Ahead of Saturday’s rivalry game between the Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-4) and the Wisconsin Badgers (6-5), we were able to connect with Tyler Hunt, manager of Bucky’s 5th Quarter, and he was kind enough to field our questions.
The Daily Gopher: It seems like a matter of when, not if Jim Leonhard has the interim tag removed as head coach. When athletic director Chris McIntosh spoke about the decision to fire former head coach Paul Chryst, he talked about how the expectation at Wisconsin is to win championships. What has Leonhard demonstrated over these last seven weeks to indicate he is (or could be) a championship-caliber coach?
Tyler Hunt: I think that Leonhard has really shown a fire that Paul Chryst never seemed to show at Wisconsin. Certainly, too much emotion and bravado can rub fans the wrong way but I think Leonhard has given the perfect amount. It’s clear he cares and this is the job he wants. I also think he’s very open about what is going on at Wisconsin and what needs to be done. Chryst never had that, he’d hardly say a word when speaking to the media. There are certainly different ways to coach and Paul Chryst had a ton of success but I do think in this new era of college football you need someone who is passionate and invested in a lot of different areas and Leonhard has shown to be that guy. It’s his job, and frankly I think Wisconsin is only hurting itself by waiting around as they’ve had multiple commitments while things sit in limbo.
TDG: What has been the story of Graham Mertz’s season? His season stats aren’t terrible: 79-of-133 for 1,183 passing yards with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. But he has really struggled at times, especially in the month of November.
TH: That’s the Graham Mertz Experience, baby! I don’t even know what to say about him at this point. Sometimes he makes throws that not many can make and sometimes he looks like he’s never played the game before. Early in the season he was throwing the ball really well and was the best part of the offense but the last few weeks hes reallllyyyyyy struggled to hit throws consistently. What you are getting from him, year in and year out, is very hard to predict.
TDG: The Badgers distribute carries among three different running backs: Braelon Allen, Chez Mellusi, and Isaac Guerendo. What skillset does each running back bring to the Wisconsin offense, and how do you expect the Badgers to utilize each of them on Saturday?
TH: Braelon Allen is a very good speed and power back. He’s got great size but also has very good speed that makes him a bit of an all around back. Mellusi, when healthy, is more of a speed back that can also be used in the passing game some. Gurenendo is a pure speed back, and one of the faster players on the team, but he’s also got good size to break tackles. Overall, all three are not superrrr different but different enough which is what I think makes them special. The problem is all three have not been healthy at the same times much of the season. Mellusi just returned last week, and Allen has been a bit banged up the last few weeks. Last week, all three were in there and it made a very big difference.
TDG: The Wisconsin defense has looked more like your typical Wisconsin defense in the month of November, after enduring some ups and downs through the first half of the season. What has been the key to the turnaround?
TH: I think there were a few different things. Early in the season this defense had a lot of new faces and a lot to try and replace and I think it was somewhat unfair of us Badger fans to not expect growing pains. After the early season struggles came the Chryst firing which maybe set some things back a little bit too. However, now that things have settled and this unit has gotten reps, they’ve been really quite special, especially in recent weeks. It’s good to see them settling in and the nice part is most of this group will be back next year to hopefully build on this late season progress.
TDG: How well does this Badgers defense match up against a Minnesota offense that is going to run the ball early and often?
TH: I think Wisconsin matches up pretty well. After struggling early Wisconsin has turned into the 11th best defense in the country against the run. It’s been pretty impressive. This will be their best test since Chase Brown, but I think Wisconsin will have the right gameplan in place. Unfortunately for them, they will be a little shorthanded as Nick Herbig will miss the first half with a terrible targeting call ruling from last week. If the Badgers can hold their own early, I think both run games will be kept in check and it will come down to which quarterback makes more plays.
TDG: What is your score prediction for the game?
TH: I think this one is going to be low scoring,,, and ugly to some. I think both defenses will have success and I think both run games will get slowed up a bit. This game is going to come down to whichever quarterback can keep drives alive and honestly I have no idea which one will be able to. I’ll say the Badgers win 16-13 in a low-scoring field goal battle.