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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Minnesota Gophers: Preview, predictions and prognostications

When: Sat. Nov 28; 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Minneapolis, MN; TCF Bank Stadium (50,805)
TV: BTN
All-Time Series: Minnesota leads 59-57-8
Last Meeting: Wisconsin win 34-24 (2014)
Line: Wisconsin -2

It’s time to renew the rivalry for Paul Bunyan’s axe, and we can all hope somebody’s eye doesn’t get poked out by the game trophy. The two have been getting together since 1890, and have played a whopping 124 times, making this the longest standing rivalry in all of the FBS. But there’s been a bit of an issue recently. Wisconsin has won eleven straight over their rivals, closing the gap in the all-time series quickly. Minnesota would like to put an end to that Saturday.

It’ll be both head coaches’ first time leading their teams into this rivalry, and could set the tone for the future. Wisconsin has been the royalty of the teams within the West Division, and you know that Claeys would like to plant a flag that he’s going to have the Gophers in the same rarefied air as the Badger program. It all goes down in the late afternoon on Saturday.

1 Burning Question: What Kind of Wisconsin Team Will We See?

There are so many unknowns coming into this one, and Corey Clement is evidence A1. Will he play or won’t he. He’s listed as doubtful, and has the whole legal issues that are being sorted out, so that leave’s things a bit up in the air. If he can’t go, it’ll put more pressure on Joel Stave to deliver through the air, and although he’s been great at times, he threw two picks against a sturdy Northwestern defense last week in an ugly loss. The Minnesota secondary possesses a similar mindset in giving up passing yards, so the football will be flying into a headwind.

2 Key Stats:

— 138.2. That’s the shockingly low rushing yards per game for Wisconsin. The culture of the Badger program has been based on a punishing running attack, but it’s been turned upside down this year. The injuries to Corey Clement and the offensive line haven’t helped things, but this is a program that should be able to plug guys into the system and go. It hasn’t happened this year and it’s made the offense less dynamic than years’ past.

— 63.5%. That’s the completion percentage for Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner in November, up from 59.4% for the year. The Gophers ability to throw the ball more consistently down the stretch has made a challenged offense a little more potent as the sands run out of the season’s hourglass. Leidner will need to be on point to move the ball against the nation’s top ranked scoring defense.

3 Key Players:

C.J Maye, Minnesota WR: Part of the reason the Gophers have found some offense late in the season is because of the emergence of Maye. His ability to make plays at key moments in the game have kept the chains moving on numerous occasions. He’s got to find some space and separation Saturday against a stubborn Badger defense.

Joel Stave, Wisconsin QB: You know the story with Stave. The Badgers have had to rely on his arm more this year than what anyone expected with the issues with injuries and the running game. He’s done well for the most part, but he’s going against a solid Gopher defense that doesn’t let too much get behind them. He’s got to pick out his receivers, check-down if need be and move the ball with patience.

Joe Schobert, Wisconsin LB: You could make the argument that Schobert is the defensive player of the year in the Big Ten, and you might be right. He always seems to be in the right spot whether it be in supporting the run or coming on a blitz to put pressure on the QB. Despite the Gopher resurgence in the passing game, they’ll still need balance to really effective, and that’s where Schobert comes in. If he can diagnose plays, get to the ball carrier and allow his teammates to help stuff things on the ground, it’ll be tough for Minnesota to get anything cooking consistently on offense.

4 Bold Prognostications:

— Mitch Leidner will be held under 150 yards passing. He’s provided some push down field in recent memory but was held to just 88 yards through the air against Illinois last week. Wisconsin will bring complex pressure from different angles and confuse Leidner enough to force some rushed incompletions.

— Neither team will go over 380 yards of total offense. These are two similar-minded teams who like to play solid defense, but run into struggles at times on the offensive end. Both defenses will control things in a cold, November day where yards on the ground will be key.

— Wisconsin’s defense will force at least three turnovers. We touched on it already, but the Badger defense is built on bringing pressure and schemes that are meant to confuse the opposing quarterback. Leidner will have a tough day through the air and will take some blind-side hits. It’ll result in multiple turnovers through both picks and fumbles that will be key moments in this one.

— Joe Schobert will have at least a dozen tackles. It’s going to be a slugfest in the Twin Cities, and that’s where the Wisconsin linebacker excels. You’ll hear his name called early and often, getting in on a myriad of running plays and swing passes designed to control the game.

5 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Wisconsin 24-20 (82-23 overall; 50-54 ATS)
Dave: Minnesota 10-6 (86-19 overall; 56-47 ATS)
Greg: Wisconsin 20-17 (79-26 overall; 61-42 ATS)
Matt: Wisconsin 27-14 (83-22 overall; 58-45 ATS)
Phil: Wisconsin 21-17 (38-14 overall; 19-30 ATS) *joined in Week 5

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