Wisconsin (8-3) vs. Minnesota (5-6)
Time: 2:30 P.M CT, Saturday, November 28th
TV: Big Ten Network - Kevin Kugler (play-by-play), Matt Millen (Analyst) and Lisa Byington (Sideline)
Last week: Wisconsin lost at home to Northwestern 13-7, Minnesota beat Illinois at home 32-23.
All-time series: Gophers lead the series 59-57-8 (34-24 Wisconsin in Madison, November 2014)
Vegas betting line: Wisconsin (-2.5) Over/Under (50.5 points)
Know Your Enemy: Five questions with Wisconsin publisher Benjamin Worgull
Five things you need to know
1) Minnesota welcomes Wisconsin to TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. game. The Gophers lead the alltime series 59-57-8 but have lost the last 11 games (longest losing streak in the series for either team) to the Badgers. Minnesota last won in 2003, when it posted a 37-34 win at the Metrodome. At 124 games and counting, the series between Minnesota and Wisconsin ranks as the longest in the Football Bowl Subdivision of NCAA Division I. Since 1948, the teams have been playing for Paul Bunyan’s Axe and had previously played for the Slab of Bacon trophy.
2) Saturday’s game will be Minnesota’s fourth Epilepsy Awareness Game. The Gophers previously hosted an Epilepsy Awareness Game against Michigan (2012), Nebraska (2013) and Ohio State (2014). Minnesota’s former head coach Jerry Kill, who retired from his post on Oct. 28, 2015, due to health reasons, has epilepsy and is an advocate for epilepsy awareness. He has worked closely with the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota and national organizations to raise awareness. Kill, who is also a cancer survivor, started the Coach Kill Chasing Dreams Epilepsy Fund in May 2014. The fund helps support Camp Oz in Hudson, Wis., which is a camp for boys and girls ages 9-17 who have epilepsy. The fund also supports Seizure Smart Schools, which is an initiative that brings teachers, school nurses, staff and families together to recognize and respond to seizures so that kids with epilepsy are supported and can thrive.
3) Minnesota has played one of the toughest schedules in the nation this year. The Gophers have faced (AP rankings at time of the game) No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 TCU, No. 8 Iowa, No. 15 Michigan and No. 16 Northwestern. Minnesota ends the regular season against Wisconsin, which was ranked last week and is the third team in receiving votes. Minnesota faced three top-15 teams in Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa in three straight weeks. The last time Minnesota played three straight games against top 15 teams was 2002 when it played No. 6 Ohio State, No. 13 Michigan and No. 6 Iowa. Baylor is the only other team that plays three straight top-15 opponents, as it just played No. 12 Oklahoma and No. 4 Oklahoma State and plays No. 15 TCU this week.
4) Minnesota is the only Big Ten team to play (AP rankings at time of game) No. 1 Ohio State, No. 8 Iowa, No. 15 Michigan, No. 16 Northwestern and Wisconsin this year (teams have a combined 47-8 record). Minnesota is also the only team in the nation to play No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 TCU. Minnesota’s six defeats this year have come to teams with a combined 53-13 record (Nebraska has 6 of 13 losses).
5) Minnesota is 5-6 this year and needs a win on Saturday to secure bowl eligibility. Minnesota has played in 17 bowl games overall and has played in a bowl game in three straight seasons, as it played in the 2015 Citrus Bowl and in the Texas Bowl in 2012 and 2013. Saturday’s game against 8-3 Wisconsin will be Minnesota’s seventh this year against an unranked opponent. The Gophers are 5-1 against non-ranked teams this year, as they have posted wins at Colorado State, against Kent State, against Ohio, at Purdue and against Illinois. Minnesota’s lone loss to a non-ranked team was to Nebraska. The seven unranked teams are the fewest that Minnesota will play in a season since 2010 when it also faced seven.
Wisconsin players to watch
1) Joel Stave, quarterback: Wisconsin during Big Ten play is last in rushing yards per game and second in passing yards, so expect to see a lot of Joel Stave against this Gopher secondary. Stave is averaging over 36 passing attempts per game during Big Ten play with three touchdowns to eight interceptions, so depending on whether Minnesota sees good Stave or bad Stave, may dictate the game.
2) Alex Erickson, wide receiver: With the Badgers passing the ball so much, Erickson is second in the league during Big Ten play in receptions with 43 and is averaging 76.9 yards per game. Erickson's reception total doubles the next Badger receiver so Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun will have to keep him in check on Saturday.
3) Joe Schobert, linebacker: Senior linebacker Joe Schobert leads the Badgers in tackles for loss, sacks and quarterback hits on the season, plus is second in total tackles for Wisconsin. He's the leader of this Badger defense and the Gophers need to make sure he doesn't have a big game.
Keys to the game
1. Establish the run: Minnesota is averaging nearly 147 yards a game on the ground in the Big Ten, but issue is they've been inconsistent. Either it's gone very well, or not so good. Wisconsin has been the second best run defense during Big Ten play behind only Michigan, but the Gophers are the same team to rush for over 130 yards on that same stout Michigan defense, so let's hope that same team comes to play.
2. Stopping the pass: The Badgers are second in the Big Ten in passing yards per game during conference play, so this Gopher secondary has to be ready. Quarterback Joel Stave has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in the Big Ten season, so if Minnesota's front seven can get some pressure early on, guys like Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun could have some interceptions on Saturday.
3. Big plays: For the Gophers to end their eleven game skid against the Badgers tomorrow, Minnesota will have to have win the big play battle. Minnesota had some big plays of their own last week against Illinois and that correlated to success and thus a win at home.. The Gophers have to continue building on their offensive success and the defense has to get healthy enough in time for Saturday.
Minnesota is playing well of late and I believe this is FINALLY the year the Gophers get the Axe back to Dinkytown.