Previewing the Border Battle - Minnesota @ Wisconsin

Ethan Miller

Tomorrow the most played rivalry in all of college football adds a 122nd chapter to the history of the Border Battle and the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe.

122 years, 2 trophies, mountains of hate, and a crazy amount of history. And yet...as much HATE as we feel towards Wisconsin it's clear that the recent stretch of Gopher losses has stolen a little energy from this game. With luck, the Gophers will bring that back along with the Axe this weekend.

When and Where:

11am, Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI

Media

TV: ESPNU

Radio: KFAN and the Gopher Radio Network (100.3 FM in the Twin Cities). You can also listen to the game via the IHeartRadio app for your mobile device.

Weather Forecast:

Overall look at the day...

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The weather for tailgating...

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And here's how the hourly look for kickoff and beyond...

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All in all, not a bad fall Saturday. I'm certainly looking forward to the tailgate!

Last Season:

The Badgers were the inaugural winners of the Leaders East Division and beat MSU in the B1G Title Game thanks to the Spartan punt block team being stupid. B1G title in hand, the Badgers went to and lost their 2nd consecutive Rose Bowl. I seem to recall there being issues with timeouts being used poorly. But I'm probably making that up. The Badgers finished the season 11-3 (6-2).

So, pretty good year right? Not when Badger fans had to trade in their hopes for this...

Bcs-trophy_medium

via cdn.cosbysweaters.com

...for a taste of this...


...and this...


I'm sure you feel bad for them now.

2012 Schedule:

The Badgers had a very rough start. After sneaking by Northern Illinois Northern Iowa, they looked very un-Wisconsiny in their loss to Oregon State. After a rough game against Utah State that should have been loss number 2, the Badgers have slowly started to put the pieces together, especially on offense. That culminated in an offensive explosion in their 38-14 beatdown of Purdue last weekend.

General Notes:

The last time MN won @ Camp Randall was 1994.

The Badgers have won 8 straight (curse you failed punt).

I said "Wisconsin" very early in this preview and yet still had more to say. False advertising there UW.

Coaches:

Head Coach: Brett, er...Bert Bielema. Wait, that's not right. Turkey Neck Frat Bro? Yea, Turkey Neck Frat Bro. TNFB is in his 7th year as HC of the Badgers and is 65-21 (35-16) in that time.

Bret-bielema_medium

via www.midwestsportsfans.com

Offensive Coordinator: Matt Canada (1st season). The replacement for beloved OC Paul Chryst has had a so-so start to the year. But as the running game has improved, so have the feelings towards him in Madtown.

Defensive Coordinator: Dave Doreen (5th season). I started to look for info on this guy and then realized HATE HATE HATE DON'T CARE.

The Offense:

Early in the season you didn't know what you'd get. They might as well have called plays this way:

Spinning-wheel_medium

via communitycashrewards.com

But as I noted earlier, things are trending up for the run game which means we should expect to see a lot of Mon-taaaaaaaay Ball.

Montee_ball_wisconsin_v_nebraska_ihm9vvosawkl_medium

via www2.pictures.zimbio.com

The passing game has not been stellar, as free-agent acquisition Danny O'Brien has been replaced by RS frosh Joel Stave. But like the run game, it has gotten better as the season has gone on (addition by subtraction on DOB I think).

The Defense:

Wisconsin has been pretty good up front, ranking 30th in rushing defense (3rd in B1G). They're not horrid against the pass either, ranking 34th nationally (6th in B1G) in Passing D and 37th (3rd in B1G) in Pass Efficiency.

Special Teams:

Punt coverage and distance are both in the Top 20 nationally. Kick coverage is 39th. Punt return is middling and kick return is 88th.

Notable Injuries:

The Wisconsin offensive line looks a little banged up, but I'm not seeing anything that makes me question their ability to run. We all know the walking wounded issue we face on the Minnesota side of things.

Key Questions:

- Can Minnesota stop slow the Wisconsin run game?

If the Gophers want to have a shot in this one they must not allow themselves to be gashed so easily up the middle. Execution and tackling have to be solid and big plays must be limited. In the end I don't think a "bend but don't break" scenario will win the game, as I'd expect the D to be tired from defending longer drives. If the D can hold the YPC down and/or capitalize on penalties to force WI into 3rd and longer then I think our pass D can get it done.

- Will the Gopher offense show up?

Wisconsin is a good but not great defensive team. If the Gophers from the Western Michigan and Syracuse games show up on offense then we might have a shot. Even then, Max Shortell will still need to limit his mistakes and overthrows (both of which were noticeable in the 2nd half of both WMU and 'Cuse). He CAN NOT play like the IA or NU games or we lose, plain and simple.

- Who wins the turnover battle?

If Minnesota turns the ball over even once I don't think they win this game. They need to be flawless on TO's, and I think this includes the drive lengthening snap issues where we recover but have wasted a down and lost yards. I also think that the D will need to force at least momentum changing TO for the Gophers to win. Montee doesn't fumble much (seriously, practically never) so this would likely have to come in the passing game or off of a different RB.

- Will MarQueis Gray play/make a difference?

We could say this for any week that he is battling injury, but a healthy MarQueis Gray changes the outlook for the game tremendously. But that's not what we have. Hobbled though he may be, I think the Gophers will need him to step up in whatever capacity he can in order to win this game. If our WR's weren't dropping balls then I might not think that, but he clearly provides a spark whenever he is on the field right now and that's something our offense will need.

Completely Worthless Prediction:

Wisconsin has started to do what I feared they would, get comfortable on offense and start playing typical Badger football. While it may have been a panic move, firing their O-Line coach is prob going to be one of the things that helped salvage this season. If the O-Line were still playing in a new technique and blocking scheme I doubt they start having the success on the ground that UW has seen recently. That's a long lead up to me saying that I don't see the Gophers winning this one. Our deficiencies in run D won't change overnight. I'm hopeful that the Gophers will keep it close to give themselves a chance to win off of a TO or WI mistake, but in the end I think the Badgers pull away in the 4th and the Axe stays in Madison. Wisconsin 37, Minnesota 17.

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