November 15, 2008

UW-Minnesota breakdown

MADISON, Wis. - Over the course of the past 118 meetings with Minnesota, the Wisconsin football team has developed a bitter rivalry with its border state Gophers. Later today, the 119th meeting between the two schools will occur as both teams try to improve their bowl positions and take possession of Paul Buyan's Axe.

The following is a breakdown of the latest installment of the most-played Division 1 football rivalry set to kickoff at 2:30 central time:


When Wisconsin has the ball:

Two years ago, P.J. Hill shredded the Gopher defense to the tune of 164 rushing touchdowns and two touchdowns. Last season, Zach Brown, a true freshman at the time, torched Minnesota for 250 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. Will this season be John Clay's chance to demolish the Gopher secondary?

Minnesota ranks eight in the Big Ten in rush defense by allowing more than 140 yards on the ground against its opponents. Because Dustin Sherer has been erratic at times, the Badgers will definitely look to exploit Minnesota's inconsistent run stopping capabilities.

Last week, David Gilreath, a Minnesota native, rushed for 168 yards. Over the past few weeks, UW has been getting the ball in the hands of one of its most dynamic playmakers any way it can. Look for that to continue.

If UW establishes a running attack, which it should as at least two Badger backs have toppled 100-yards in each of the past two games, the passing game will be there for Sherer. But then again, if the running attack is working that well, why not stick with it?

Advantage: Wisconsin, the past two games in Madison have been Badger blowouts with many points for UW. If it gets the running game going, today's game could provide much of the same.

When Minnesota has the ball:

On Tuesday, Tim Brewster announced that his best receiver, and the conference leader in receptions, Eric Decker will not play during the contest. If that is indeed the case and the talented junior's high ankle sprain prevents him from taking the field, the Gopher offense will be missing its best playmaker.

Still, quarterback Adam Weber has had a stellar campaign to this point and he will be poised to steal the axe from Wisconsin, something nobody on the current Gopher roster has established.

Lately the Badger defense has played well enough to win and Jay Valai continues to be a force in UW's secondary. If Minnesota hopes to win, they will absolutely have to be clicking on all cylinders. It must establish a semblance of a running game and the Gopher receivers have to pick up Decker's production in the passing game.

Last season, Minnesota showcased a few trick plays against the Badgers, and there is nothing to indicate they won't pull out the hijinx again. It will be interesting to see if UW can remain disciplined enough to counteract the big play potential during those instances.

Advantage: Wisconsin. Without Decker, it will be tough for Minnesota's offense to function at its highest level.

Special teams:

Gilreath has been somewhat inconsistent in the return game so far this season, but if last season was any indication, he could have another big game against his home-state school.

Punting wise, the Badgers Brad Nortman nearly became a Gopher during the recruiting process. But, that did not turn out and Nortman finds himself in Madison. For a true freshman, he has performed very well for the Badgers this season.

Returning Nortman's punts will likely be Gopher Marcus Sherels. On the season, he has averaged nearly 12 yards per return. Minnesota's other specialist's Joel Marino (11-of-15 field goals) and punter Justin Kucek (41.6 yard average) have been solid for Brewster and the Gophers.

Advantage: Push

Prediction:

The Badgers have dominated the Gophers in recent years, beating Minnesota by an average of 22.5 points in Camp Randall stadium over the past six meetings there. Over the past couple of weeks, it seems the Badgers and Gophers are heading in different directions.

After jumping out to a 7-1 start, Minnesota has lost two in a row to Northwestern and Michigan. Meanwhile, the Badgers have won two of it's last three and are just one first down away from riding a three-game winning streak.

Without Eric Decker, I just don't see Minnesota winning. I think the Badgers will win and it will not even be that close. 41-20 Wisconsin.

Lea's record: 6-4

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