The Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 24-13 at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday, largely relying on their defense and rushing attack.
Despite generating 358 yards of total offense and the score suggesting a dominant win from the Badgers, the game was a lot closer than it appeared.
Rutgers came into Camp Randall ranking ninth in the nation in denying opponents a score in the red zone, while Wisconsin was one of seven FBS teams with 100 percent scoring in the red zone. However, Rutgers seemed to lock down the red zone, among other parts of the field, for the majority of the game.
I’d like to start with the bad news before the good, so let’s start with some rough patches from the Badgers (or good defense from Rutgers).
The Rutgers defense forced two fumbles. One came from star running back Braelon Allen when the Badgers were on the Rutgers doorstep at the four-yard line. Allen’s fumble, had he scored instead, would’ve opened up the floodgates for Wisconsin and lifted the score to 10-0. This marks Allen’s sixth fumble in his collegiate career, four of which have been lost.
Scarlet Knight Mohamed Toure forced the other fumble as he punched the ball out of tight end Hayden Rucci’s hands.
In addition to these offensive blunders, Rutgers’ stout defense forced five three-and-outs. With the two fumbles and five three-and-outs, seven of Wisconsin’s 12 offensive drives ended without scores or much offensive action for that matter.
The Rutgers defense lined up in a 4-2 base the majority of the game, bringing a DB up to blitz at times. The Rutgers defense came into the game blitzing around 50% of their Power Five opponents’ passing attempts, according to Kenosha News. This approach worked considerably well despite the Badgers rushing for 213 yards and the score saying otherwise.
Tanner Mordecai accounted for 50 of the 213 yards on the ground. The redshirt senior’s rushing ability shined as he bounced around the pocket to escape pressure and eventually took off multiple times. Rutgers’ defense wasn’t expecting Mordecai to run as much as he did, allowing the SMU transfer to account for several rushing yards.
In addition to Mordecai’s 50 rushing yards, Allen ran for 101 yards. Now, I’m not suggesting Allen’s stat line of 101 yards and a touchdown is not impressive, but for the running back’s lofty standards of averaging 7.1 yards per carry, only averaging 4.8 is fine at best. As I mentioned earlier, Rutgers’ defensive approach worked fairly well.
For a team that averaged 33.25 points per game coming into this outing, Wisconsin was expected to score more and could have if it wasn’t for Allen’s fumble. Additionally, the Air Raid offense Badger fans have been waiting for has yet to come into full effect. While there were times when the offense would run a hurry-up scheme, it wasn’t the Air Raid in its entirety.
Despite all the negativity, there was a lot of great football played by both teams.
The Rutgers offense looked stagnant overall but was able to generate some offense with run-option plays. Quarterback Gavin Wimsatt and running back Kyle Monangai are elite runners who got stopped on individual rushes but exploded on some when the run option was deployed. It would be practical for Rutgers to employ this style of play more in the future since Wimsatt isn’t an elite passer.
On the flip side of the ball, Wisconsin’s defense did a very good job defending the run. They held Monangai to a season-low 16 yards. Monangai has established himself as one of the elite runners in the Big Ten, ranking third in rushing yards accumulated with 487, so to hold him to 16 is impressive.
In addition to defending the run well, Wisconsin held Wimsatt to 181 yards on 16-35 passing, a completion percentage of 46 percent. Their defensive nickelback formation worked well against Rutgers’ passing attack as their wideouts struggled to find open space, but the formation proved susceptible to quarterback runs as Wimsatt took off for large gains.
An example of Wisconsin’s great defense and a highlight of the game came on a 95-yard pick-six by Ricardo Hallman. Hallman laid off Scarlet Knight wide receiver Christian Dremel, baiting Wimsatt to throw the ball just to swoop in at the last second and intercept it for a touchdown. This made the score 17-0 going into halftime.
“We knew that Rutgers' quarterback was a little bit trigger-happy… A bunch of film watching went into that,” Hallman said in a post-game interview with ESPN when referring to his pick-six.
This marks Hallman’s fourth interception in the last three games.
Another indication of the Badgers’ defense successes was their effectiveness at stopping Rutgers on third down. The Scarlet Knights were 2-of-12 on third downs, a season-low for the team.
Even though the game should’ve been more of a blowout, Wisconsin still came out on top with the win.
The Badgers will take on a similar team with another fierce defense next week that has Big Ten West title implications as the Iowa Hawkeyes travel to Madison.