This week Minnesota plays Wisconsin and I went to the man that knows everything inside and out in the Badger program by talking to the publisher of BadgerNation, Ben Worgull. In this Q&A we find out how the offense is faring this season, what players to watch in the game, keys to the game and much more.1) How has the transition been so far under new head coach Gary Andersen?
The 8-2 record speaks for itself, as Andersen and the seven new assistant coaches he brought in during the offseason have blended well with an experienced group of players on both sides of the ball to create a cohesive unit. Wisconsin has racked up more than 500 yards of total offense in five of its 10 games and is averaging 505.8 total yards per game, while its defense is ranked fifth nationally in scoring (14.0 points per game). Andersen is a player's coach and has handled the shortfalls this season (controversy at Arizona State, seven-point loss to No.4 Ohio State) with a lot of class, something his predecessor likely would not have done.
2) What is different about this offense this year from previous years and is it better?
It's the same type of smash-mouth football Wisconsin has been doing for years. The Badgers will always try to establish the run with their power backs – Melvin Gordon and James White – and then beat a defense using the play-action game. The only thing that's slightly different is that the Badgers have tried to put more emphasis on throwing the football to balance out the offense, but the running game has been so good that it's almost silly to shy away from it.
The big change during Wisconsin's five-game winning streak is the fact that offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig has attempted to get senior tight end Jacob Pedersen more involved. After hardly used during the begging stretch of the season (eight catches, 101 yards and one score), Pedersen has 19 catches for 289 yards and two scores.
3) With the 3-4 defense, what are the strengths and weaknesses in this new looked Badger defense?
Senior linebacker Chris Borland said defensive coordinator Dave Aranda approached each week like a science experiment, fitting since players and Andersen have called him a "mad scientist." The 3-4 defense, much like Wisconsin's pro-style offense, is unique and challenging to prepare for because not a lot of teams in the Big Ten use it.
Wisconsin's defense has held 5 of its 10 opponents without a touchdown, making UW the only FBS team to hold opponents without a TD in five games this season, and UW has held six opponents to 10 points or fewer. On average, the Badgers have held FBS opponents 14.4 points below the scoring average of their other games this season. Wisconsin's front seven is a big reason for that success with six or seven seniors starting based on the formation, but the play of the secondary the last two weeks can't go unnoticed. Once a weak point to begin the season, the secondary has limited team's high-powered offenses and forcing three-and-out. Against Indiana, Wisconsin allowed only three points, 36 less than the Gophers allowed against the Hoosiers.
On the season, Wisconsin has limited opponents to an average of just 4.3 yards per play, the fifth-best average of any FBS defense.
4,) Give us a player on both sides of the ball Minnesota needs to know about.
The star of the show on offense through the first part of the season was Melvin Gordon, but senior James White has been on a tear over the last three games. He's rushed for 484 yards (averaged 7.8 yards per carry) and scored five touchdowns. He's also a threat in the receiving game with a career-high six catches against BYU, going for 47 yards and a score.
On defense, the guy has to be Borland, who feels like he's been playing for a decade at Wisconsin. A semifinalist for many national awards, Borland has averaged 12.3 tackles and 1.3 tackles for loss and recorded three sacks. Against Indiana, he had 10 tackles for the 17th double-digit tackle game of his career. No matter what a team tries to do to scheme against him, it never seems to work.
5) What are the keys to the game and your prediction
Playing on the road in any conference is never an easy thing, especially in a rivalry game where temperatures look to be bone chilling on Saturday. Wisconsin has a distinct advantage on paper, so the Badgers need to play turnover free in games like this and finish drives. The last few games the Badgers have settled for short field goals when their offense stalls inside the 30.
Defensively, Wisconsin has to generate scoring opportunities for its offense. The Badgers have yet to generate three turnovers in a game this season, a sore subject for some of the veterans on that unit. UW getting three turnovers against the Gophers would be a nice thing to check off the list.
I think Minnesota will hang with Wisconsin into the second half, but the Badgers have a history of wearing down the Gophers as the go goes on based on their power running game. Minnesota is a great story this season with a lot of wins that have broken losing streaks, but I think Paul Bunyan's Axe comes back to Madison with UW. Badgers win 38-21.