Coming off one of the most bizarre, head-scratching, and horrible football games in recent memory, the Wisconsin Badgers (8-3, 5-2) go on the road to Minneapolis to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-6, 2-5) in the annual battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
What: Wisconsin Badgers at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Where: TCF Bank Stadium (Minneapolis, MN)
When: Nov. 28, 2:30 PM CT
Radio: Badger Sports Network
Odds: UW -2.5
The Gophers have lost four in a row and stand at only 5-6, but they will definitely be pumped up for this game. Former head coach Jerry Kill, who resigned mid-season due to health concerns, will be present for the game, which will give the Gophers a lot of motivation. Interim head coach Tracy Claeys has taken over since Kill’s resignation.
No matter how good the teams are year in and year out, Wisconsin and Minnesota always come to play against one another. Still, Wisconsin has won 12 straight against Minnesota, so the Badgers will not be lacking any confidence.
Led on offense by quarterback Mitch Leidner, the Gophers will look to sneak out a win against the 9-3 Badgers. Leidner, who has run the ball 92 times in addition to 2255 yards passing, hands the ball off to two freshmen: Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith. KJ Maye is Leidner’s main receiving target with 60 receptions for 661 yards and four touchdowns. The offensive line is also rather inexperienced, with three of its starters hurt the past three games.
On defense, Minnesota gives up 25.6 points per game, good for 57th in the nation. The team has forced 16 turnovers this season, but has a turnover margin of 0. Antonio Johnson leads the team in tackles, while no player has more than 3.0 sacks on the season. Jack Lynn is also another name to watch with 9.5 tackles for loss.
Injury Report: Wisconsin
Quarterback Joel Stave is expected to play as long as he passed concussion protocol after getting hit hard on the second to last play of the Northwestern game. Linebacker Chris Orr is expected to return in this game, but Jack Cichy will still start in his place. Running back Corey Clement, who has not been disciplined yet from an incident that occurred on November 8, is reportedly not playing Saturday, whether it be due to suspension or injury.
Three Keys to Victory: Wisconsin
1. Balanced offensive attack. Against Northwestern, Stave turned the ball over enough times to keep Wisconsin out of that game and Clement didn’t get enough carries to find a rhythm. Wide receiver Alex Erickson and running back Dare Ogunbowale will undoubtedly be involved after a quiet week against Northwestern. Look for the Badgers to use wide receiver Jazz Peavy and tight end Austin Traylor a lot more in this one as well. And it all comes down to the offensive line executing blocks and protecting Stave.
2. Pressure on Leidner and keeping him in the pocket. As I said before, Minnesota’s offensive line is banged up, giving Wisconsin a huge opportunity. With two of the Big Ten’s best pass rushers in linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert, the Badgers will have to get to the quarterback. Leidner is not a special talent by any means, but he can beat you with his legs and escape the pocket. Finishing off tackles will be just as important as getting to him, but the Badgers should keep him in the pocket as much as possible.
3. Win the turnover battle. Have you noticed a pattern in the Badgers’ two Big Ten losses? Wisconsin turned the ball over a total of 9 times and only forced two turnovers total (-7 turnover margin). Yes, they still almost won both games, but if Wisconsin is going to come out on top Saturday afternoon, they’re going to need to force more turnovers and limit their own mistakes.
Prediction: Wisconsin 20, Minnesota 16
Photo via FiveThirtyEight.