While the Big Ten’s East Division boasts powerhouses Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan in a fierce battle to play in the conference championship game, the West Division is producing a tight race of its own.
Wisconsin, one of the team’s in the mix in the West, seeks its fifth straight win Saturday afternoon when it heads to Piscataway, N.J., to oppose Rutgers.
Wisconsin (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) recovered from a 1-3 start during which it lost to Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan. The Badgers have outscored opponents 101-34 during a winning streak that features conference wins over Illinois, Purdue and Iowa.
The streak has Wisconsin in a three-way tie for second with Purdue and Iowa, all one game behind Minnesota. While the Badgers look to mount another strong defensive showing, they are hoping that Illinois can win at Minnesota, Michigan State can prevail at Purdue and Northwestern can knock off Iowa.
“I like this group,” Badgers coach Paul Chryst said. “I like the makeup of this group. I like who they are as individuals. We have good leadership. We’ve got enough talent. If you play good football, you have a chance.”
The Badgers head to Rutgers after a 27-7 win over Iowa that dropped the Hawkeyes from ninth to 19th in this week’s Top 25 poll. Wisconsin’s defense forced three turnovers and produced six sacks.
The dominant defensive performance was complemented by an effective offense that saw quarterback Graham Mertz scored on a pair of quarterback sneaks and running back Braelon Allen gain 104 yards for his fourth straight 100-yard game.
“A lot of people counted us out,” Mertz said. “Everybody in that locker room, that never even crossed our mind.”
Rutgers (4-4, 1-4) has yet to score more than 20 points in any conference game but is two wins away from being bowl-eligible. The Scarlet Knights halted a four-game losing streak with a 20-14 win at Illinois last week, when their defense allowed just 107 rushing yards after the Fighting Illini piled up 357 in their historic nine-overtime win at Penn State on Oct. 23.
Scarlet Knights quarterback Noah Vedral scored the go-ahead TD against Illinois on a 15-yard run early in the fourth quarter after twice going the medical tent. He completed 10 of 21 passes for 138 yards.
Vedral’s TD was part of a game that saw the Scarlet Knights produce 230 yards on the ground to improve to 29-2 all-time under Schiano when rushing for at least 200 yards.
Pounding out yards against the Badgers could prove tougher.
“Big challenge this week,” Schiano said. “One of the hottest teams in the Big Ten, Wisconsin, coming to town. Best defense in America. Offensively, very big and physical. (Mertz) has a big arm. (Allen) is a bruiser. Well-coached.”
Saturday is the fourth all-time meeting between the teams and the first since Wisconsin totaled 317 rushing yards in a 31-17 home win on Nov. 3, 2018. The Badgers have won all three matchups by a total of 116-27.
–Field Level Media