The University of Wisconsin football team’s defense had done its part, forcing a three-and-out after an interception had given Rutgers great field position.
But senior outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel wasn’t satisfied. On fourth down, he exploded through a hole and blocked a 45-yard field goal attempt by Justin Davidovicz in the second quarter Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
“It was kind of just an effort play,” Van Ginkel said after the Badgers’ 31-17 victory over the Scarlet Knights. “I saw that there was a gap there and I just took it. It’s something that we didn’t really scout it, it’s just our regular field goal block and basically it’s just an effort play.”
If Van Ginkel didn’t block the kick, there was a pretty good chance that teammate Caesar Williams would have. Williams came flying in alongside Van Ginkel after both players did what they were taught – squeeze into an inside gap.
Senior safety D’Cota Dixon ended up with the ball and returned it 34 yards to the Rutgers 41. The Badgers didn’t cash in, going three-and-out, but Connor Allen pinned Rutgers deep in its own territory with a 28-yard punt.
Allen’s only other attempt, a 34-yarder, also pinned Rutgers inside its 10-yard line.
It was a bounceback performance for a UW special teams unit in need of one. The Badgers struggled last week against Northwestern, finishing with three penalties.
“It was certainly good to see,” UW coach Paul Chryst said of the special teams contributions vs. Rutgers.
UW starts 3 freshmen on defensive line
The Badgers started three freshmen defensive linemen against Rutgers on Saturday.
With senior nose tackle Olive Sagapolu (right arm) out, true freshman Bryson Williams became the 23rd UW player to make his first career start this season. Sophomore defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk (left leg) remained limited despite returning from a three-game absence, meaning redshirt freshmen Kayden Lyles and Matt Henningsen started alongside Williams.
“For my first start, I thought I was going to be a lot more nervous than I actually was,” Williams said. “All week I kind of put a little more stress on myself to make sure there wasn’t a huge drop-off with Olive being out. I just wanted to make sure I did my job and nothing more, nothing less.”
It’s a lineup that appeared unthinkable early in the past offseason. Junior defensive end Garrett Rand suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in May, and Lyles moved from offensive line to defensive line shortly before fall camp began.
Henningsen, a walk-on, also came out of nowhere this fall, taking advantage of injuries to Rand and Loudermilk to earn a role.
“That’s something we talked about (Friday), actually,” Williams said. “We looked back to spring and we told ourselves, who would have thought this would happen — three freshmen, one that came from offense? We all felt good about it, though. We were excited, for sure.”
Attendance lacking at Camp Randall
The announced attendance of 74,379 for Saturday’s contest was the lowest for a conference game at Camp Randall Stadium since 1992, when 48,754 fans showed for UW’s 34-6 win over Minnesota.
That 1992 season marked the Badgers’ eighth straight year with a losing record before former head coach Barry Alvarez led UW to the Rose Bowl in 1993.
At kickoff Saturday against Rutgers, the number of fans in their seats were far fewer than that announced total of 74,379.
“I think I saw it in the second quarter,” UW wide receiver A.J. Taylor said. “I was like, ‘Oh, there’s not a whole lot of people here today.’ … I want the fans to be happy. I want to entertain them. But you can’t worry too much about that. You’ve just got to play the game.”
UW picks up 2019 commitment
One day after UW lost commitment Marcus Graham to Stanford, the Badgers added another pledge in their 2019 class to replace him.
Three-star linebacker Maema Njongmeta announced Saturday evening on Twitter that he’ll play for UW next season after visiting Madison this weekend. He reportedly received an offer from the Badgers on Tuesday.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound prospect from Stevenson High in Lincolnshire, Ill., also held reported offers from Iowa State, Bowling Green, Army and a host of Ivy League schools, among others.