The Good: So, lots of positives from the win on Saturday. Give us the most important.
Ryan Mellenthin: For only the third time this season, Alex Hornibrook went without an interception. Hornibrook finished 15-of-19 for 151 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, Wisconsin limited the Gophers, whose boat ran ashore to 133 total yards and only 40 passing yards.
Owen Riese: I think a huge part of Hornibrook’s success was his offensive line keeping him clean. Minnesota didn’t have much for a pass rush, and other than the stutter-go to Kendric Lamar Jackson Five Pryor, Hornibrook was able to cleanly deliver the football.
Neal Olson: Full disclosure: I was irrationally worried about this game. Strange things happen in rivalry games and college football is nothing if not chaotic, as Miami and Alabama so generously demonstrated. Thankfully Hornibrook played his best game of the season. His first zero-interception game since BYU eliminated any chance of fluky turnovers spelling the upset. Not only did he protect the ball, but Hornibrook delivered several well-placed throws in traffic and looked capable of burning defenses that want to stack the box against the run.
Bob Wiedenhoeft: Minnesota tried early to aggressively run blitz, showing eight in the box and mixing it up with some safety blitzes. However, Hornibrook punished this strategy through an air attack and his myriad of reliable receiving threats. Minnesota was overmatched in every aspect heading into the game, and Wisconsin proved it in every aspect of the box score. Hornibrook’s confidence has to be strong, while not overly strong, heading into next week against that team to the southeast.
The Bad: What’s to note from Saturday’s big win?
Ryan: Jonathan Taylor fumbled once again. Apart from that, we could really do no wrong.
Owen: Like Ryan says, Taylor’s propensity to put the ball on the ground is pretty concerning. This week’s fumble is less concerning than previous ones, but nonetheless, turnovers can’t happen against Ohio State.
Neal: Somehow, someway, the Badgers continue to get banged up nearly every game, losing Bradrick Shaw and Zander Neuville early on. No one wants to see players miss time for injuries, but Chris James finally looks healthy and should mitigate any lost time from Shaw. In fact, James might prove to be a better complement to Taylor in terms of alternate running styles. Losing Neuville, on the other hand, could prove to be a big deal. The severity of the injury is unknown at this point, but Neuville’s blocking has been invaluable throughout the season and will be missed should he have to sit out.
[Ed. note: Neuville and Shaw were both listed as questionable on Monday’s preliminary injury report.]
Bob: P.J. Fleck’s neon-yellow fleece was extraordinarily offensive to my retina and I demand an apology! Seriously, he could use a consultant to make sure his outfits are TV-friendly. Oh well, perhaps he knew that the only viewers after the first quarter would be Wisconsin fans, and he wanted to use any leverage he could get. If you want a football-related take, they gave up a long kick return. While it was called back, they must avoid special teams miscues going forward.
Game Balls: Who gets them?
Ryan: With a shutout win, it is customary to go with the defensive side of the ball, but I have to go with our trio of young receivers. After losing Quintez Cephus, our young trio of Danny Davis III, Pryor, and A.J. Taylor needed to step up to help keep Wisconsin’s offense moving. They have done so in previous weeks and they continued their success on Saturday, combining for 131 yards.
Owen: Ryan Connelly, Hornibrook, and the offensive line. Connelly obviously had some extra juice playing against the school that didn’t recruit him, and Hornibrook was good from the pocket. The offensive line was dominant and set the tone for the game.
Neal: I am going with Davis. He has emerged as an additional safety blanket for Hornibrook now that teams are keying on Troy Fumagalli, and his ability to catch contested balls in traffic on quick slants is becoming an early-down staple. Plus, Davis’s downfield blocking is just amazing. Go back and watch the Taylor run: Davis’s willingness to block the defensive back sets Taylor up to take it to the house.
⚪️— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) November 27, 2017
Jonathan Taylor earns his eighth Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor, the most in conference history. #OnWisconsinpic.twitter.com/hA3O0cAvm8
Bob: I have not been one to be too up or down on Hornibrook, so my game ball goes to the other side. Connelly had six tackles and two sacks and is certainly deserving, but my game ball gets carved up and sent to the defensive line, particularly Garrett Rand and Olive Sagapolu. They owned Minnesota’s offensive line throughout the game and gave Wisconsin’s linebackers plenty of opportunities to swarm the ball.
Up Next: Ohio State and a shot at the College Football Playoff. Early keys to the Big Ten Championship Game, arguably the biggest game in Wisconsin history?
Ryan: I know this is going to be a common key, but here it goes ... win the turnover battle. Hornibrook’s success against Minnesota was a good primer and a needed confidence boost to help him keep the ball away from the Buckeyes. As we saw weeks ago, Buckeye quarterback J.T. Barrett is susceptible to throwing an interception (or five) and Wisconsin has 15 such takeaways this season. If Taylor can keep the ball off the turf, Wisconsin should be able to win the turnover battle and the game.
Owen: Make Barrett throw the football. I understand he’s improved in that aspect of his game this season, but if you can make the Buckeyes one-dimensional, a lot of their offense goes away. A ton of their offense is based on the QB run game and play-action, so if Wisconsin can be consistent in its run fits, Barrett will have to win through the air, and that’s the best bet to beat the Buckeyes.
Neal: If the Badgers win the turnover battle, they will win the game. Hornibrook and Taylor have had a season-long inability to protect the ball, and you can bet your bottom dollar the Buckeyes will be coming at them with everything they have. If Wisconsin can protect the ball, there is little reason to expect anything other than victory and a spot in the playoff.
Bob: I think turnovers are a huge factor in every game, and the Big Ten Championship Game will be no different. Other than that, I want to see if the Badgers can keep contain of Barrett and avoid defensive breakdowns if the secondary needs to cover for more than four or five seconds. Also, Wisconsin supporters need to rain down on Indianapolis and make up half of the fans down there. I hope to see you all in Indy!