BY JEFF BERNIER
The banged-up Wisconsin Badgers (6-2) will welcome the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-3) to Camp Randall Stadium this Saturday for a morning matchup. Suffering from a seemingly never-ending rash of injuries, the Badgers will try to fend off a competitive Rutgers team hungry for a statement win.
Rutgers has a tough two game swing starting this weekend in Madison, and next week where they’ll travel to the Big House to face a big time Michigan team. They know it won’t be easy, and they don’t expect it to be.
“It’s not supposed to be easy. I don’t want it to be easy,” Rutgers linebacker Steve Longa said. “I want to see how I measure against the best out there and that’s what it’s about.”
The Badgers injuries have not since stopped since star running back Corey Clement went down after the Alabama game. The latest victim was center Badgers center Dan Voltz who some say is the best player on this talented Wisconsin offensive line.
The Badgers will also be without one of their top receiving weapons in Robert Wheelwright. The junior will miss several weeks after the injury that knocked him out of last week’s game against Illinois.
Senior quarterback Joel Stave, who missed the final three quarters of the Badgers win at Illinois last week, went through and passed all the concussion protocol this week. He will be the starter Saturday, despite a surprisingly effective day for backup Bart Houston a week ago.
Stave, who has been steady, will be a key cog Saturday for a Badgers team having to throw it a lot more than in recent seasons. Corey Clement remains questionable for the game.
The Badgers have averaged only 152.5 yards rushing per game this year. That’s good enough for just 11th in the 14-team Big Ten.
The Badgers, who are now Bowl eligible, know that all teams deal with injuries and that no one is going to feel sorry for them. Just ask head coach Paul Chryst.
“We’re not the only team in the country. But we’ve had our fair share,” said Chryst. “They just keep plugging away. I give our players a lot of credit.”
The Badgers will have to contain Rutgers quarterback Chris Laviano who despite struggling of late, leads the Big Ten in completion percentage (67.2%).
The best running back talent this Saturday may come in the form of the Badgers opponent, something that is not usually a concern for Wisconsin. Rutgers tailback Paul James has averaged a spectacular 9.6 yards per carry over his team’s last three games. James, who tore his ACL last year, has indeed made a full recovery and will be one of the toughest challenges for this outstanding Wisconsin run defense.
The Badgers rank eighth in the entire nation in run defense, giving up just 97.3 yards per game. And if you take away the thrashing that came at the hands of Alabama, the Badgers are giving up a paltry 77 yards per game.
Third down efficiency has been the focus of late for the Badgers and they will need to continue their solid conversion rate to come away with another win Saturday. The Badgers have converted 53 percent of their third downs over the last two games; this after converting on just 39 percent over their first six.
Prediction: Wisconsin 17, Rutgers 10
Game time: Saturday, October 31, 11:00 AM CT on BTN, BTN2; Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI