Wisconsin needs its offense to come around in the regular season finale at Minnesota

Badger Nation's Front Seven ranks the top seven players based on performance, expectations and need for this week's game against Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium.

Northwestern was able to ruin Wisconsin’s senior day, and the Badgers will get the chance to do the same against Minnesota, not to mention likely knock Minnesota out of a postseason bowl game. Just like against Northwestern, Wisconsin can expect to be in another dogfight in the twin cities. The question is how quickly the Wisconsin players can move on from the gut-wrenching loss to Northwestern, as the Badgers can’t afford another slow start against a Minnesota team that will be ready to play.

The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week, and need. Here are our seven players most important in helping the Badgers to a victory over Minnesota.

Last Week’s Rankings in Parentheses

1, Joe Schobert OLB (2): Reaching double-digit tackles for the first time since the season opener, Schobert consistently found ways of making plays with his 13 stops and three tackles for loss. Schobert will need to be a playmaker for the Badgers, especially if the offense continues to struggle moving the football down the field. Minnesota has done a good job of protection quarterback Mitch Leidner, allowing only 16 sacks this season, but the Schobert has been able to consistently pressure quarterbacks throughout the season (14 QBHs). The one area where Schobert could find success is helping slow down the Gophers’ rushing offense (151.1 yards), as Minnesota has allowed 53 tackles for loss this season. Schobert has consistently shown the ability to make plays, and Wisconsin’s defensive line did a great job creating the opportunities for the linebackers to make plays against Northwestern’s offense. Schobert will need the line to deliver a similar performance in knock Leidner off course.

2, Joel Stave QB (1): Plain and simple, Stave needs to be better and get the offense off to a fast start, as Wisconsin is averaging only 5.5 points in the first quarter. The spark for the offense will likely come in the passing game, as the Gophers are allowing 191.8 yards on the season and 209.2 in conference play. If Stave wants to find success against the Gophers’ banged-up secondary, he’ll need to be able to examine all of his options down the field to avoid throwing a costly interception. There are times Stave doesn’t look off his intended target, making it easy for the defense to see where he wants to throw the football. If Stave continues to struggle with ball security, the Gophers’ offense could be put in prime scoring situations.

3, Tyler Marz LT (6): Marz was consistently beaten off the line and was called for a holding penalty in a poor performance. That can also be said for the rest of Wisconsin’s offensive line, which has played below average in consecutive games and given up nine sacks in said games. Prior to that Stave was only sacked 15 times. Clearly something has to change to give Stave the time needed to make throws down the field, or it will continue to be difficult for the offense to develop a rhythm. Playing against an emotional Minnesota team, Marz, being the only senior on such a young offensive line, needs to set the tone. Minnesota has registered 20 sacks this season, a respectable number that could go up if Marz and the unit don’t get their act together.

4, Vince Biegel OLB (7): Biegel did everything he could to make sure Northwestern struggled on offense with a season-high 14 tackle, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack. The Gophers rank 10th in total offense (364.5 yards), so the junior will need to provide the same kind of pressure off the edge like he did against Northwestern that helped limit the big plays. If Biegel can continue to keep contain of the outside edges, Minnesota’s offense will be force to run between the tackles, playing right into the strength of UW’s defense. If Biegel and Schobert can find a way to put together similar performances for the second straight week, Minnesota’s offense will sputter, giving UW’s offense a chance.

5, Michael Caputo S (5): If the outside linebackers can throw some pressure at Leidner, Caputo will have a chance to make a tackle, make a pass breakup or, better yet, create a turnover. Wisconsin missed opportunities to generate turnovers against Northwestern, which likely could have changed the game, so the Badgers will have to do better against Leidner, who has thrown only seven on the season and might not give UW many chances. Leidner likely won’t look to take any deep shots, as he averages 11.1 yards a pass, but is a threat to tuck the ball and run. If Caputo plays close to the line at times as an extra linebacker, being effective mixing up his pressures and pass drops could make the difference in a three-and-out or a sustained drive.

6, Alex Erickson WR (3): Northwestern was able to contain Erickson to the tune of just three catches for 27 yards and no scores. Despite being targeted nine times in the passing game, Erickson did not register a catch in the second half. Stave will continue to look for Erickson against Minnesota and will likely target him early in the game against a secondary giving up 10.4 yards per catch. Third down will also be a critical down for Wisconsin, as the Gophers defense give up roughly 10 first downs a game via the pass. Moreover, other receivers will need to step up and produce to take some pressure – and defensive coverage – off Erickson to open up the passing game. A consistent rhythm in the passing game is needed for UW, which continues to struggle on the ground.

7, Chikwe Obasih DE (NR): Having one of his better games of the season, Obasih created lanes for Wisconsin’s linebackers while making plays of his own, finishing the game with a career-high seven tackles. Obasih will need to be able to find a way to carry that performance over against a Minnesota team looking to establish the ground game. Minnesota averages 151.1 rushing yards and are led by Shannon Brooks, who averages 6.4 yards a carry. Obasih is going to have to make sure that he doesn’t let Brooks get to the outside and make sure he consistently runs up the middle, as Conor Sheehy has done well of clogging up the middle of the line to let the inside linebackers come in to clean up the mess.

Others to Note

Jack Cichy MLB: Cichy continues to play well since being moved from outside to inside and inserted into the starting lineup, especially against the run. If Cichy can continue to help provide pressure in the backfield, that will be considered a bonus.

Corey Clement RB: Still not at 100 percent, Clement and the offensive line will need to be better to help the offense move down the field. Clement at times has shown the patience to let holes open up for him but has also been able to create runs when the lanes haven’t been there. He will need to be ready for a physical game and needs to find a way to consistently pick up the tough yards to get Wisconsin in favorable situations.

Jazz Peavy WR: With Northwestern focused on stopping Erickson, Peavy was able to set career highs in receptions (five) and yards (88). Peavy will need to carry over that performance. Consistency is still an issue, as there have been four games this season he’s been held without a catch.

Conor Sheehy NT: Sheehy posted a career-high five tackles against Northwestern as was one of the main reasons why the Wildcats averaged only three yards per carry on 50 attempts. Minnesota will rely on the run at times, so Sheehy will need to help open up the lanes to allow Wisconsin’s linebackers to be in prime position to make plays.

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