Minnesota has dropped an unacceptable nine straight games to the arch-rival Wisconsin Badgers with the Gophers last win coming in spectacular fashion in 2003 with Rhys Lloyd winning the game on a last second field goal. This year's game is without a doubt Jerry Kill's best chance to secure Paul Bunyan's Axe as Wisconsin must replace their Head Coach and a former Heisman finalist in RB Montee Ball, who has moved on to the NFL. Is this the year the Gophers finally break through and beat the hated Badgers or does Wisconsin make it ten straight?
The Badger Offense:
The Badgers have some questions to answer on offense heading into the season. One of those questions was who would start at QB. That question has been answered, at least for now, as Joel Stave was named the starter over challenger Curt Phillips. Stave played well last season, logging six starts, before suffering a broken collarbone against Michigan State. Phillips started from there on out over NC State transfer Danny O'Brien who started the season as the starter. Stave won't be able to hand the ball off to Montee Ball anymore though as Ball is in the NFL. Despite the loss of Ball, Wisconsin still has two backs that would start on most teams in sophomore Melvin Gordon and senior James White. It's entirely possible that both break 1,000 yards this season. Not only will Stave have Gordon and White to hand the ball off to, he'll also have WR Jared Abbrederis and TE Jacob Pederson back to catch his passes. Outside of Abbrederis and Pederson there's a pretty significant drop off though and defenses may be able to key in on those two and shut down or slow down the Badger passing attack. The Badgers are probably most known for producing offensive lineman and that was no different last year as they lose two draft picks and members of the 1st Team All Big Ten team. Despite those losses, and a lack of depth, the Badgers should be very good up front again this year.
The Badger Defense:
While the Badger offense likely won't see any big changes in the first year of a new coaching staff, the defense is switching from a 4-3 to the 3-4. Anchoring the defensive line for the Badgers will be Minnetonka graduate Beau Allen. The Badgers lose just one starter off the defensive line and they should be solid if they can adjust to the 3-4 scheme. Behind Beau Allen, the Badger defensive line is another unit that loses just one player, but the loss of Mike Taylor will likely have a bigger impact. Despite that key loss, the linebacker unit will likely be quite good again for the Badgers. They return 3rd Team All-American Chris Borland and add in Scout's #23 LB Vince Biegel from the 2012 class after a redshirt year last year. The weakness of the Badger defense will very likely be the secondary this year as they are young and inexperienced after losing three starters, two of which were on All Big Ten teams.
3 Keys to the Game:
1. Phillip Nelson must have success throwing the ball. If the Badgers are able to key in on the Gopher's running game, then they will very likely be able to shut it down. If however, Nelson is able to get something going through the air, it could be a close game.
2. Limit Gordon/White. It's going to be nearly impossible to shut down the Wisconsin run game, but if the Gophers are able to get a few stops, the Gophers might be able to put enough points on the board to make this one a game.
3. Get turnovers. While the Gophers should make some fairly significant strides this year on offense, the Badger offense is still better, so in order to stay in this one or steal the axe, then the Gophers are going to need to get some takeaways.
As much as it pains me to say it, I think the Badgers will make it ten straight. Fortunately for Gopher fans, the gap is quickly closing, especially with some coaching turnover in Madison (even though I think Andersen is a better coach than Bielema). This could be the year the Gophers turn the tide, but it isn't likely and would be a decent sized upset. Wisconsin 31 Minnesota 24
Brice Marich also contributed to this report