In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we decided to break bread with our
friends acquaintances over at Bucky’s 5th Quarter. Drew Hamm was kind enough to field our thoughtful and challenging questions ahead of the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ showdown with the Wisconsin Badgers.
Please clap for Drew.
The Daily Gopher: When last we spoke, you were experiencing some memory problems. Were you ever able to recover the memories from last year’s Axe game?
Drew Hamm: Hmm, no, none of that rings a bell. What I do remember, however, is the brilliant prediction by the handsome genius in that linked post about Wisconsin experiencing a letdown against Illinois this year. Imagine losing to the Illini in football... ::shudders, puts on third sweatshirt for comfort::
TDG: Sure, Jonathan Taylor has set a bunch of records, but all the rushing yards in the world won’t fill that Heisman-sized hole in his heart. Why do you think he has been largely excluded from the Heisman conversation the last three years, despite being quite possibly the best running back in the country?
DH: Man, it’s a real bummer that Taylor will never win the Heisman Trophy. In recent years, the award has become more of a “best QB on the best team” sort of deal and that automatically disqualifies Taylor, what with him being a running back and also never playing for one of the best teams in the country. I think he would have gotten some more love had he played for Ohio State or Alabama or been a transfer to Oklahoma but still wouldn’t have won. I also think the national perception of Wisconsin being a “RB system school” hurts him. Any quarterback that played for Mike Leach was never going to get any Heisman votes regardless of how many thousands of yards he threw for because he’s a “system QB.” The same thing probably happened to Taylor. “Oh, my grandmother could run for 1,500 yards at Wisconsin.” NO SHE COULDN’T, SKIP BAYLESS!
TDG: Quarterback Jack Coan seems like an improvement over Alex Hornibrook. But let’s be real, he’s no Joel Stave. How often should we expect the Badgers to utilize the forward pass on Saturday, and how much of a difference-maker can Coan be in the passing game?
DH: You’ve really hit the Wisconsin Quarterback Trifecta with this question. I am, by law, bound to send you a six-pack of any New Glarus beer that you choose. No Spotted Cow though, that beer sucks. Anyways, now that those legal matters are out of the way... yes, Coan IS an improvement over Hornibrook. The one major, glaring, neon sign pointing right at it area that Coan is better than Hornibrook at is... ball security.
Last year against Minnesota, Hornibrook turned the ball over a mind-bending four times. FOUR TIMES! Now, I don’t think the Badgers were going to beat the Gophers even if Hornibrook doesn’t turn the ball over at all, but the game would have been markedly more competitive and, well, maybe the Badgers win if Hornibrook doesn’t throw a pick deep in Gophers territory only down 3-0 and instead that turns into a Badgers touchdown and Minnesota starts thinking “here we go again”... but, that’s not what you were asking about.
Coan can be a difference-maker in the passing game if the playbook is opened up a bit more. Wisconsin has some really good wide receivers, not Minnesota good of course (looks around for someone at TDG to high five), that have been underutilized for most of this year. Quintez Cephus is good and can get deep. A.J. Taylor is a good slot guy. Tight end Jake Ferguson needs the ball over the middle more. If Paul Chryst has been saving anything in his back pocket... now is the time to pull it out and use it.
TDG: The Badgers’ offensive line did not grace the cover of Sports Illustrated this season, but seem to have performed better as a unit this year. Go figure. Are they back to being your standard stout Wisconsin offensive line, or are there vulnerabilities that the Gophers’ defensive front can exploit?
DH: Starting left tackle Cole Van Lanen is questionable with a head injury (concussion, presumably) and didn’t play against Purdue last week. We’ll know more about his status as the week goes on, but the backup is Tyler Beach, a 6-foot-6 and 300 plus pound stereotypical Wisconsin offensive lineman. You shouldn’t see too much of a dropoff there if Beach has to play again, but we in Madison would all prefer if Van Lanen were in there. IMO, the Badgers offensive line should only ever be featured in the SI Swimsuit issue going forward. #ThiccBoiz (Editor’s Note: ::shudders::)
TDG: Wisconsin’s defense allowed an average of 4.8 points per game through their first six games. Since then, they’ve allowed 25.8 points per game in their last five. What gives? Did the loss to Illinois somehow scramble their defense systems?
DH: After that game, the Badgers played Ohio State. They scored a lot of points. Then they played Iowa, Nebraska, and Purdue who all scored between 21 and 24 points. The games against Nebraska and Purdue were particularly maddening because they involved myriad turnovers and innumerable missed tackles. It was a master class in “what not to do” on defense. To [defensive coordinator] Jim Leonhard’s credit, the Badgers played stoutly against Purdue in the second half and hopefully figured out what the hell was wrong with the defense. I will say that the first six games of the season were maybe skewed by the four shutouts the Badgers had against mid-majors USF, Central Michigan, Michigan State, and Kent State.
TDG: I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Minnesota is pretty good at passing the ball. Are the Badgers pretty good at stopping teams from passing the ball?
DH: Minnesota IS pretty good at passing the ball! I have heard! The Badgers, statistically, are pretty good at stopping teams from passing the ball. They are No. 2 in the country in opponents’ completion percentage (49.2%), No. 3 in opponents’ QB rating (104.6) and No. 6 in passing yards allowed (169.9 yards/game). Those seem like elite stats, and they are, but there are some qualifications needed when talking about Wisconsin’s pass defense.
First of all, a team that passes comparably to Minnesota is Ohio State. The Buckeyes absolutely stomped the Badgers earlier this year. Second of all, the Badgers have always (literally for all of history) been suspect to big passing plays and the Gophers sling it deep with the best of ‘em. Third of all, Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson are both 6-foot-2. The Badgers have one corner that tall, Deron Harrell, but he doesn’t play a whole lot (he’s the fourth CB on the depth chart) and I’m just envisioning multiple scenarios on Saturday where I scream at the TV, “JUST BE TALLER!”
So, I guess my point is: the Gophers should have success passing the ball on Saturday, but maybe they won’t be AS successful as they usually are.
TDG: Give me your prediction for the game, and don’t feel obligated to pick Wisconsin. This is a safe space.
DH: When the game against Purdue ended, I said, “I don’t think the Badgers have the horses to run with the Gophers” next weekend. As this week has worn on, I’ve started to waver on my “Minnesota is going to win” claim. I... don’t know who is going to win this game. SUCH A COP OUT, I KNOW! Vegas thinks the Badgers will win, ESPN’s FPI thinks the Badgers will win, SP+ thinks the Badgers will win... but doesn’t common sense seem to say the Gophers should win? It’s at home, it’s a big rivalry game that they finally won last year for the first time in forever, GameDay is going to be there, the Rose Bowl is on the line, the division title is on the line, it all points to the home team riding emotion to a victory. I don’t know, I just don’t know.
Ok, fine! Let’s say Wisconsin wins 31-30 but know that I HAVE NEVER BEEN MORE UNSURE OF ANYTHING IN MY LIFE!