Before each Minnesota football game, GopherDigest will ask five questions of an opposing beat writer. This week, we spoke with Wisconsin publisher Benjamin Worgull, journalist of Wisconsin Scout.com site (Madison,Wisconsin) to preview the Gophers' Week 13 home game against the 8-3 Wisconsin Badgers.
1) Wisconsin is 8-3 after losing to Northwestern on a few different controversial calls late in the game at home last week. How are the fans and media reacting to last week's loss?
BJ: The controversial play being debated since Saturday night was wide receiver Jazz Peavy making a “catch” from the 1-yard line, taking four steps in the end zone, having his knee hit the ground in bounds and then seeing the ball roll in his arms as he barrel rolled out of bounds. The play was called a touchdown on the field and reversed after video reviewed, and UW ended up losing the game.
The Big Ten cites the “Dez Bryant rule” from the playoff lost to the Green Bay Packers last January as the reason the play was overturned. While true that the ball does move once Peavy hits the ground, Peavy took multiple steps in bounds and had a knee down with complete control of the ball when he forced out of bounds, different than the Bryany rule (two steps and losing the control of the ball inbounds). Just like that play in Green Bay, anybody who watches the Peavy catch knows it was a catch.
The fans, naturally, are irate and frustrated at the officials, at head coach Paul Chryst for not running the ball, for quarterback Joel Stave taking a sack on second down, for the offensive line’s continued struggles and the team in general for blowing another Big Ten game with the ball on the 1-yard line. With Iowa delivering the final nail in the coffin earlier in the day and the end result Saturday, it was a rough day.
2) The Badgers are last in rushing offense and first in passing offense during Big Ten play. Has the loss of Corey Clement meant that much to this offense, plus how has quarterback Joel Stave been playing of late?
BJ: In my opinion, Clement is the most indispensable player on this roster. He’s an experienced back with agility, mobility and vision. It’s been a nightmare for Wisconsin that Clement hasn’t been healthy all season. He was limited against Alabama in the season opener, didn’t play again until he felt around 85 percent on Halloween and played again Saturday still not at 100 percent. It’s been a loss season for him.
UW has zero depth at tailback. Dare Ogunbowale has been a tailback for approximately 14 months, third-string back Taiwan Deal is freshman learning the playbook and dealing with injuries off and on and fourth-string back Alec Ingold was redshirting as an inside linebacker a little more than two months ago. It’s no wonder this group has lacked punch.
But even with Clement in the mix, there’s no guarantee of success. Wisconsin’s offensive line has been banged up since the spring and has dealt with a myriad of injuries since fall camp. UW has three redshirt freshmen starting, a fifth-year senior left tackle who has regressed and a redshirt junior at left guard who was replaced by a redshirt junior walk-on who hadn’t play beyond special teams.
Add it all up, it’s no surprise Wisconsin has got zero from its running game. That has put a lot of pressure on Stave to move the offense through the air. Run-dominate Wisconsin has thrown the ball a ton this season and the results generally are good against bad competition. Saturday was a big step backwards, however, thanks to four turnovers on offense, including three from Stave.
Stave is what he is: a fifth-year senior pocket passer who has started games for the last four seasons and won a lot of games but is limited in mobility, quick delivery and arm strength.
3) On the defensive side of the ball, the Badgers have been extremely stingy during Big Ten play as lead the conference in total yards given up per game. Who are some of the key Wisconsin defenders to note?
BJ: Wisconsin’s outside linebacker combo of senior Joe Schobert and junior Vince Biegel could be the best one-two punch at the position in the country. Schobert started the season extremely strong racking up sacks and tackles for loss, causing opposing offenses to scheme away from him. That has allowed Biegel to come on strong over the second half of conference play and he played one of his best game against Northwestern.
Wisconsin’s inside linebackers are also strong and do not fear coming up and playing the run. Redshirt freshman T.J. Edwards has had a very nice campaign and has a great career in front of him. Wisconsin’s safeties – led by senior captain Michael Caputo – have length and experience and the cornerbacks – led by a pair of three-year starters – are solid, despite the fact that the don’t generate a lot of interceptions.
The defensive line usually gets glossed over because they don’t rack up the stats, but UW had three players on the line – defensive ends Alec James and Chikwe Obasih and nose tackle Conor Sheehy – all register a career-high in tackles against Northwestern. For the most part this group is content taking on double teams and opening up alleys for the linebackers to make plays.
4) The combined record of eight teams that Wisconsin has wins against this season is 26-63. How have the Badgers been able to capitalize of this year's easy schedule?
BJ: Simply put, they haven’t. If they did, UW would be preparing for the Big Ten championship game instead of getting some time off below starting bowl prep. Make no mistake, I don’t think this UW team is championship caliber, not by a long shot, but the Badgers had two golden opportunities to knock off Iowa and Northwestern at home (both games having a first down at the opponent’s 1-yard line late in the game) and couldn’t do it. If they had, they would be undefeated in Big Ten play and fighting for a berth in a major bowl game. In essence, those failures has been a microcosm of their season. Break it down further, UW doesn’t have a win over a team currently with a winning record.
5) What are the keys for the Badgers if they're going to beat the Gophers and retain the Axe? Plus, what's your prediction for the Wisconsin vs. Minnesota game and why?
BJ: Wisconsin will have to generate turnovers for its offense in prime field position. The Badgers can’t run the ball with any consistency and the offensive line are struggling in pass protection, a deadly combination for any team. UW doesn’t come close to Minnesota in the turnover-forcing category, but the Badgers defense will need to find a way to get the ball into their hands.
Minnesota has to feel like it has everything to play for here – bowl eligibility, the axe, ending a painfully long losing streak. And while Wisconsin’s defense continues to play at an extremely high level, the Badgers’ offense continues to put the unit in near impossible situations because of turnovers and the inability to move the ball.
I think Dinkytown explodes Saturday night with the Gophers finally ending Wisconsin’s decade of dominance.
Prediction: Minnesota 17, Wisconsin 13