Rutgers falls short in Wisconsin, 31-17
MADISON, Wis. — The beginning of arguably the toughest November schedule in the nation had an unexpected start to it for the Rutgers football team on Saturday.
Though the Scarlet Knights (1-8, 0-6) lost this weekend, 31-17, to Wisconsin in Madison, they put up a very good performance that certainly surprised everyone inside Camp Randall Stadium.
“Really, really proud of our players,” said head coach Chris Ash after the game. “They played extremely hard today, they fought, got down and kept fighting.”
Rutgers used a stellar first half performance from its defense to keep the score close at 10-0 after the first 30 minutes of play.
Fifth-year senior safety Saquan Hampton had one of, if not the, best game of his career with his play in just the first half alone. Hampton led the team with six tackles at the half and intercepted Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook twice before the teams went to the locker rooms for halftime.
“We knew the routes that they were going to be giving us throughout the game,” Hampton said discussing the team's film study. “Just having that awareness out there allowed me to be able to make those plays.”
But, Wisconsin had Heisman watch-list running back Jonathan Taylor in its backfield, and he had himself a day, as well. Taylor finished the day with 208 yards on 27 attempts and ran in 3 touchdowns.
A quiet day early on from the offense kept the Knights from really competing in this one, despite the early efforts from the defense keeping them well within the game before Taylor really began blowing things up in the second half.
“We just misexecuted a couple of pressures unfortunately, and that gave up a couple of big runs,” Ash said. “That was really what it was in the second half.”
Freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski did manage to have his second straight game with no turnovers and had a solid day throwing the ball, going 20-39 — with many of those incompletions being drops — for 261 yards and a touchdown.
The Badgers started the game with the ball and made way with things very quickly, driving the ball down the field after sophomore placekicker Justin Davidovicz’s kickoff went out of bounds and caused a penalty. Taylor ran in a 5-yard touchdown, and Wisconsin was on the board in less than 3 minutes of play.
After a quick three and out by Rutgers, Hornibrook threw his first interception of the game to Hampton on just the second play of the Badgers’ new drive. Hampton read the play well and extended his arms up to make a great play for the Knights.
A field goal early in the second quarter had Wisconsin up 10-0 with 14:00 on the clock. A few punts back and forth between the two teams eventually had the ball back in Hornibrook’s hands, but once again Hampton made a huge leap ahead of his receiver and intercepted the pass.
Hampton's two interceptions doubled his career total in just one game.
Davidovicz had a 45-yard field goal blocked with approximately 5 minutes to play in the half, and the Badgers took their 10-0 lead into the halftime locker room. Hornibrook was replaced by quarterback Jack Coan out of the locker room after being injured on the last play of the half — he was sacked by redshirt freshman defensive lineman Mike Tverdov.
Despite the good fight from its defense in the first half, Rutgers faltered in the second half, in large part due to the running of Taylor. After the Knights went three and out after the second half kickoff, Taylor and running back Taiwan Deal combined for 50 yards of rushing down the field from the 12-yard line, before Taylor bolted away for a 38-yard touchdown run to bring the score up to 17-0.
Then, Rutgers finally got on the board, as Sitkowski woke up from a first quarter slump and got the Knights into the red zone to set up a 22-yard Davidovicz field goal.
But, the 14-point deficit would be short lived, as Taylor and Deal again split the rushing duties down the field starting from the 25-yard line, and again, Taylor rushed in a long run for his 3rd touchdown of the game. The Badgers took the 24-3 lead into the fourth quarter.
After a punt from Rutgers and a turnover on downs by Wisconsin, the two Big Ten teams traded touchdowns. Graduate student running back Jonathan Hilliman ran in a 1-yard touchdown on one drive, and then Coan threw a touchdown to wide receiver Danny Davis III on the next to put the score at 31-10 with 3 minutes and 30 seconds to play.
On the last offensive drive of the game for the Knights, Sitkowski went 6-7 for 73 yards and his 4th touchdown of the season, making it one of his best drives of the season. He connected with sophomore running back Raheem Blackshear on a 5-yard pass to put the final score at 31-17.
“We gotta win. We gotta find a way offensively to get started earlier and put points on the board in the first half,” Sitkowski said. “I gotta be more accurate. There’s definitely some throws out there that I missed … we just got to start faster and play better.”
Blackshear had an extremely efficient day as a receiver, catching eight passes for 162 yards and 1 touchdown.
So, although the team fell for the eighth straight game, there were a lot of good takeaways from a team that has gotten noticeably better over the last two games.
“We just got a couple of things going for us,” Blackshear said.