After getting blown out at home by Ohio State, a two-game trip to the Midwest might seem like a vacation for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
At Wisconsin this weekend, at Michigan the next.
Rutgers (3-4, 1-3, Big Ten) only wants wins, not pity.
”It’s not supposed to be easy. I don’t want it to be easy,” linebacker Steve Longa said. ”I want to see how I measure against the best out there and that’s what it’s about.”
Next up for Longa and his teammates is trying to beat the Badgers (6-2, 3-1) on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
Wisconsin has been battered by injuries. The latest player to join the lengthy medical report was center Dan Voltz – perhaps the team’s best offensive lineman – to a right knee injury.
Quarterback Joel Stave went through a concussion assessment after leaving last week’s win over Illinois. He practiced this week and appears on schedule to play on Saturday.
”We’re not the only team in the country. But we’ve had our fair share,” coach Paul Chryst said. ”They just keep plugging away. I give our players a lot of credit.”
Through the adversity, a strong defense has helped put Wisconsin in position to pounce in the West should front-running Iowa collapse. The Badgers are already bowl-eligible, a goal that Scarlet Knights would like to reach.
For now, they would simply like to forget about the 49-7 loss to Ohio State last week.
”Forget about it isn’t the right word, but we’re going to put it in the back of our mind, not totally forget about it because you always want to learn from it,” Longa said. ”You want to know how that feels so it doesn’t happen again.”
Other things to watch for the teams’ first meeting in Madison:
QB CALL: Backup Bart Houston threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns, along with two interceptions, in leading Wisconsin to a win over Illinois after Stave got knocked out. Chryst, though, has extinguished any thoughts of a quarterback controversy in Madison. Stave has played relatively well this year.
”Joel is our starting quarterback,” Chryst said.
QB CALL, PART 2: Rutgers coach Kyle Flood is sticking with Chris Laviano despite the starter’s struggles against Ohio State. Laviano, a sophomore, does lead the Big Ten in completion percentage (67.2 percent).
”I think if we look at the season, he’s gotten better and better and I’m pleased with how he’s progressing,” Flood said.
CARRY ON: This doesn’t often happen in a game against Wisconsin, but the best running back on the field might be a Scarlet Knight. Paul James is averaging 9.6 yards a carry over his last three games, and appears to be just fine now after tearing an ACL last year.
TRIPPED UP: Running on Wisconsin, though, can be though. The Badgers are third in the Big Ten and eight nationally in holding opponents to 97.3 yards rushing per game. After giving up 238 yards on the ground to Alabama in the season opener, Wisconsin has allowed just 77 yards per game over the last seven weeks.
BADGERED AND BLUE: The availability of Wisconsin top running back Corey Clement remains in question as the junior works his way back from sports hernia surgery. His injury, along with the constant reshuffling along the battered offensive line, has left the Badgers averaging an uncharacteristically-low 152.5 yards on the ground. They rank 11th in the 14-team Big Ten.
Wisconsin has had to rely on the passing game under the offensive-minded Chryst. His team has also improved on third-down efficiency (53 percent) over the last two games after converting on 39 percent of third downs over the first six games.
AP freelance writers Matt Sugam and Dennis Semrau contributed to this report.
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP