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Friday, May 24, 2024
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Game Preview: Wisconsin vs. Rutgers

Badgers look to start month of October with a win against Rutgers.

The Wisconsin Badgers (3-1) will host the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on homecoming Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. 

Wisconsin has a huge month in October. With premier Big Ten home matchups against Iowa and Ohio State sandwiching a visit to Illinois, this month will make or break the Badgers’ season. 

But before any of that, Wisconsin has some business to take care of against Rutgers on homecoming weekend in Madison. 

A win against the Scarlet Knights could propel Wisconsin into the meat of their schedule with some major momentum. However, a loss against Rutgers could prove to be a major setback with key opponents looming. 

Rutgers is off to their best start in recent memory. With a 4-1 record to begin their season, Rutgers already matched their win total from last season. The Scarlet Knights are coming off a 52-3 home win over Wagner, a team in the Football Championship Subdivision. Rutgers has also beaten Northwestern, Temple and Virginia Tech this season. Their lone loss of the season came against No. 2 Michigan. 

The Badgers are fresh after a bye week, having not played since a Sept. 22 win at Purdue. After looking shaky throughout non-conference play, Wisconsin put forward their most complete game against Purdue in their Big Ten opener, handily winning 38-17.  

But Wisconsin’s victory at Purdue came at a hefty price as running back and team leader Chez Mellusi left the game with a fractured fibula. He is expected to miss the rest of the season. 

After transferring from Clemson, Mellusi became a program staple and team leader in his three years as a Badger. Mellusi and fellow running back Braelon Allen created one of the top running back tandems in the country through the first four games. 

“If we lose him for a while, it will be tough,” head coach Luke Fickell said. “He's not just a great football player for us, he's not just a great tailback. He's been a heart and soul of what we do, because of what he's gone through — all of the ups and downs — and the injuries.”

Against Rutgers, Wisconsin fans will get a glimpse of how offensive coordinator Phil Longo plans to run the offense without one of his most valuable players. Longo will be forced to embrace the Air Raid philosophy he brought to Wisconsin, shouldering a heavier load onto quarterback Tanner Mordecai. 

So far, Longo has done a decent job of balancing the offense as there have been 130 passes to go along with 150 rushing attempts. However, with Mellusi out and Longo most likely reluctant to rely too heavily on Allen, the offensive balance could shift to a more passing-oriented style. 

Wisconsin will most likely rely on a combination of running backs Jackson Acker and Cade Yacamelli to fill Mellusi’s vacancy. Acker is a redshirt sophomore and has some running experience this season, picking up 31 yards on eight carries. Yacamelli, a redshirt freshman, has yet to play an offensive snap but emerged as a possible third-string running back during spring and fall training camps. 

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If Acker and Yacamelli successfully fill Mellusi’s position and weather his workload, Longo will be able to keep defenses guessing and continue to confidently distribute plays between the passing and running game.

Wisconsin’s offense will be put to the test Saturday. Rutgers’ defense has allowed a mere 12.8 points and 267.8 yards per game. Led by Tyreem Powell, Deion Jennings and Aaron Lewis, the Scarlet Knights’ defense could give Wisconsin some trouble.

On the other side of the ball, Wisconsin will have their hands full with Rutgers running back Kyle Monangai, who leads Rutgers with 471 yards and six touchdowns on the season. For Rutgers to win, they must ride their running game, which ranks 22nd in rushing yards nationally.

Rutgers quarterback Gavin Wimsatt has not posted gaudy numbers, tossing for five touchdown passes and 733 yards. But if Wisconsin’s defense finds themselves being exploited in the passing game, they could be in trouble. The Badgers’ secondary has been prone to give up big plays through the air this season, a trend that must end to defeat Rutgers. 

Coming off a bye and playing at home as 14-point favorites, Wisconsin will be rested and prepared for a pesky but beatable Rutgers team. This game could be used as a launching pad for the rest of the month, as a good-looking win would go a long way for the Badgers. 

But in the same token, Wisconsin simply cannot overlook Rutgers. Saturday will be a test for Wisconsin, and if they pass, a fun month of football could be ahead for them. 

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