Preview: Wisconsin vs Rutgers

wisconsin-football-chryst
wisconsin-football-chryst

THE BASICS

The teams: The Wisconsin Badgers (5-3, 3-2) vs Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-7, 0-5)

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The time: 11 a.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

The TV coverage: BTN with Kevin Kugler and James Laurinaitis on the call and Lisa Byington on the sideline.

The last time: Corey Clement scored three touchdowns on just 11 carries as Wisconsin rolled to a 48-10 win in 2015.

The series: Wisconsin leads 2-0

The line: Wisconsin -30

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

S D’Cota Dixon (leg)
CB Deron Harrell (leg)
DE Isaiahh Loudermilk (leg)
OL Cole Van Lanen (leg)

OUT

Game:

CB Travian Blaylock (leg)
S Scott Nelson (leg)
NT Olive Sagapolu (arm)
FB Mason Stokke (leg)

Season:

DL Garrett Rand (achilles)
OL Blake Smithback (leg)
LB Mason Platter (leg)
TE Zander Neuville (leg)

THE BREAKDOWN: THINGS TO WATCH

1) Alex Hornibrook returns

A vocal segment of the fanbase was interested to see what the Wisconsin offense would look like with someone other than Alex Hornibrook running it. They got their wish last week when the junior quarterback missed the Northwestern game with a concussion. Those expecting a big improvement were left shaking their heads as things didn’t appear much different with sophomore Jack Coan. The Badgers struggled to move the ball and only managed to score touchdowns following a pair of turnovers that set them up with a short field.

Hornibrook cleared out of the concussion protocol this week and is expected to return to the starting lineup. He and the Wisconsin offense should get healthy against a Rutgers defense that ranks 103rd in points allowed per game and 115th against the run. Perhaps it will be the spark that group needs heading into a pair of tough road games at Penn State and Purdue the next two weeks.

2) What’s the motivation?

Wisconsin’s loss at Michigan three weeks ago knocked them out of the chase for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Badgers loss to Northwestern last week made the chances of them winning the Big Ten West for a third straight year unlikely. So with two of their biggest goals off the table, what’s the motivation the rest of the way? And how do veteran players manage their disappointment and in turn keep the younger player focused and locked in? We’re likely to get an answer to the second question on Saturday considering the lackluster opponent and the absence of much excitement around a program that has spoiled its fanbase with so much success in recent years.

3) Welcome back

The Badgers are expecting to have their emotional leader back on the field for the first time in close to a month. Safety D’Cota Dixon took team reps this week, a new development after missing the last three games with a leg injury. Wisconsin’s defensive backs haven’t been bad in his absence. In fact, they’ve actually been pretty darn good, especially the last two weeks when the defense has given up just one passing touchdown and picked off six passes. But Dixon’s presence and energy impact the entire team and that feels like something that was missing in the month of October.

4) Finding some consistency

Wisconsin’s offense hasn’t been the unit many thought it would be this season, but it’s also not horrible. The Badgers are averaging more yards per game overall and on the ground than last year, while the scoring is down slightly, as is the passing offense. But their yards per play is 6.57, which is an increase from 6.09 a year ago. Still, the group hasn’t taken the expected jump with 10 starters returning and it’s clearly irritating for players and fans alike.

“What makes you the most angry is you see stuff that’s good,” guard Michael Deiter said of the up and down nature of the offense. “If you can just keep that momentum with everything that’s good, you’re going to have everything you want. I wish there was more to watch and go, ‘This is all the reason we lost,’ but it isn’t. There’s just a few things that need to be cleaned up and [then] the game [would be] completely different.”

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

— With a win on Saturday, Paul Chryst will hit 40 victories at Wisconsin in the 50th game of his tenure. For comparison sake, it took Barry Alvarez 77 games to hit 40 wins, while Bret Bielema did it 54 games.

— Wisconsin’s defense has allowed at least 20 points in four straight games for just the second time since the start of the 2013 season. Rutgers comes in averaging 15.1 points per game — the second-worst mark in the FBS.

— Wisconsin has used 12 true freshmen this year, but just four have played in more than four games this season. Playing in four or fewer allows players to retain their redshirt.

Here’s the list with games played:

DB Travian Blaylock (4)
DB Donte Burton (3)
FB John Chenal (3)
WR Aron Cruickshank (8)
WR Isaac Guerendo (2)
WR Taj Mustapaha (4)
DB Reggie Pearson (2))
DL Cormac Sampson (1)
LB Jack Sanborn (6)
DB Alex Smith (3)
DB Rachad Wildgoose (5)
DB Bryson Williams (8)

ZONE PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 42, Rutgers 6
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 45, Rutgers 7
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 35, Rutgers 10

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