The outlook isn't getting any better for the Gophers.
Four straight losses -- all at home -- have sent the season spiraling in the wrong direction and there may be no end in sight.
After winning the opener at Middle Tennessee, the Gophers returned to TCF Bank Stadium with a rare long stretch of games. The hope was to build some momentum in three non-conference games, including one against mighty Southern California, heading into the Big Ten opener against Northwestern.
Instead, the season is on the verge of falling apart. It began with a stunning loss to FCS opponent South Dakota. The Gophers gave USC a battle before falling and then were outplayed by Northern Illinois for a third straight loss.
The Gophers built a fourth-quarter lead last week but gave up 10 points and fell to Northwestern. And now the job gets even tougher.
A trip to Camp Randall Stadium to face Wisconsin would have been difficult enough for a 1-4 team, but the Badgers will be harder to beat at home than usual. Wisconsin lost its Big Ten opener at Michigan State last week and another early defeat would end any hopes for a possible title.
The Gophers have lost six in a row and 13 of 15 to the Badgers, but that's the least of their problems. The players are looking for anything positive to build on. A win over Wisconsin would provide that, but the Gophers will have to play their best game of the season.
"I think it will help us move forward from all of these losses," tight end Eric Lair said. "Once we play the game, we put everything behind us regardless of the result. So when we're playing Wisconsin, we focus on Wisconsin. A win would help us gain momentum going into next season."
--Minnesota is tied for No. 15 in the nation in turnover margin. The Gophers have an average turnover margin of plus-0.8 per game.
--Minnesota and Wisconsin will be playing for the 120th time Saturday. The teams have been playing for a trophy since 1930. The original prize was the "Slab of Bacon." The trophy became Paul Bunyan's Axe in 1948. Wisconsin leads 35-24-3 in those games.
--It hasn't resulted in wins, but the Gophers rank No. 2 in the nation in ball control, averaging 35:35 per game.
SERIES HISTORY: Minnesota leads Wisconsin 59-52-8 (last meeting, 2009, 31-28 Wisconsin).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Gophers are developing a balanced attack. Senior quarterback Adam Weber has been efficient running the offense. MarQueis Gray is among the leading receivers in the Big Ten and tight end Eric Lair is developing into a big-play target. Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge have become a solid duo in the backfield.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: It doesn't matter who the Gophers are playing. It can be an FCS team (South Dakota). Or a Mid-American Conference opponent (Northern Illinois). Or a conference foe (Northwestern). The defense can't stop anybody. Teams can run or pass the ball at will. The season is five games old and the defense hasn't shown any improvement. Unless it does, the points and the losses will continue to pile up.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think the team and even the coaches are just trying to stay together as a team. We have been drilling that and I don't see a lot of players departing from us being a team. So as long as we stay as a family and play hard every game despite the outcome it will start the momentum towards next season." - Minnesota running back DeLeon Eskridge on the Gophers' 1-4 record.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Minnesota at Wisconsin, Oct. 9 -- Maybe playing for Paul Bunyan's Axe will provide some inspiration for the Gophers against Wisconsin. But even that hasn't helped lately. Minnesota has lost six consecutive times to its arch-rival. Playing in the unfriendly setting of Camp Randall Stadium won't help the cause.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Minnesota's offense should give Wisconsin's banged-up defense some problems. The Gophers can move the ball on the ground and through the air. However, Minnesota's defense hasn't stopped anyone all season and there's not much hope that will change.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Adam Weber -- It hasn't been noticed because of the four straight losses, but the senior is having a solid season. Weber has completed 62 percent of his passes while throwing for nine touchdowns and four interceptions.
CB Michael Carter -- Benched after the second game, the sophomore has worked his way back into the picture. Carter was one of the few defensive players to do well against Northwestern. He intercepted a pass, forced a fumble and had 11 tackles to lead the team.
TE Eric Lair -- With receiver MarQueis Gray hobbled by a foot injury, Lair will be a bigger part of the game plan. It looks like the junior is ready. He caught three passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns last week. Lair also caught a pass for a 42-yard gain. He has the size and speed to be a threat for the opposing defense.
--WR MarQueis Gray was limited by a foot injury and had just two catches for eight yards against Northwestern. Gray's practice time may be limited, but he's expected to play against Wisconsin.
--LB Mike Rallis (pulled stomach muscle) was sidelined against Northwestern after playing just one series against Northern Illinois.
--It's still unclear when S Kim Royston will return from the broken left leg that occurred in spring ball.
TSX Report: Scouting Minnesota
The outlook isn't getting any better for the Gophers.