I've found I can't escape the chaos of life by channeling it into SPORTS HAET.
Sports lets you down like every damn day. And I'll be honest, I like Minnesota. Can't help it. Some of my greatest moments were in that lake-proud state. So basically what I'm telling you is that if you're a Minnesota fan, you're going to get something close to a fair assessment of your chances here. Sure, it's the Badger blog and the decade of dominance is cool and all, but streaks are made to be broken. Are the Gophers gonna break some strides on Saturday?
If they are, they're going to need running back David Cobb healthy. As I type this up, his status for Saturday is up in the air. His hamstring is strained, and if the Gophers are going to pull the Axe, playing without Cobb is gonna make things a lot more difficult. He's not the "just give him the damn Heisman already" physical talent that Melvin Gordon is, but he's a determined runner with better-than-expected agility for a power back and he's as important to the Gophers as Gordon is to the Badgers. If he doesn't go, that puts a damper on things.
Recruiting: Saturday's visitors, UW's RB targets
It's not unreasonable to expect the Badgers will get further help this weekend, but it likely won't be for 2015.
If Berkley Edwards doesn't get cleared from his concussion, it looks like it would be Donnell Kirkwood getting the start. Kirkwood was the Gophers' starter in 2012 before Cobb got the opportunity. Kirkwood has a career 11 carries and 32 yards against the Badgers, and would likely have something similar in terms of yards per carry if he had to go. Not to say that Cobb threatens one hundred, let alone two hundred yards, because Wisconsin's rush defense seems healthy, and it's not like Minnesota's gonna throw the ball around.
Tight end Maxx Williams is a tremendous physical talent and perhaps the best pass-catcher in the game on either side. If Minnesota is to capitalize on what Iowa did against Wisconsin and attempt to turn it to its advantage, doing so would take something unseen. Quarterback Mitch Leidner is mobile, but his effectiveness throwing the ball is mostly based on the receiver's ability to come down with it; he has a 51.1 percent completion percentage and 15.05 yards per completion. And while I'm not going to try and give you that Wisconsin's passing game has a distinct advantage here, any time the Gophers are forced to throw the ball 20 times in a game, they've lost.
Truth be told, the effectiveness in their rush defense has been directly proportional to how well they keep the ball. Minnesota's tied for 53rd in terms of yards per game with 154.6, but on a per-play basis, the Gophers are tied for 76th with 4.42 yards. So long story short, Melvin Gordon's going to get another 30 carries on a defense that has holes in it.
Now the question is, will the Badgers get Corey Clement to assist? He left with a stinger in the second quarter of the Nebraska game and has been used sparingly since. It hasn't cost the Badgers much, because Melvin Gordon. But this offense is simply more efficient when it has a hammer that can give Gordon a blow.
The good news is that the Badgers' quarterbacks are showing signs of life. They were the single most first-guessed move the Badgers had all year. And let's be honest, the Badgers are still throwing like a flexbone team. But the completion percentage is up to 57.7. Sure, it's not great, but it's up to 71st in completion percentage, and while the Gophers have dialed up some good pressure in the past month (12 sacks), teams can pass on them. And as the Badgers have started to pass efficiently, they might be able to Trent Dilfer some cool game management in this aspect.
So yeah, on paper, the offense and defense are advantage, Badgers. But there are two things that can swing the game for Minnesota. They're up to 27 turnovers on the year and a plus-11 in turnover margin. The Badgers have had several games where they've lost three or more turnovers. Also, Minnesota has strong special teams play. Eric Murray is one of the four Big Tenners with multiple kick blocks. Peter Mortell leads the Big Ten in punting, and will likely flip the field once or twice. Jalen Myrick has a chance to break a return if the coverage isn't great.
That being said, the Badgers are justifiably favored, though being a 13-point favorite might be a bridge too far.
But sports always lets you down.