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Rutgers football returns home on Saturday to face Wisconsin

Freshman running back Kyle Monangai rushed for 77 yards against Illinois. – Photo by Samantha Cheng

The Rutgers football team will take on Wisconsin this Saturday in its first game at SHI Stadium in nearly one month. The Scarlet Knights (4-4, 1-4) are two wins away from becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since the 2014 season.

Rutgers enters this weekend having snapped a four-game losing streak last week against Illinois. In the win, the Knights rushed for a season-high 230 yards behind freshman running back Kyle Monangai and junior running back Isaih Pacheco.

“The offensive line — I’ve said to you guys all along — we’ll go as far as they’ll take us. I thought they did a good job today,” said head football coach Greg Schiano after the game. “When we rush for over 200 yards, like any team, I'm sure, we win most of the time, and to be able to do that today was huge.”

This week, senior linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi and senior punter Adam Korsak earned further recognition for their play so far this season.

Fatukasi was named a semifinalist on a list of 16 for the Butkus Award, an award given to the nation’s best linebacker. For his career, Fatukasi has 292 career tackles, eight away from becoming the 12th player in Rutgers history to reach 300 career tackles.

As for Korsak, the senior was selected as the conference’s Co-Special Teams Player of the Week for the second time this season. In the win against the Fighting Illini (3-6, 2-4), Korsak had a net punt average of 47 yards, a number that helps his nation-leading mark of 46.4 this season.

Last week’s win also represented the Knights’ 13th win under Schiano when the program trailed in the fourth quarter. Rutgers’ go-ahead touchdown came when senior quarterback Noah Vedral scored on a touchdown run despite missing a play earlier in the drive due to injury.

“(Vedral) is one of the toughest guys if not the toughest guy on our football team, and when your quarterback is that guy, I think it raises everyone’s level,” Schiano said. “I think the respect that (Vedral) has on our team is as high as it gets, and I know it is for me.”

Saturday’s matchup in Piscataway will be the fourth time the Knights and the No. 21 Badgers (5-3, 3-2) have met in their history. In the most recent matchup in 2018, Wisconsin defeated Rutgers 31-17.

The Badgers enter this weekend riding a four-game winning streak. In consecutive weeks, the program has defeated national-ranked opponents, including a 20-point win over Iowa last week.

The key to success for Wisconsin has been its defense, which is ranked as the best defense in the country. Through eight games, the Badgers defense has surrendered a nation-lowest 1,717 yards and gives up 3.80 yards per play, a number that ranks second in the country.

“They’re talented ... at every level, so they’re really good in the front … their outside linebackers are really good … their inside (linebackers) are really talented ... and then in the back end they fit very well,” Schiano said. “It’s a well-coached group, a coordinated group and a group that’s really talented.”

On offense, Wisconsin is led by Graham Mertz and a rushing attack that ranks inside the top-five in the Big Ten. Last week, the Badgers rushed for 166 yards while Mertz passed for one touchdown and ran in for two more.

The game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network. Saturday is the 152nd anniversary of the first-ever college football game. On Nov. 6, 1869, the Knights defeated Princeton 6-4 with an audience of 100 people.

“We need to get our fans here. It’s a great 3:30 kickoff, great opportunity, we are in November now, and there is a lot on the line,” Schiano said. “I believe that the home-field advantage is very real … we got great, great fans, great student section. We need to have that student section packed. That’s going to be critical.”

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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