college football, and by a good margin too.
Half of the points this defense has given up have been after a turnover by the offense. Even with that, the Wisconsin football team is still 8th in the country in points allowed.
Rutgers, on the other hand, is a pretty middle-of-the-road defense. They are 52nd in total defense, giving up about 360 yards per game. 59th in run defense allowing 144 yards on the ground per game, and 51st in passing defense, allowing 216 yards per game. I think Wisconsin has a good chance to move the ball on Rutgers this weekend.
If we are comparing defenses, I don’t think this one is even close.
Advantage: Wisconsin (by a lot)
The special teams for Wisconsin football have been better this year than the last couple. A big part of that is the consistency of kick Colin Larsh. Larsh has been a steady kicker for a Wisconsin team that has, in times, struggled to put points on the board. He continues to make kicks. On the season, Larsh is 12-of-14 (85.7%) on field goals this year and 19-of-20 on extra points. It’s hard to ask for much more out of a collegiate kicker.
His counterpart on Rutgers, Valentino Ambrosio, is just 9-of-13 (69.2%) on field goals this year but has also missed just one extra point this year, going 22-of-23. If we are comparing kickers, I think we’d have to go with Larsh by a small margin.
Punting could be a wash. Punters from both teams are having decent seasons. Andy Vujnovich from Wisconsin has punted 39 times this season with an average of 44.9 yards per punt. Rutgers’ punter Adam Korsak has punted 42 times with an average of 46.2 yards per punt. Very similar numbers.
I think the big difference in special teams between these two teams is in the kick and punt returning. Wisconsin hasn’t made a ton of splash plays on special teams this year. In fact, they haven’t made a ton of big plays since the 2019 season when they had Aron Cruickshank returning kicks. It just so happens that Rutgers now has Aron Cruickshank after he transferred back to New Jersey from Wisconsin following the 2019 season.
Cruickshank has returned 14 kicks for 287 yards (20.5 average) this season. He’s returned 8 punts for 153 yards (19.1 yards per return) and a touchdown this season. With the way the Badgers’ special teams looked against Iowa last weekend, they need to make sure they contain Cruickshank, otherwise, I could see them giving up points to Rutgers without the defense on the field.
Cruickshank is the difference here and is why Rutgers has the advantage.