1. Let's set the stage for a calm, amicable Q&A: how are Minnesota fans feeling about the Gophers' season to date, and their chances in Saturday's game?
Amicable Q&A? Crap, I didn't get the memo about that and I sent some non-amicable questions to Andrew. Or maybe you're drunk already. Are you drunk so you want to be nice, Mike?
Anyway, it's been a fun season. As a fan base, I think eight wins still feels like a bit of a shock to us after what we've come through the last several years, but it's been enjoyable. That Illinois loss, of course, stings like a mofo, but in the long run it looks like we'd be heading to Camp Randall still having to beat the Badgers to win the West Division anyway.
I can't speak for everyone, but for me, the Badgers still scare the hell out of me. It's a team that is solid in all phases and is really the blueprint for what Minnesota strives to be, and its a team that has clearly had our number for a decade.
2. OK, forget the first part of that question: how high is the hate meter right now?
Axe Week Explainers
UW clarifies Saturday's plans for the Axe
Wisconsin issued a clarification from head coach Gary Andersen in the wake of Monday's mini-controversy about the planned placement of Paul Bunyan's Axe during Saturday's rivalry game vs. Minnesota.
Axe Week Explainers
Oh man, OFF THE CHARTS. Every letter I type is like a white-hot missile of hate that I am sending through the cybertrons trying to destroy you.
3. This new Axe "policy" is pretty weird. It seems like both sides are blaming each other -- is the consensus among Gophers fans that this is all Badgers fans' fault?
Not at all. Not even a little bit. Nobody blames Badger fans. This is Gary Andersen's fault.
4. Back to the on-field stuff: What should Wisconsin fans know about Minnesota's offense?
There probably isn't much you don't already know about our offense. David Cobb gets the bulk of the load and Mitch Leidner is the most hot/cold college football player you've ever seen in your life.
Honestly, there's not a lot of mystery to this offense. The schemes are set up to run the ball and control the clock, not unlike the Badgers. If Cobb is out due to injury, that will hurt because he's the best back on the team, but the other RBs can still carry the wood. Leidner is probably the key. If we get the Mitch that played against Michigan and Iowa, then the offense is clicking and we should be able to hang. If Leidner has to throw more than 20 passes, then things aren't going well for us.
Somebody made a comparison between Leidner and Tim Tebow this week, and as much as I hate it, it's not THAT far off the mark. Leidner isn't a prolific thrower -- he's mostly known to be dangerous with his feet -- but he just somehow figures out how to make plays when he needs to (see: pass to KJ Maye vs. Nebraska). The Gophers are 14-6 in games Leidner has played over his career, which in terms of Gopher QBs, isn't a bad little run.
For the Gophers to win, they HAVE to hold onto the ball. The Gophers have never lost a game under Jerry Kill when they gave up zero turnovers.
5. And what about the defense?
In the last two weeks, this defense has forced a fumble in the end zone to stop an Ohio State drive to keep the Gophers in the game, and forced a fumble when Nebraska was about to score to take the lead to seal the victory for the Gophers. The Gophers are +1/game in turnover margin through 11 games, recovering 14 fumbles and intercepting 13 passes. Not unlike Leidner, as a whole, this defense has figured out ways to make big plays at big times.
6. Do you have a prediction?
Yes, I do. Thank you for asking.
I said last week heading into Lincoln that I thought the Gophers had come a long way, but I wasn't sure if they had come "Win in Lincoln" far quite yet, and I feel similar about this week. Wisconsin is one of the three best teams the Gophers will have played this year, and going into Camp Randall is no picnic. This is a different Gopher team than we've seen in the past, and I was wrong last week, but I'm just not sure they're ready to get over the hump of beating our most hated rival.
I think the Gophers cover the -13.5 points spread, but I'm not sure they have the juice to win. Badgers 28 - Gophers 17.