The early angle of the Wisconsin-Rutgers game wasn’t who was playing but who wasn’t.
The Badgers were known to be without linebacker Chris Orr, defensive lineman Arthur Goldberg and running back Taiwan Deal, as well as those with long-term injuries such as center Dan Voltz, wide receiver Rob Wheelwright and linebacker Leon Jacobs. Even Rutgers would have to play without its top playmaker, wide receiver Leonte Caroo.
But it was the player who no one was quite sure if he’d play who ended up making the difference. Corey Clement finally saw action after not playing since the season opener against Alabama and he immediately made an impact, scoring on his second touch, one of his three touchdowns in the game.
Joel Stave was once again efficient enough in the passing game, despite a couple of hiccups, and the defense more than settled down after getting run over early in the first quarter, totally shutting down the Rutgers offense for the rest of the game.
The end result was an easy 48-10 victory for Wisconsin, although the real win might have just been seeing Clement back in action.
A recap of Saturday’s game:
— Clement might be back, but he’s still not 100 percent. That was obvious on his 58-yard run in which he was caught from behind. Clement never could get it into high gear and he admitted after the game he’s probably at around 85 percent. But 85 percent of Clement is still the best Wisconsin has to offer.
— With Rob Wheelwright out, one question would be who would replace him in the lineup. Tanner McEvoy was listed as the starter on the depth chart. However, Jordan Fredrick had an early reception and D.J. Gillins was in early at wideout, although he was never targeted.
— Rutgers’ best drive came when they ran 10 straight times, with Josh Hicks doing most of the damage. Then the Scarlet Knights passed and Darius Hillary, who missed a couple of tackles on the drive, knocked away a pass in the end zone.
— Alex Erickson isn’t just Wisconsin’s top receiver — he’s pretty good at returning punts, too. Erickson had three returns for 55 yards with a long of 25. On his best return, Erickson smartly ran quickly to the outside to find a lane, which he got as he ran past a Rutgers player.
— P.J. Rosowski is listed as Wisconsin’s No. 2 kickoff specialist on the depth chart, but with starter Andrew Endicott still out with an injury, Jack Russell got the duties to start. Russell had five kicks for an average of 56.2 yards with no touchbacks while Rosowski averaged 62.0 yards on three kickoffs with one touchback.
— Head coach Paul Chryst said inside linebacker Chris Orr, who missed the game with a leg injury, is "day-to-dayish." Jack Cichy said he learned he’d start on Monday.
— Clement’s 58-yard run was Wisconsin’s longest play of the season.
— The last time Clement had two rushing touchdowns in a game and had over 100 yards rushing in a regular-season game both came Nov. 1, 2014, . . . at Rutgers.
— The Badgers averaged 5.5 yards per rush, their best rate in Big Ten play this season. Previously, Wisconsin had averaged over 4 yards per carry just once — 4.32 at Nebraska.
— Tanner McEvoy became the first FBS player with at least one sack, two receptions, two carries and two interceptions in the same season since Kansas’ Charles Goodson in 2005.
— The confounding Stave continues. He dropped in some beautiful passes, most notably to Troy Fumagalli and a bomb to Jazz Peavy (which he dropped in the end zone) and then makes an absolutely horrible decision and throw which resulted in an interception returned for a touchdown. Of course, Bart Houston didn’t exactly light the world on fire in his two attempts of the game, bouncing one and throwing another way too high.
— Joe Ferguson got a lot of time in the game as Wisconsin played for the run. He finished with five tackles after entering the game with two on the season.
— On its last drive, Rutgers had first and goal and eventually had to attempt a 41-yard field goal — which it missed.
— Rutgers’ average starting field position was its own 19-yard line. Wisconsin’s was its own 46.
A win over an obviously over-powered opponent doesn’t mean too much, but the return of Clement can only be a good thing. Wisconsin’s rushing game has been average at best — and that’s being kind. With Clement back, perhaps we’ll see a few more points on the Badgers side of the board.
Could it really be anyone but Clement? After missing the past seven games, Clement rushed for 115 yards on 11 carries, a 10.5-yard average, with three touchdowns. Now that’s a way to make a return.
Vince Biegel only had five tackles, but he made the most of them. He made a big stop on third-and-goal, stuffing Josh Hicks for no gain. Wisconsin was up 10-0 at the time and Rutgers had to settle for a field goal and never was really in the game again. Biegel also had two impressive sacks, one just bull-rushing past an offensive lineman to get to quarterback Chris Laviano. Biegel’s motor was on full Saturday. We also should mention Cichy, who got the start for an injured Orr and recorded eight tackles, tied for the team high, and McEvoy, who had a sack, interception and rushing touchdown.
With just under six minutes elapsed in the first quarter, Clement took a handoff, made a move in the backfield, burst through a hole, made a couple of more moves and ran into the end zone from 12 yards out. It was clear Clement was back, giving Wisconsin’s run game — and spirit — a much-needed boost.
29. In between Rutgers’ field goal on its second drive and a missed field goal on its last drive, the Scarlet Knights gained all of 29 yards on 11 drives — and that includes a six-play, 17 yard drive. That, folks, is what happens when a bad offense meets a good defense.
"It felt like your first trick-or-treat. You knock on your first door and get your first basket of candy and I was very ecstatic." — Clement on scoring his first touchdown
"Obviously he gave us a big lift. He got us some runs we haven’t been getting for a while." — Chryst on Clement’s return
"Credit to my defensive line, they helped a lot for plays I was able to make. A lot of those were on them. They pretty much made those plays, I just tackled the guy." — Cichy
Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) takes to the road, playing for the first time at Maryland (2-6, 0-4). The Terrapins have lost five straight, although they’ve played a couple of close games recently, and are on their second head coach of the season.