Rutgers (4-1; 1-1) will play at Wisconsin (3-1; 1-0) on Saturday at noon ET airing on Peacock. It’s an important game for both teams. The Scarlet Knights are two wins away from achieving bowl eligibility for the first time since 2014. That is the last time the program started with a 4-1 record. The Badgers look to be the favorites to win the Big Ten West as the calendar has now turned to October.
In an effort to find out more about Wisconsin football ahead of Saturday’s game against Rutgers, I connected with Dillon Graff, the owner of Badger Notes, the go to source for in-depth coverage of Wisconsin athletics. In Luke Fickell’s first season in Madison, the Badgers are off to a 3-1 start and 1-0 in Big Ten play. After a bye week, expect this team to be ready to play on Homecoming against Rutgers. Topics in this Q&A include the ramifications with running back Chez Mellusi out for the season, the defensive struggles, what to know about the Badgers’ strengths and weaknesses, a final score prediction and more.
Let’s kick things off here.
DG: Wisconsin football still hasn’t put together four strong quarters against a single opponent through four games.
When you consider the sky-high preseason expectations, most would tell you the Badgers have underwhelmed — but have shown glimpses of what it could look like if they put it all together.
Given the high expectations set during the preseason, it’s safe to say that the Badgers’ performance thus far has been somewhat underwhelming. However, it’s worth acknowledging that they have shown glimpses of what it could look like if they put it all together.
The Badgers have enough talent to be a great team this season. What remains to be seen is whether they can translate these moments of brilliance into a consistent execution on the field.
AB: How do you expect that the offense will adjust following the season ending injury to running back Chez Mellusi?
DG: Although Chez Mellusi was Wisconsin’s No. 2 running back, he was essentially a co-starter with Braelon Allen. He was a perfect fit in Phil Longo’s offense, and what Mellusi brought as a change of pace back will be missed dearly.
The Badgers have two options now — utilize Allen like a bell cow — which has led to him wearing down each of the last two seasons — or lean on two inexperienced players in Jackson Acker and Cade Yacemelli, who each played different positions a year ago.
I’m confident that Wisconsin can adapt and, given their influx of talent at wide receiver, have more tools at their disposal than in years past to make adjustments — but the running game will undoubtedly take a step back.
AB: Do you attribute most of the defensive struggles to the new one gap scheme that first year coordinator Mike Tressel has implemented? What are the strengths of this team?
DG: The defensive struggles for Wisconsin center around its sizable shift in the scheme they want to run — and the personnel on the roster. Mike Tressel wants to man up on the boundary and play six defensive backs as often as possible. However, the holdovers are best suited to play zone coverage.
The Badgers are facing a challenge with their defensive line this season, as it is not currently a position of strength. Furthermore, Wisconsin is experiencing a rare absence of a star pass-rusher. This situation becomes less than ideal, especially considering the team’s struggles with tackling & vulnerability to allowing chunk plays.
If I had to pick a strength, this bend-don’t-break defense does find a way to create plenty of turnovers.
AB: Are there any other key weaknesses outside of the defensive issues?
DG: Wisconsin has struggled with slow starts in most of their games this season, except the Purdue matchup. There have also been quite a few procedural penalties that the Badgers desperately need to clean up.
AB: What do you think the x-factor is in this matchup against Rutgers?
DG: For Wisconsin football to defeat Rutgers, they’ll need to come out of the gates running the ball effectively to open up the passing attack. Additionally, they’ll need to figure out how to mix in two inexperienced tailbacks to keep Braelon Allen fresh because he’s the catalyst.
AB: What’s your final score prediction and why?
DG: I’ll take Wisconsin over Rutgers 31-24 in a game where the Badgers defense leaves the door open for Rutgers. UW has had issues putting teams away — and the Scarlet Knights are good enough to make you pay if the Badgers continue to play sloppy, undisciplined football.
Thanks to Dillon for his great insight on Wisconsin Football. You can follow him on X (Twitter) hereand for all of his coverage on Wisconsin Athletics, visit Badger Notes. To read my answers to questions about Rutgers football, click here.
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