Although Wisconsin was able to put together a complete game against the Hoosiers, they will need a similar performance in order to protect the axe this coming week. The Gophers have been one of the surprise teams in the Big Ten and are on a four-game winning streak.
The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week and need. It was not easy determining who would be important in helping the Badgers to a victory on Saturday.
Last Week's Rankings in Parentheses
1, James White RB (3): White started the game off with a bang against Indiana with his 93-yard touchdown on the Badgers' first offensive play. Per usual, White will be important in helping the Badgers get their run game started. The Gophers have a better run defense than Indiana (then again, who doesn't?) only allowing 147 yards a game on the ground. White will have to work for his yards up the middle, may have to bounce some runs to the outside and avoid the long reach of defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman. If White can find success on the ground it should help open up the passing game.
2, Joel Stave QB (1): With the running game being so effective, there was no need for Stave to throw the football a ton against the Hoosiers. If the Gophers find success slowing down the Badgers' running game, Stave is going to have to be able to make some throws. Stave has been doing a good job as of late distributing the football around and not just focusing on targeting Jared Abbrederis. The Gophers are only allowing 233.8 yards a game and have only surrendered 14 touchdowns. If the offensive line can protect Stave and keep him upright, it should allow Stave to get into a rhythm offensively.
3, Chris Borland ILB (2): Borland is going to have to supply pressure on the Gophers quarterback if it's Phillip Nelson or Mitch Leidner. Nelson will most likely see the bulk of the snaps at quarterback but both have the ability to scramble (Lieder and Nelson are second and third on the team in rushing, respectively). If Borland can keep contain and consistently supply pressure, Borland will make it a tough day for Nelson.
4, Sojourn Shelton CB (NR): Shelton hasn't seem to have hit the freshman wall; recording his fourth interception on the year while also breaking up a pass. Shelton will expected to draw the assignment of covering Derrick Engel, who leads the Gophers with 25 catches for 401 yards and five touchdowns, but the senior could miss the game with a knee injury. It might not matter as Shelton and the rest of the corners have shut down BYU and Indiana's leading receivers. Shelton has done a good job of improving each week.
5, Melvin Gordon RB (7): After failing to rush for over 100 yards in the last two games, Gordon broke through by rushing for 146 yards and a score. Even though the Gophers have a strong run defense, Minnesota did give up 165 yards on 19 carries - an average of 8.7 yards per carry - to Nebraska Ameer Abdullah. Gordon has started to show good patience and has been able to find the holes, even if he hasn't been able to consistently bust big plays.
6, Jared Abbrederis WR (4): Despite not catching a pass against Indiana, Abbrederis was still effective rushing for two touchdowns on three carries. It will be surprising if Abbrederis doesn't catch a pass this coming week against the Gophers. Abbrederis should be able to consistently win his matchups against the Gophers and if Stave is in a rhythm look for Abbrederis to get involved early.
7, Michael Caputo S (NR): Caputo is second on the team in tackles with 58 and also has three tackles for loss on the season. Simply put, while Caputo is out on the field, he manages to make plays for the Badgers and doesn't allow anyone to get past him. Caputo will be able to help the Badgers secondary and should provide a solid second option in helping slow down the Gopher run game.
Others to Note
FB Derek Watt: Watt has been impressive all season and was one of the key reasons why the Badgers rushed for 554 yards against the Hoosiers. Watt just over powers his man and consistently wins his battles in the run game. With Wisconsin wanting to run the football Watt will need to help open up holes for White and Gordon.
NT Beau Allen: Allen will need to win his battle in the trenches to allow the linebackers to make plays in the backfield and not allow any big plays by the Gophers. Allen has done a good job of taking on his blockers this year to allow his teammates make plays, not to mention having been able to make plays himself in the backfield. If he can accomplish both for the Badgers the defense should find success.
LG Ryan Groy: Groy will be matched up against Hageman and he'll have to be able to generate a good push to allow the tailbacks to gain positive yards. Not only will Groy have to play well in the run game but help keep Stave upright and allowing him to get into a rhythm in the passing game.
TE Jacob Pedersen: With the passing game lacking, Pedersen still managed to haul in three catches for 92 yards. Pedersen gave Stave a good target despite the poor weather. Even though he only had three catches, Pedersen also was key in establishing blocks in the run game. Pedersen will need to provide another option for Stave and he should find success against the Gophers secondary.