UW v. Minnesota, Five things to watch

BadgerNation.com's keys to Saturday's football game between the Badgers and Gophers

Heisman hopefuls: Between them, Brian Calhoun and Laurence Maroney have combined for 2,246 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns. Each player could go over 1,000 yards rushing today and is a treat to watch — unless you are a defensive coach or an opposing fan. Maroney and Calhoun are going to get their touches and their yards. Neither Wisconsin's nor Minnesota's defense is good enough to shut down the opposing featured back, but whichever team does a better job of containment will likely win Saturday.

Gopher momentum: Minnesota is riding about as high as it possibly could after its dramatic 23-20 win at Michigan, exercising two decades of demons against the Wolverines. And after that thrilling win there is no chance that the Gophers come out flat this week, not with Paul Bunyan's Axe on the line. The start of this game will be exceptionally key. If Minnesota scores early and has some success defensively, that momentum will go into overdrive. It will be up to the Badgers to answer, and to not let the game slip out of hand if the Gophers' emotion results in an early lead. On the flip side, if the Badgers can take away that momentum early, Minnesota will be challenged to keep its confidence for four quarters.

Defensive response: Minnesota responded to a dreadful performance against Penn State with its best defensive performance in recent memory last week at Michigan. The Gophers face a daunting challenge on that side of the ball this week. Meanwhile, Wisconsin was thrashed for 51 points and nearly 700 yards last week at Northwestern and will be trying to follow Minnesota's lead this week, reversing course with a strong performance. The Badgers' defense appeared to lose its confidence last week and play like it was lost in space. If Wisconsin has trouble reacting when the Gophers have success Saturday, it will be a very long day for the cardinal and white.

Dome advantage: The Metrodome has not been kind to Wisconsin lately. The Badgers lost their last two road games at Minnesota, the only times the Gophers have claimed Paul Bunyan's Axe in the past 10 seasons. With a sellout crowd for Saturday's game, the Dome will be very, very loud, and the Gophers will try to feed off that emotion. However, there tends to be a sizeable Badger fan population in the Metrodome as well, which could turn the noise in Wisconsin's favor if things go well for the Badgers.

Homeward bound: John Stocco is enjoying a strong junior season at Wisconsin and now has the opportunity to play before family and friends back in the Twin Cities. A native of Richfield, Minn., Stocco attended the Academy of Holy Angels as a high school standout. Last season, his first as a starter at Wisconsin, Stocco threw for 1,999 yards and nine touchdowns, while posting a 109.85 pass efficiency rating. This year, he has already thrown for 1,181 yards and 11 touchdowns, and boasts a 150.72 rating. Saturday, he will deal with the added enthusiasm of performing back home. Last season, Stocco played his best game of the year when the Gophers visited Madison, throwing for 297 yards and a touchdown and running for two scores in a 38-14 UW win.

"I'm excited," Stocco said. "Every game is big, but I think this one is a little bit more for me. I'm just excited to get out there and play again. I think sometimes you worry about getting too excited when you play a team from your home area, but going through it last year will help me. I can look at how I prepared for the game last time and what I did, and it's going to help me a lot this week."

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