UW comes out of the bye week looking to keep things moving in the right direction against Greg Schiano and a 4-1 Rutgers team that finds themselves just two wins away from bowl eligibility. Should the Scarlet Knights find a way to eclipse that total — it would be their first time going bowling since 2014 — which is also the last time they started 4-1.
So, in an effort to find out more about the Rutgers Scarlet Knights ahead of Saturday’s matchup, I connected with Aaron Breitman of The Scarlett Faithful — a credentialed media outlet of the university to learn more about the Wisconsin football team’s next opponent.
Wisconsin Football vs. Rutgers Q&A with The Scarlet Faithful
What has been the key to Rutgers’ 4-1 start?
Head coach Greg Schiano wants to control the game by running the ball, managing the clock with time of possession and letting the defense and special teams win the game. However, the real key has been that Rutgers is playing clean football.
Rutgers has just three turnovers this season, including just one interception from quarterback Gavin Wimsatt. The Scarlet Knights are No. 9 nationally in averaging just 34.0 penalty yards per game. For a team that struggled with turnovers and penalties last season, there has been major improvement through the first five games. However, there is more to playing clean football.
There have only been five drops in the pass game with no player having more than one. The defense is averaging just 5 missed tackles per game. The offensive line has only allowed two sacks for just nine yards, second best nationally.
Greg Schiano’s team is not making many mistakes. That’s been the key to everything. Of course, the competition will ramp up now with Big Ten competition every week. However, even at No. 2 Michigan, Rutgers didn’t stray too far from its season trends. The bottom line is that if RU can continue to play relatively clean football, this team should have enough to win at least two more games and go bowling.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of quarterback Gavin Wimsatt?
Gavin Wimsatt has a ton of talent including a big arm. But the key in his development from last season has been his full commitment to getting better and buying into OC Kirk Ciarrocca’s mentorship. That’s not to say he wasn’t before, but Ciarrocca has come in and made a major impact on Wimsatt, He is a true dual threat quarterback who can make plays with his legs. He’s handled the doubts and criticism well, ascending to a true leader on the team.
As for weaknesses, the overwhelming one is accuracy. He had one of the least accurate seasons in college football history last year with a 44% completion rate. Now he was hurt for a period, came back after the OC who recruited him had been fired and was running a new system. His development phase before this offseason did him no favors.
Wimsatt has improved dramatically within ten yards, completing over 80% of passes this season. He still struggles from 10+ yards but has connected on some intermediate and deep routes in key spots this season.
His decision making has gotten better and he’s throwing the ball away more than ever in a good way. Just one interception in five games is impressive, but he needs to continue to take care of the football as the schedule ramps up now.
What are the strengths of this Rutgers team?
Greg Schiano’s a defensive coach and this program will always be at worse competent on that side of the ball. However, he’s had a few years to build the defense and this is the deepest unit he’s had. Defensive coordinator Joe Harasymiak came to Rutgers before last season from Minnesota and has made a positive impact as well. The defense has playmakers in all three phases. They key for them to take the next step is being more disruptive and forcing turnovers in Big Ten play. So far this season, they’ve made that jump other than against Michigan. Whether they can do it against Wisconsin football is a major key to the game.
As I mentioned previously, Rutgers has only turned it over three times and has dominated with time of possession. The offense will take certain risks but to a point. Establishing a lead early has been key to wearing teams down and playing the way they want to. They have a +3 turnover margin that is close to being greater as the defense has forced few fumbles they haven’t recovered and had a couple blown dead. RU has to keep grinding on that end.
I do think the coaching staff as a whole is as good as Rutgers has had in some time. Schiano overhauled the offense and brought in three extremely experienced coaches who he had previous relationships with. Kirk Ciarrocca as OC, Dave Brock as wide receivers coach and Pat Flaherty as offensive line coach, Rutgers has three established and accomplished veterans. The impact has been obvious with the offense, as they operate in a professional manner, are prepared and are able to take advantage of defensive mistakes. They caught Temple with too many men on the field and do a lot of pre-snap disguises. As a Rutgers fan, it is a sign things are different in a positive way.
What are the weaknesses of this Rutgers team?
Offensive line is the clear weakness but they’ve held it together pretty well. Saturday will be a test against Wisconsin football. They’ve rotated 9-10 guys all season. They’ve been pretty solid in pass protection though aside from the Michigan game. While the run blocking hasn’t been great, they’ve come through in key moments. Can that continue against better teams remains to be seen.
Special teams coverage allowed a big return last week against Wagner. Kickoff specialist Jude McAtamney has struggled booting touchbacks so that’s a concern entering this game.
Not so much a weakness, but Rutgers hasn’t really been tested in the passing game. They haven’t surrendered a pass play of 40+ yards, one of just two teams that can say that in the Big Ten. However, seeing them continue to limit big plays against the meat of the league is another task to complete.
Who are potential x-factors for Rutgers?
Wesley Bailey starts off the edge for the defense and has made some big plays in his career. He can be a bit streaky and has battled some injuries, but his closing speed could make a difference in this game.
Jai Patel & Flynn Appleby are the new kicker and punter for Rutgers. Both have done well so far. Patel is 5 of 7 from field goal range including 2 of 2 from 40-49 and 1-2 from 51 yards out. Appleby is replacing reigning Ray Guy Award winner Adam Korsak and has been very solid so far. Rutgers needs both to remain consistent and avoid big mistakes against the Wisconsin Badgers.
What’s your prediction for this game and why?
I think this has the makings of a classic Big Ten battle. It’s a big opportunity for Rutgers to make a statement and I think they represent well. While I think RU will continue to play mostly mistake free football, a few missed opportunities ultimately cause them to fall short. The combo of Tanner Mordecai and Braelon Allen prove to be a little too much and the Badgers pull out a close, hard fought game.
Wisconsin football 20, Rutgers 16
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