The Gophers biggest weapon, by far, is Eric Decker. If the Badgers can limit him like they did Blair White (1 catch, 8 yards) against Michigan State, the Badgers will have a good day. Since Decker likes to go over the middle, the safeties will be especially important on the coverage help. Chris Maragos has a chance to once again stand out for the Badgers.
The Badger defense has gotten away with giving up a few big plays and some big chunks of yards so far this season. Their secret? The ability to take away the football. Whether it be a Maragos interception or a O'Brien Schofield forced fumble, the defense has ball hawked there way to 12 forced turnovers. On the offensive side, Tolzien has been very efficient with the ball since throwing two picks against Northern Illinois. The running backs have had a few bumps in the road (see Wofford) but with Clay's new carrying technique, the ball should hit the turf less often. If the Badgers can win the turnover battle big, they could turn the game in to a laughter.
3, Minnesota offense: Now in 2-D?
The Gophers added a second dimension to their offense last week. Running back Duane Bennett hit pay dirt three times for Minnesota in their win against Northwestern. Don't be fooled though. The TD runs were for one, two and four yards, and Bennett didn't break 100 yards despite 21 carries. The 4.2 ypc is decent, but not enough to be proclaiming him an All-American quite yet. Oh, and Northwestern hasn't exactly been great on defense this year either. Dwayne Priest of Eastern Michigan racked up 127 yards on only 17 carries against them. The Badgers should keep an eye on Bennett, but I wouldn't expect them to load the box. This is still a pass first offense.
4, Make an early withdrawal from TCF
The Gopher fans are beyond pumped about this game. On top of that, they seem to really want to make TCF Stadium a feared venue. The best way to rain on their parade (in more of a figurative manner than the scattered showers expected in the forecast)? Score early and give them something to sulk about. Getting MSU into a hole early worked for the Badgers last week, and it would definitely help this week.
5, On the Ball
Montee Ball has had a rough couple of weeks. Between illnesses, family deaths and the usual bumps and bruises, he's had his share of distractions. Yet Bret Bielema says Ball will see the field for the first time this season, burning the freshman's redshirt in the process. Air Force ran for 261 yards and Cal running back Javhid Best ran for five touchdowns, including two from over 25 yards out. The Badgers could use the three-back thunder and lightning system to run all over the Gophers if Ball is up to full game speed.
The cold and rainy forecast definitely favors the running game. Advantage: Wisconsin. It does, however, make it harder to tackle the ball carrier. If the Badgers can manage to make sure tackles like they did against Wofford and Michigan State, the day should go pretty well for the red and white. If Decker has his way with a secondary that has had issues with open field tackling and giving up big plays, it could be a long day for Bielema's boys. It should be a close game full of emotions. Tolzien keeps his cool on the road, Wisconsin gives up a big play but plays generally good defense, and Wisconsin's running backs manage to frustrate Goldy.
Wisconsin 30, Minnesota 27.