After winning their first four games and showing signs they weren't the same old Gophers, Minnesota is 0-2 in the Big Ten Legends Division after losing to Iowa and Northwestern. With games against Michigan, Nebraska and Michigan State still on the schedule, Minnesota's chances of being a factor in the division race and becoming bowl eligible are looking bleak.
The Gophers' problems don't end there. It's uncertain if star quarterback MarQueis Gray, who sprained his left ankle again last week, will be able to play Saturday. He sprained the ankle against Western Michigan on Sept. 15 and missed the next two games. Gray came on after Max Shortell took a hit to the head in the first half against Northwestern. The senior gave the offense a brief spark with a 25-yard scoring run and he completed 7-of-11 passes before re-injuring the ankle in the fourth quarter.
Gray didn't return and wore a boot on the ankle during the week. It's likely Shortell will start for the fourth straight games.
Safety Derrick Wells, the team's leading tackler, might also miss Saturday's game with a lacerated knee that happened against Northwestern. He was sidelined briefly, but did return to the game.
The Gophers have used 76 players through six games, including 32 who had never played a game for Minnesota prior to this season. The Gophers have used 10 true freshman this year, 10 redshirt freshman and 12 additional players who made their debut this season.
Minnesota has canceled a two-game series against North Carolina that was scheduled to take place in 2013 and 2014. The Gophers were due to play at North Carolina in the second game next season and to host the Tar Heels at TCF Bank Stadium in 2014. The games were scheduled under former athletic director Joel Maturi and ex-coach Tim Brewster.
Coach Jerry Kill, who was hired following the 2010 season, wants to avoid nonconference games against BCS opponents while he rebuilds the program, which has finished 3-9 the last two seasons.
In other scheduling news, Minnesota has announced home games against Kent State on Sept. 19, 2015, and South Dakota State on Aug. 29, 2019. Kent State plays in the Mid-American Conference and South Dakota State is a Football Championship Subdivision team.
The Gophers also announced an agreement with the Minnesota State Fair to open the 2013-2016 seasons at home, each on the Thursday night before Labor Day.
SERIES HISTORY: Minnesota leads Wisconsin 58-55-8 (last meeting, 2011, 42-13 Wisconsin)
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The offense has been stopped in its tracks since scoring 102 points in the first three games. The Gophers haven't scored more than 17 points in a game since Sept. 15. It's no coincidence that was the game after quarterback MarQueis Gray sprained his ankle against Western Michigan. He returned last week against Northwestern, but injured the ankle again and may not be available Saturday. Sophomore Max Shortell would make his fourth straight start if Gray is sidelined again. Left tackle Ed Olson and receivers Devin Crawford-Tufts, Isaac Fruechte and Marcus Jones could also miss the game with injuries. Crawford-Tufts and Fruechte are tied for second on the team with 11 receptions.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defense has played poorly the last two weeks and that will likely happen again against the Badgers. Minnesota has allowed 390 yards rushing the last two weeks. The Gophers don't match up well against Wisconsin's massive offensive line. Minnesota, which recorded 11 sacks in the first four games, failed to get to the quarterback against Iowa and Northwestern. The Gophers haven't forced a turnover in either Big Ten game. Safety Derrick Wells, who leads the team with 37 tackles, could miss the game with a knee injury.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You have a back who in my opinion will be the best back that we play. Ball is physical and comes downhill at you." Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys in the St. Paul Pioneer-Press, on Wisconsin running back Montee Ball.
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Minnesota at Wisconsin, Oct. 20 The Gophers have been dominated in the series in the last two decades, losing eight straight, nine of 10 and 15 of 17. Minnesota hasn't won since 2003, a 37-34 home victory, and hasn't beaten the Badgers in Madison since 1994, a 17-14 win. The teams have been playing for Paul Bunyan's Axe since 1948.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The game will be no contest if Minnesota's run defense performs like it has the last two games. The Gophers allowed 182 yards rushing against Iowa and followed that by giving up 208 yards on the ground in the Northwestern game. That's not good news with Wisconsin's Montee Ball up next. Ball rushed for 247 yards and three touchdowns last week. The defensive line was pushed all over the field the last two weeks. This one will be over early if that happens again.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Max Shortell The sophomore will likely start in place of the injured MarQueis Gray against Wisconsin. Shortell, who has started the last three games, had to leave last week's game against Northwestern after he took a shot to the head. He returned when Gray re-injured his ankle. Shortell has completed 57.1 percent of his passes (60-of-105) with six touchdowns and four interceptions.
CB Troy Stoudermire The senior is tied for second on the team with 36 tackles, including 26 solo stops. Stoudermire has returned seven kickoffs for 131 yards with a long return of 48 yards.
LB Keanon Cooper Cooper is fourth on the team with 31 tackles. He had a team-high 10 tackles against Northwestern. Cooper has forced a fumble and has two tackles for a loss of yardage.
WR Marcus Jones aggravated a hip injury against Northwestern and could miss the Wisconsin game. He didn't play against Iowa because of the injury.
OT Ed Olson will likely miss the Wisconsin game because of a leg injury sustained against Northwestern.
G Tommy Olson, Ed's brother, has missed the last two games with an ankle injury.
WRs Devin Crawford-Tufts and Isaac Fruechte are questionable for the Wisconsin game with undisclosed injuries.
CB Martez Shabazz has missed the last four games because of a dislocated toe.
C Zach Mottla has been out for the last two games because of an ankle injury.
DT Cameron Botticelli injured his elbow in the Iowa game and didn't play against Northwestern.
WR Jamel Harbison tore the ACL in his right knee against UNLV and is out for the season.