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As week nine of college football came and went, the Rutgers football team was given a chance to catch its breath and reflect on its tumultuous season. Coming off of their bye week, the Scarlet Knights (1-7, 0-5) will now head to Madison, Wis. to face the Wisconsin Badgers (5-3, 3-2) at Camp Randall Stadium.
Rutgers is just two weeks removed of coming 15 minutes away from beating Northwestern at home, but ultimately falling 18-15. The Wildcats, on the other hand, went back home to take on the same Wisconsin team the Knights will be facing and securely defeated the Badgers 31-17.
“I don’t get into score comparisons a whole lot because situations are completely different,” said head coach Chris Ash. “I expect a completely different football team.”
Although, Wisconsin won’t be exactly the same when Rutgers rolls into town, as the loss to Northwestern dropped the then-No. 20 Badgers out of the top-25 rankings.
Still, the Badgers will be hungry to get back in the win column, especially at home in a tough environment to play if you’re the road team.
The Knights, though, have had two weeks to prepare for this matchup and have taken the time to not only prepare for Wisconsin, but to take a look in the mirror.
“We did a player study, player evaluation of themselves in the first eight weeks, we call them point of attack plays,” Ash said, continuing on about true freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski specifically. “Art went back and watched all of his film, he evaluated himself and did a write up of his goods and his bads and he’s really spent a lot of time here in the last two week’s trying to improve on those weaknesses, so we’ll see.”
Sitkowski’s biggest improvement in the game against the Wildcats, and perhaps a big reason why Rutgers was able to keep it as close as it did — even heading into the fourth quarter — was the control of turnovers. In fact, the Knights had none.
Nevertheless, Sitkowski only threw for 81 yards, particularly because a lot of offensive players were out of the game due to injury — something the bye week has also helped in. Still, the offense has been lacking all season and not even a bye week can help that.
“When you look at us offensively, there are a lot of different issues, there’s not just one. It’s not the same player, it’s not the same unit, it’s not the same call. It would be really easy if it was just one problem, but it’s not,” Ash said.
Players out against Northwestern that will be game-time decisions, Ash said, are senior offensive Tariq Cole, senior tight end Jerome Washington and graduate student running back Jonathan Hilliman.
Despite not being on the field, Rutgers still made headlines for reasons off the field. Former player Izaia Bullock was charged with two counts of attempted murder in the first degree and two counts of conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree, according to a press release from the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office.
In an email statement, Ash stated, “We are deeply saddened by the situation involving Izaia but thankful that no one was hurt. Izaia joined the team in September 2017. During his time in the program, he demonstrated the positive behaviors that we ask of all our student-athletes. He was a good teammate, performed well academically and participated in several community service events.”
On Thursday, Ash doubled down on those comments but did not want to talk about it any further.
“There’s a little shock earlier in the week, all of us were, but the team is focused on football and each other and obviously saddened like I mentioned in the statement but focused and ready for a football game,” he said.
That football game will involve Badger running back Jonathan Taylor, a potential Heisman Trophy candidate who leads Wisconsin with 1,155 yards on 181 attempts and 8 touchdowns.
The Salem, N.J. native was committed to play for the Knights until decommitting and deciding to play for the Badgers instead.
Rutgers will need to keep Taylor and the rest of the Wisconsin offense at bay for any chance of coming out of Madison with a win.
“I don’t think we are that far away,” Ash said. “We are details away from where we need to be, but we’re not light years away from where we need to be.”
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