After last week's mess of a mess, the Wisconsin Badgers shamble up to Minnesota for the big Axe Week clash with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Can the Badgers keep the Axe and go into a super likely Holiday Bowl match-up, or does their future have a more cold weather locale to their bowl game? Honestly, as I write this sentence I'm not sure how it's going to go. Let's find out together, shall we?
Minnesota has found itself in more offensive balance this season, which is somewhat surprising considering the only receiving threat they had last season is now on the Baltimore Ravens -- but wide receiver KJ Maye has proven to be a reliable target for quarterback Mitch Leidner. Drew Wolitarsky has been a solid second wide receiver option, and Brandon Lingen hasn't completely replaced current Ravens tight end Maxx Williams but he's stepped in and been valid. Leidner has had some inconsistent performances throughout the year, but if he gets in rhythm they can find purchase through the air.
On the ground, the Gophers rely on two freshman to get carries. Redshirt freshman Rodney Smith has found himself in a time share with true freshman Shannon Brooks, who had 174 yards and three touchdowns last weekend to help the Gophers stay alive in their quest for another bowl game last week. Both will receive carries, but the Gophers have had troubles getting the running game going against the top rushing defenses in the Big Ten and the country. When guard John Christianson says the Badgers aren't anything special, player-wise? There's some bulletin board material for the front seven.
The Badgers running game seems to for the most part has fallen apart since redshirt junior center Dan Voltz was lost for the season. Sure, college football rushing statistics count quarterback sacks for some reason but the only time the Badgers have rushed for over three yards per carry since Voltz's initial injury was the Illinois game, where the Badgers have had Voltz for a little over a half, and Rutgers, which is Rutgers. The situation with junior running back Corey Clement is up in the air again, but even if he plays, there's little trust in the Badgers' offensive line even against an average defensive line right now.
In the last four games of a Badgers season, Joel Stave's completed about 55 percent of his passes and has a ratio of 10 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. Minnesota's pass defense isn't as opportunistic as Northwestern's is in terms of forcing a quarterback into a mistake, but stylistically they're in a sort of bend but don't break scenario when it comes to defensive play through the air, as they're tied for 68th in completion percentage allowed and yet 32nd in passing yards allowed and 20th in yards per attempt allowed.
The Badgers have enough receiving options that multiple recievers among the collective of Alex Erickson, Austin Traylor, Dare Ogbunwale, Jazz Peavy, and Troy Fumagalli can threaten to have good receiving days through the air. But the success of the Badgers offense is going to be dependent on the likely success of Stave -- and I can already hear you typing comments so I'm gonna watch some wrestling while you wait.
I'm gonna miss Los Ingobernables. Oh, you're done? Okay.
Saturday is going to be a real emotional day for the Golden Gophers. Former head coach Jerry Kill is going to be present as they have their first best chance to win the axe in more than a decade. Not only that, they can become eligible for a bowl game -- and honestly, they can beat this Badgers team. The Gophers don't have the defensive talent Northwestern does, but the Badgers offense has the fundamental flaws that mean this game isn't likely to be put on cruise control, and if their defense can generate some pressure, I may seriously consider putting up another wrestling video clear because it's likely that they can get some mistakes off of the Badgers offense.
These are two teams that seem pretty close, and the Badgers talent edge on paper could be mitigated by the Gophers getting the home game. Honestly, this is the Gophers best shot. I won't be surprised if it connects, and they actually have a highlight that doesn't involve watching another team lose.