In one of the most famous scenes from one of the most quotable movies of my lifetime (that movie came out right at the end of my time in high school and into college, and at that time I could recite the entire movie. Everybody my age that I knew- or at least anyone with an ounce of self-respect- knew all the good lines to that movie. I have no idea what that movie is for high school and college kids now, but Dumb and Dumber will always be that for me) Lloyd Christmas is told by Mary that the chances of "a guy like you and a girl like me ending up together" are about one-in-a-million. And for Lloyd, that's enough, because there's still a chance! As a Gopher fan, when I look at the game Saturday against Wisconsin, I'm feeling a bit like Lloyd today. And that's not to say Gopher fans are dumb like Lloyd, although that vile temptress Mary IS a red head and the Badgers wear red...anyway, forget that.
I don't think the Gophers have much of a chance to win Saturday, but I feel about a million times better about the game than I did three weeks ago when Minnesota was coming off of three straight embarrassing Big Ten losses by a combined score- and this is not a typo- of 144-31. After the Nebraska game I was pretty convinced Wisconsin could hang 100 points on the hapless Gophers, and the, um, word that rhymes with bassbowl, Bret Bielma, would gleefully be going for two when they're up 72-6 in the third quarter.
But after Minnesota's performance the past two weeks, I'm now excited for this game...
The defense still has it's share of issues but it's made some key stops and has improved against the pass despite still missing top corner Troy Stoudermire. Offensively is where the hope and excitement comes from, as the Gophers moved the ball pretty well in the second half against Nebraska, really well in the fourth quarter against Iowa, and all day long against a really good Michigan State defense. MarQueis Gray has looked much more like the quarterback we hoped he'd be, looking more confident with his reads and his throws, and buying time with his feet to make plays. He's still by far the best running threat the team has, yet he passed for 295 yards last week! Three weeks ago I wasn't sure he'd pass for 295 yards the rest of the season, yet he goes out and does that against the Big Ten's best pass defense.
As we said Monday, part of that is he found Da'Jon McKnight early and often, and Da'Jon reminded us all he's a future pro with 173 yards and three scores. There's not a DB in the Big Ten who can cover him one-on-one, and the Gophers better be looking to him early and often against the Badgers. The O-line, which has undergone some major reshuffling since the season began, is starting to come together and has been much better, especially in pass protection, the past two weeks. They still can't run the ball very well with their running backs, but as last week showed, they don't have to do that often, but just enough to keep the defense honest. Jerry Kill wants a run-oriented offense, but right now his best chance for success is through the air and through the legs of MarQueis Gray.
Another thing I've noticed from reading Bielma quotes in the Sconnie papers is that he respects Kill. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember him going out of his way to say good things about the Gopher program and the coach and how they're on their way to building a good program when Brewster was there. Was Bielma going for two up big last year more about him not liking or respecting Brewster instead of him being, well, a big bassbowl? I'm starting to wonder, because I do not think he would pull that crap against a Jerry Kill-coached Minnesota team.
So I'm excited and confident Minnesota will score some points Saturday against what's a pretty good Wisconsin defense. The Badgers are top 4 in the Big Ten in pretty much every major defensive category, so they're good, but then again so was Michigan State. Minnesota will score, but will it be enough to keep up with Wisconsin?
Not likely, as here's where things get scary, and where the chances of Minnesota winning go from 1-in-10 to 1 out of a hundred, or...more like one-in-a-million. Yes, Wisconsin lost two games and are no longer in the hunt for the national title, but their offensive numbers are still incredible. To no one's surprise, they're the top rushing offense in the conference and one of the best in the country in rushing yards (2218), rush yards per game (246.4), rush average (5.7), and rushing TD's (34!!). With Montee Ball and James White and all those huge linemen, we expect a Wisconsin team to be able to run the football and run it really well. But here's the catch- they're also the top passing offense in the Big Ten.
Yep, they lead the B1G in passing yards (2311), yards per game (256.8), average (10.6), TD's (22), and the ever-important passing efficiency (187.9). These numbers combined give Wisconsin the top offense in the conference, as despite the two losses they're averaging 47 points and 503.2 yards per game! While Minnesota's offense is improved and should be able to score some points on Bucky, our sort of improved, bend but don't break, hope for some missed field goals and force some turnovers defense are going to have a long afternoon against an absolute juggernaut of an offense.
I'm looking forward to a fun afternoon with plenty of scoring, I'm just hoping Minnesota can keep pace. Minnesota responded amazingly well in their first real rivalry game against Iowa, and here's hoping they'll do the same against a much better Wisconsin team and make it interesting. Not saying they're going to win, but I like their chances of keeping it close. Winning the game? 1-out-a-hundred? 1-in-a-million? So you're telling me there's a chance.