By Mike Hendrickson
With bowl eligibility and a coveted trophy on the line, the Gophers (5-6, 2-5) season comes down to one game against Wisconsin (8-3, 5-2). A full breakdown and score prediction can be seen below:
When Minnesota runs the ball:
The Badgers are sixth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing yards allowed per game with 102. That number drops to 150.25, however, when the Badgers are away from home. Freshman running back Shannon Brooks is coming off a monster week and redshirt freshman Rodney Smith will be back in action for the first time in two games, but it still may be hard for the two backs to find running room.
Matchup to watch: RB Shannon Brooks vs. LB Joe Schobert
When Wisconsin runs the ball:
Life after Melvin Gordon hasn’t been great so far for the Badgers, as none of their running backs have produced much this season. Wisconsin is 104th in the FBS in running yards per game and was dead last in the FBS in November. Minnesota’s defensive line hasn’t been great at stopping the run lately due to injuries but this is too easy of a matchup for the Gophers to mishandle.
Matchup to watch: RB Dare Ogunbowale vs. LB Jack Lynn
When Minnesota passes the ball:
Redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Leidner had rattled off four of the best games of his career before facing Illinois, where he had only 88 passing yards. Wisconsin isn’t a great opponent to try to rebound against, as they are tied for fifth in the FBS in passing yards allowed per game. They get worse on the road – 48th in the FBS – but they shut down Leidner last year and could do it again.
Matchup to watch: WR KJ Maye vs. S Michael Caputo
When Wisconsin passes the ball:
Redshirt senior quarterback Joel Stave leads Wisconsin’s 47th ranked passing offense, and has had success in his career against the Gophers normally strong passing defense. The Gophers still should be able to have success defending the Badgers, even with the injuries to their secondary.
Matchup to watch: WR Alex Erickson vs. CB Eric Murray
Other key factors:
The Gophers haven’t won Paul Bunyan’s Axe in 11 years, the longest streak on either side in the 124-game history of the rivalry.
Former head coach Jerry Kill will return to the field to honor the team’s seniors, which could give Minnesota plenty of motivation to come up with a victory.
Wisconsin 27, Minnesota 17
The Gophers defense hasn’t been playing well recently, and points are hard to come by against Wisconsin. Paul Bunyan’s Axe will stay in Madison as a result.
Prediction record so far this season: 10-1