Five Keys to Victory - No.22 Minnesota

The winner gets Paul Bunyan's Axe and a trip to the Big Ten championship game, meaning there is a lot on the line for No.14 Wisconsin and No.22 Minnesota at Camp Randall Stadium this afternoon. BadgerNation gives its five keys to victory.

Last week BadgerNation put in a solid, if less-than-perfect, effort in predicting a 26-12 victory over Iowa. We noted that Michael Caputo and Marcus Trotter would be more likely to have good games against the Iowa running game, led by Mark Weisman, than Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert. Indeed Trotter and Caputo had 19 total tackles compared to seven combined for Biegel and Schobert. Additionally Caputo caused and recovered Iowa’s only turnover on the day.

As requested, the Badgers quarterbacks continued to play smart football and remained “inside” their game. In standard Iowa fashion, Kirk Ferentz played a very conservative game and hung around much longer than we predicted, mainly as Hawkeye QB Jake Rudock demonstrated exceptional accuracy.

On to a Minnesota, a team that is 123rd in the nation in passing yards per game and is 2-2 on the road, being outscored by seven points in those four games combined.

1, Mitch Leidner

Leidner (pictured above) is the type of QB that UW defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has had great success against this year. His passing game is limited (a poor indicator for Gopher fans: Minnesota’s passing offense is weaker than Wisconsin’s by just about every statistical measure) and he relies on his running game to diversify the Gopher offense. He has rushed 103 times for a respectable 408 net yards. This really isn’t the answer the Gophers are looking for.

As Rudock demonstrated last week, the Badgers can be vulnerable to a decent passing game if it is set up by the run (see below). As a sample of Leidner’s ability, consider his line against Middle Tennessee State: 5 for 11 with 67 yards and a QB rating of 56. In a perhaps more representative game against Ohio State, Leidner was 7 of 19 for 89 yards (36 on one play, no others beyond 10 yards), two costly interceptions for an overall passer rating of 23.9. If this is the QB performance the Gophers use against the Badgers the game will be over at halftime, as the Badger safeties and linebackers plant Leidner on his backside multiple times.

2, Depth at Tailback

All indications are that star tailback David Cobb (1,400 yards on 263 carries) will not play due to a hamstring. After Cobb and Leidner, the next leading Gopher rusher by carries is Chris Steveler, who is the backup QB. The next leading tailback is Berkely Edwards, with 30 rushing attempts on the year. Edwards is doubtful with a concussion. This leaves … (you probably get the idea, but for the sake of completion) … prospective starter Donnell Kirkwood, 26 carries for 87 yards on the season. Or one less than Melvin Gordon’s longest single run against Iowa. This combined with Leidner’s poor downfield passing ability and the Badgers’ ability to disrupt plays behind the line of scrimmage (see below) should make it a very long day for the Gophers.

3, Disruption

The top five leading Minnesota tacklers have 24 tackles for loss. The top five Badgers tacklers (Caputo/Trotter/Schobert/Landisch/Biegel) have 52.5. In other words, those expected to be first to make contact for UW also have shown an ability to cause disruption twice as often as their Gopher counterparts. Combined with the main emphasis of Minnesota’s offense, the forecast is gloomy for the Gophers.

4, UW blocking on the Edges

UW’s weakest effort against Iowa (by squad) came from the fullback, tight ends and wide receivers as they attempted to seal and finish blocks near the line of scrimmage. Expect some improvement this week. Minnesota’s leading defender is middle linebacker Damien Wilson (103 tackles, 10 TFL). This is the key matchup for UW on offense, as Derek Watt, Sam Arneson and Troy Fumagalli need to improve over their performance in Iowa City.

5, Patience When Needed

The last two weeks we phrased this as: “No stupid mistakes by the Badger QBs.” Minnesota (for a change) has an excellent punter (45-yard average with a strong ability to place the ball inside the 20). This means the Badgers will need to be patient at times and let drives develop. If the play isn’t there, Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy need to take the safest exit. UW clearly has every advantage and only a series of mental mistakes will keep Minnesota in this game.

Fearless Prediction: UW rolls, something like 35-10.

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