SITE: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn.
TV: Big Ten Network
SERIES: Wisconsin leads 58-54-8 (last meeting, 2010, Wisconsin 41-23)
RECORDS: Wisconsin 7-2, 3-2 Big Ten; Minnesota 2-7, 1-4 Big Ten
POLLS: Wisconsin (No. 16 AP, No. 14 USA Today)
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 35-24
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- For Wisconsin: Get the running game going. Getting TB Montee Ball involved early is the key there. The Badgers' defense faces a tough challenge against Minnesota QB MarQueis Gray and needs to keep him from getting on track.
-- For Minnesota: Get some breaks. That's the only way Minnesota can stay in the game. The offense can't make any mistakes and must come up with big plays, and the defense has to create turnovers and possibly turn one or two of them into points.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
With last week's offensive outburst against Purdue, Wisconsin moved to fourth in the country in scoring offense with an average of 47 points per game. The only Big Ten team to average 47 points per game in a season since 1916 was the 1994 Penn State squad. The Badgers are averaging a robust 7.49 yards per play this season, trailing only Houston, which averages 8.01 yards per play.
Wisconsin LB Chris Borland was named the Big Ten Conference Defensive Player of the Week after recording 11 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for a loss, forcing two fumbles, intercepting a pass and deflecting a pass against Purdue. Borland is tied with teammate Mike Taylor the conference lead in tackles with 95, which ranks ninth in the country in total tackles.
The strides Minnesota has made on the offense, led by QB MarQueis Gray, is the most encouraging thing about the Gophers. Minnesota gained 415 yards last week against Michigan State, which has the nation's No. 2 ranked defense. Another tough test awaits Saturday against Wisconsin's No. 11 rated defense. Gray will need to avoid the pass rush and make big plays both running and throwing.
As is the case with the offense, Minnesota's defense has shown signs of progress the last two weeks. The Gophers held Michigan State to 106 yards rushing, recovered a fumble and had two sacks. Minnesota is doing a better job controlling the line of scrimmage, but might face its biggest test of the season this week. QB Russell Wilson leads the nation in passing efficiency while running back Montee Ball averages 119.6 yards per game.
Badgers: Wisconsin is now the only team in the country to rank among the Top 10 in both scoring offense and scoring defense. ... The Badgers are 16-2 in the month of November under coach Bret Bielema. ... RB Montee Ball, a junior, leads the nation with 24 touchdowns, tying the school record held by Brian Calhoun in 2005. The Big Ten record is 26, currently shared by Pete Johnson (Ohio State, 1975), Anthony Thompson (Indiana, 1988) and Ki-Jana Carter (Penn State, 1994). Ball is averaging a touchdown every 7.3 touches this season. ... Senior QB Russell Wilson leads the country and is on pace to set an NCAA record in pass efficiency with his 196.7 rating. The NCAA record Colt Brennan of Hawaii set in 2006 is 186.0). Wilson also is on pace for records in yards per pass attempt at 11.1 (NCAA record held by Ty Detmer, BYU, 1989 -- 11.1) and yards per play at 10.1 (NCAA record held by Brennan -- 9.2). ... TE Jacob Pedersen is starting to see more passes in his direction in recent weeks. Pederson leads the team and ranks second in the country among tight ends with seven touchdown catches this season. He has caught 24 passes for 310 yards this year. ... OL Dallas Lewallen underwent knee surgery recently with the possibility of a return during spring practice.
Gophers: Paul Bunyan's Axe will be on the line again Saturday, but it's been spending a lot of time on Wisconsin's campus in recent years. Minnesota has lost seven straight to the Badgers and hasn't beaten Wisconsin since 2003. ... Minnesota owns a 37-22-2 edge in games at home against Wisconsin. ... this is a bad matchup on both sides of the ball. Wisconsin scores 47 points per game and allows 16.1 points a contest. Minnesota scores 18.7 points a game and allowed 33.7. ... RB Duane Bennett needs 65 yards to become the 13th player in school history to rush for 2,000 career yards. He's currently 15th with 1,935 yards. ... TE Collin McGarry, who had two career catches coming into 2011, has 13 receptions this season. ... OL Josh Camion is expected to miss the rest of the season because of a concussion. ... WR/KR Marcus Jones also will miss the rest of the season because of a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
DE Louis Nzegwu -- Nzegwu leads the Badgers and currently is tied for fifth in the conference with 4.5 sacks. Nzegwu has 11.5 sacks in his career. Minnesota will throw the ball a lot against the Badgers, thus opening the door for a big game from Nzegwu.
QB Russell Wilson -- He has thrown for a touchdown in 33 straight games. Wilson makes his first appearance against Minnesota. The Badgers take the border game very seriously despite owning the series in recent years. Wilson played just three quarters last week against Purdue, but put up big numbers. Expect him to following the same script at Minnesota.
RB Montee Ball -- He is on the cusp of breaking several school and conference records. Ball should get a steady handful of carries against a Minnesota team that allows 191.1 yards rushing per game.
QB MarQueis Gray -- The junior has completed 30-of-49 passes for four touchdowns in the last two weeks. Gray has also run the ball 33 times for 133 yards in the last two games. He seems to be gaining confidence with each game in his first season playing quarterback.
DT Anthony Jacobs -- He leads the team with six tackles for a loss of yardage. The senior has 17 1/2 tackles for loss in his career. Jacobs is also tied for the team lead with two forced fumbles.
WR Da'Jon McKnight -- He had his best game of the season against Michigan State with three touchdown receptions and nine catches for 173 yards, both career highs.
S Aaron Henry (ankle, probable), DE David Gilbert (foot, probable).
PK Chris Hawthorne (quad, doubtful), LG Tommy Olson (ankle, questionable), OL Ryan Orton (back, questionable), LB Brandan Beal (knee, questionable), DE Harold Legania (foot, doubtful), OT Jimmy Gjere (concussion, questionable), DE Leston Simpson (head, questionable).