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November 12, 2011
Five things: Minnesota
When two teams have played 120 times there's a good chance we've already seen most of the things that can happen. There have been blocked punts, missed field goals, made field goals, blowouts, nail-biters, career-days and just about everything in between.
That's what makes this game a lot of fun to watch. Before the 121st edition, here are five things to pay attention to.
Winning on the road:
Wisconsin hasn't done it yet. Well, I guess if you count that win over Northern Illinois inside Soldier Field it has, but I'm also confident not many out there do. Aaron Henry said it best.
"No more close calls," he said. "No more 'We almost did it,' no more giving up last second touchdowns. There can't be no more of that. We're in November. This is where championships are won."
Unfortunately for Henry and the rest of this team UW doesn't control its own destiny down the stretch. But should Ohio State lose and should Penn State lose at least once before the Nittany Lions come to Madison UW will be back in position.
But they'll need to win on the road starting today against Minnesota.
A record breaking day?
With one more touchdown junior tailback Montee Ball will pass Brian Calhoun and become Wisconsin's all-time leader for touchdowns scored in a single season. With two touchdowns against Minnesota, Ball would tie the Big Ten record held by Pete Johnson of Ohio State, Anthony Thompson of Indiana and Ki-Jana Carter of Penn State.
Ball has scored 24 touchdowns this season entering today's game with Minnesota. He is averaging a touchdown every 7.3 touches this season.
The all-time record for touchdowns scored in a season is held by the great Barry Sanders. He found pay dirt 37 times in 1988.
The axe effect:
Minnesota has started to turn the corner in each of its past two games. The Gophers knocked off Iowa and kept the Floyd of Rosedale in Minneapolis. Last week Minnesota went over to East Lansing and nearly upended Michigan State.
Whether it's the fact Marqueis Gray is finding his comfort zone in Jerry Kill's offense or the fact Kill is finally seeing the benefits of his coaching staff paying off there is no doubt Minnesota is playing better football.
Wisconsin has not won by more than seven points in Minneapolis since 1983. There are always things that seem to happen in this game that aren't necessarily the norm. Call it the axe effect. Expect a close, competitive game.
The Badgers have struggled against big, physical and athletic quarterbacks in the past. Whether it was Braxton Miller this season or Terrelle Pryor in years past, UW has not quite figured out how to totally minimize a physical quarterback. They'll have to do it Saturday against the Gophers.
Gray is still relatively young and new to the position so he's still adhering to the principles it requires. But in each of the past two games he's completed 61 percent of his passes and thrown for 488 yards. That's the type of improvement, combined with his athleticism, which makes a play of Gray's caliber ultra dangerous.
Remember last season when Bret Bielema went for two against Minnesota and then coach Tim Brewster even though the game was well in hand? Remember how he said the card said it was the right move?
I bet Minnesota does, too. This one should be fun.