For this weekly column, the Daily interviews someone knowledgeable on the Gophers next opponent. For this week’s final regular season game of the year against Wisconsin, we interviewed Wisconsin State Journal’s Jason Galloway. Galloway is the newspaper's Wisconsin Badgers beat reporter.
He is on his fourth year covering Wisconsin football for the Wisconsin State Journal.
Going into this last regular season game undefeated, how important to the Badgers is it to get the win?
It’s really important. Important for them to get this win. I mean, a lot of people will probably be looking ahead to the Ohio State game next week. You know, with the Big Ten title game already set, I think it’s natural for fans to look ahead to that game, but if you’re Wisconsin you’ve got to win this one first or that Ohio State game is not going to mean nearly as much if you already have a loss and your playoff hopes are lost. ... It helps that it’s a rivalry game, so I think that’s helping them focus on this week rather than looking ahead. And you know, it’s a Minnesota team that has a lot to play for with bowl eligibility on the line, and trying to break the steak. They definitely need to win this game. I think people are assuming they’re going to win this game, but I think they’ll need to go out there and take care of business if they want to keep all their goals in front of them.
Do you think Wisconsin deserves to make it into the college football playoffs?
I’m actually a voter in the AP Poll so I do rankings every week and I have them No. 4 right now. I’m not as high on Clemson, I have them down at I think sixth, so that’s why I have [Wisconsin] fourth instead of fifth, but I do think they are very deserving. I think if they win these last two games and they’re 13-0, I think they’re deserving of going to the playoffs. I think a lot of people have been critical of their schedule this year, and that’s definitely fair — they haven’t played the toughest schedule. You know, it’s a lot easier schedule than they played last year, but they’ve started to pick up a couple of good wins.
Does Wisconsin have any weak spots?
Defensively, I don’t think they necessarily do. I mean, they’re really solid at every position. It’s really hard to find a weakness in their defense. Offensively, you could probably look at some of the injuries they’ve had offensively and you’d think they would have more holes, but they’ve had a lot of young receivers step up. Their offensive line is a lot more solid than it has been the past couple years, and they’re back to kind of being the typical Wisconsin offensive line that people are used to seeing. I think they’re really dominant. I guess the one weakness would be... [quarterback] Alex Hornibrook. [He] is kind of the one area you look at and say, “If he’s not having his best game, it’s a little bit harder for them to win.” I think if he can eliminate the turnovers that he’s had this season — he’s thrown 12 interceptions in eight Big Ten games — that’s really hurt them at times.
With by far the least points let up in the Big Ten, what makes Wisconsin’s defense so good?
There’s not really a weakness there. The defensive line is full of experienced seniors and they have a three-year starter junior who is there nose tackle. And the ends, you know, the ends have a ton of experience. ... I think one of the bigger concerns this season coming into it was if they could replace T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel at outside linebacker, and get the same kind of pass rush without those guys. But Leon Jacobs and Garret Dooley have really done a good job replacing those two, and they’re getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback, and that’s been a big key to how successful this defense has been.
With by far the most rushing yards in the Big Ten, how good is Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor in just his first season?
He’s an amazing runner, he’s a really mature runner for his age. As a true freshman, he’s patient, he has elite balance… I think his balance is one of his best traits, you know. He’s mentioned before that he does yoga and things like that and you kind of see the balance he has and the ability to kind of stay on his feet when he takes contact. He’s also got top end speed, he can run away from guys. It’s funny, at the beginning of the season, during fall camp, he was pretty clearly the No. 5 running back on the team. And there was a scrimmage during fall camp — the media didn’t see it, it was a closed scrimmage — but he kind of just went off against the first team defense and that’s when they kind of realized he would play a role this year.
What does Minnesota need to do to win in your mind?
I think the number one thing is to find a way to slow down Taylor. I think if they’re able to do that, and they’re able to get them in third and longer situations, and make Alex Hornibrook beat you by throwing the ball, I think that’s kind of how you have to approach it if you’re Minnesota, or if you’re really anybody else. That’s a lot easier said than done. Taylor’s been great this year, and of games where he’s played the entire game, almost every game he’s good for at least 125 yards or more.
Best offensive player?
RB Jonathan Taylor
Best defensive player?
LB T.J. Edwards
Best under-the-radar player?
S Natrell Jamerson
Score of the game on Saturday?
Wisconsin wins 31-10.
I think they’ll give Wisconsin their best game, but in the end I think Wisconsin is going to be too talented, and they’ll be able to pull away and win comfortably.