Minnesota hoping to avenge Wisconsin loss in battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe
Who: Wisconsin vs. Minnesota
When: Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT
Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Wisconsin -2.5
Matchup to watch: Joe Schobert vs. Shannon Brooks
As J.J. Watt said, Schobert has been a beast this year. The guy has been everywhere for a Badger defense that’s been as good as any in the country this season. Schobert would further solidify his first-team All-B1G status by shutting down one of the conference’s top emerging tailbacks. Brooks is coming off a monster three-touchdown game against Illinois in which some very capable linebackers struggled. Schobert is as sure a tackler as there is, and against a back like Brooks, he’ll have to be to prevent him from getting a head of steam at the second level. Minnesota’s best big-play threat will have quite the task ahead of him.
Thing I’m excited to see: Minnesota playing for its life
When the axe is at stake, you don’t need much more motivation. But the Gophers will have some anyway. A chance to knock off Wisconsin at home to clinch bowl eligibility would be one of the better wins for Minnesota in recent memory. I’m curious how they come out. The Gophers actually looked really solid against Michigan and TCU at home. They played more inspired football in those two games than they did against Kent State and Ohio. All signs would point to Minnesota getting after it at the line of scrimmage, flying to the ball and looking far better than a five-win team. The question is whether or not they’ll be able to execute down the stretch.
Number to remember: 160
That’s how many yards Alex Erickson racked up against Minnesota last year. Against Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray, that’d be an impressive feat to repeat. He’s still Wisconsin’s top target, and Minnesota’s secondary is still one of the top units in the country when healthy. You can bet that they took Erickson’s dominance personally. It was a big reason why the Badgers ran away with last year’s game in the second half. Minnesota has to make somebody else beat it. To say Minnesota has to shut down Wisconsin’s passing game sounds odd, especially considering the egg Joel Stave laid last week. But this is one of the more dangerous pass-catching threats in the B1G, and with Wisconsin still lacking a stable backfield, Stave could call his number a bunch on Saturday.
Prediction: Minnesota 17, Wisconsin 14
I’m sorry if you’re sick of me saying this, but there’s been a lot to like out of Minnesota in the past month. I think K.J. Maye’s improvement as a route runner will provide the Gophers something they didn’t have against Wisconsin last year. To beat a defense this good, Minnesota cannot be one-dimensional. With Maye, I don’t think that happens. The frustrating 2015 Wisconsin narrative plays out again on Saturday. The defense does more than enough to win the game, but the offense struggles to sustain drives and turns the ball over too much. Minnesota clinches bowl eligibility in avenging fashion.