Gophers-Badgers: Scouting the Matchups

The Badgers are the better team right now, but the Gophers at least have the hope that crazy things tend to happen when these two teams meet in the Metrodome.

Wisconsin at Minnesota, Nov. 17 — This will be the 117th meeting between the teams, which makes it the longest-standing rivalry in Division I. The teams are at opposite ends of the spectrum right now, but their clashes are always emotional and usually entertaining. The Badgers have won three consecutive meetings and 10 of the past 12.

The rest of the country sees an 8-3 team and a 1-10 team and expects a blowout. Those who know anything about this border war are expecting to witness a crazy battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe. There's something about getting the Badgers and Gophers indoors at the Metrodome that turns this into a cage match. Oh, there's also the fact that the Badgers can help themselves to a higher bowl bid with a win.


SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The offense's struggles have been largely overlooked because the defense has been so bad, but the Gophers have problems on that side, too. Minnesota ranks ninth in the Big Ten in total offense in conference games. Their running game has suffered a dramatic decline in particular. The Gophers are averaging 140 rushing yards in Big Ten games, which has put added pressure on freshman quarterback Adam Weber.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Gophers bottled up Iowa in the second half last week, allowing only 68 total yards and four first downs. Wisconsin, however, will be a much more difficult test. The Gophers could catch a break if tailback P.J. Hill does not play because of injury. Minnesota has to be aware of tight end Travis Beckum, who averages 79.2 receiving yards per game.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: TE Jack Simmons — His right foot still hurts because of a broken bone, but he is coming off his best game of the season. He caught four passes for 60 yards against Iowa and gives the offense a different dimension when he's used in the passing game.

P Justin Kucek — He should get all-Big Ten consideration, but everyone still remembers his dropped snap that led to a blocked punt and touchdown in Wisconsin's miracle comeback in 2005.

RB Duane Bennett — Freshman has averaged only 42 yards rushing the past two games. The offense needs more production from Bennett to avoid becoming too one-dimensional.

ROSTER REPORT: WR Eric Decker is having knee problems and is limited in what he can do. Decker, however, refuses to rest his body.

Senior linebacker John Shevlin started versus Iowa but played just one series in the second half before being replaced by Kevin Mannion. Mannion is listed as the starter at weak-side this week.

Fullback Justin Valentine will continue to get more work at tailback Nov. 17 because of the injury situation. Valentine has a one-yard touchdown run.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "To me, it's all in good spirit. I think that's what this game is all about with Minnesota and Wisconsin: In good spirit and good sportsmanship, we're going to compete like crazy. We're going to fight like hell for Paul Bunyan's Axe." — Minnesota coach Tim Brewster on the border battle.


SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Despite having to rely on true freshman Zach Brown as the starting tailback, not to mention a somewhat makeshift line, Wisconsin's offense thrived throughout last week's win over Michigan. That could lead to a monstrous afternoon against Minnesota, which ranks last in the nation in total defense. On the other hand, here's an intriguing trend: Wisconsin averaged 37.9 points at Camp Randall Stadium, but averaged only 17.5 points in its first four road games.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: They've been injury-plagued all year long, but the Badgers are learning how to bend without breaking. Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy and cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu are playing at an all-Big Ten level every week while others are starting to hit that peak. Safety Shane Carter shares the Big Ten lead with six picks, including two last week.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: TB P.J. Hill — After playing in only two of the last 11 quarters, this bruising sophomore is going to ready to make up for lost time. Hill has 2,649 yards and 29 touchdowns in his two-year career. If he weren't at Ron Dayne University, he could have been on his way to some school records.

DE Matt Shaughnessy — He earned co-Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors after earning 1 1/2 sacks and another tackle for loss as part of his big afternoon against Michigan. He could be in line for all-Big Ten honors when the teams are announced next week.

TE Travis Beckum — A wide receiver in somewhat of a tight end's body, Beckum owns 68 catches (tied for second in the Big Ten) for 871 yards and five scores. He should be considered a serious candidate for the Mackey Award that goes to the nation's top tight end.

ROSTER REPORT: Quarterback Tyler Donovan is questionable for Minnesota after getting drilled in his throwing hand in the Michigan game. If he can't go, then junior Allen Evridge, who battled for the job in the fall, would be the guy.

TB P.J. Hill (foot) should be good to go after a full week of practice. Hill received five carries last week after basically sitting out two weeks' worth of drills.

RT Eric Vanden Heuvel (lower leg) should be cleared to play after sitting out the Michigan game.

Wisconsin has lost three starters for the year. WR Luke Swan (hamstring) has been gone since Week Six against Illinois, while CB Allen Langford and DT Jason Chapman are done of the year after injuring their knees at Ohio State.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "When I was at the University of Iowa as a player and a coach, all the coaches would talk about it being a crazy game [at the Metrodome] and the things that have gone on there in past history. [This] game doesn't have to make [the list], doesn't need to be crazy if we control and do the things that we want to do." — Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema.

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