The Wisconsin Badgers (2-3 overall, 2-3 B1G) are nearing the end of a bizarre season in Madison. With one last regular season game to play, the Minnesota Gophers come to town in one of the longest standing rivalries in college football.
As part of coverage leading up to the big game, lets take a look at how the season has unfolded for the Gophers.
Results thus far:
Minnesota enters the contest sporting a 3-3 record overall record (3-3 B1G) through six games played.
- Loss versus Michigan 49-24
- Loss at Maryland 45-44
- Win at Illinois 41-14
- Loss versus Iowa 35-7
- Win versus Purdue 34-31
- Win at Nebraska 24-17
It is not really an injury, but top playmaker WR Rashod Bateman has opted out for the remainder of the season, and will not play against the Badgers. Bateman is a consensus first round pick for the 2021 NFL Draft, and is a difference maker.
In actual injury/COVID-19 news, Minnesota has been without a large subsection of their team the past few games due to the coronavirus. It will be interesting to see which players they are able to get back this weekend.
Status of the offense:
The Minnesota offense runs through Mohamed Ibrahim. The junior running back has been one of the best ball carriers in the entire country this year, and was recently recognized as the top tailback in the Big Ten. For the season, he has amassed 925 yards (5.3 ypc) and 15 touchdowns in only six games worth of action. If the Badgers want to win, they will need to limit the star running back.
Beyond Ibrahim, the Minnesota offense has not been nearly as a effective as they were a year ago, even when Rashod Bateman was playing. Quarterback Tanner Morgan is averaging a touch over 200 yards a game through the air and has completed 58% of his attempts, while throwing five touchdowns compared to four interceptions. When you compare those numbers to how well he played last season, Morgan has been a pretty big disappointment for the Gophers.
Without Bateman, Chris Autman-Bell has seen the most volume of receptions in the passing game. The junior out of Illinois has played really well this season, and is a big play threat. For the year he is averaging over 20 yards per reception, which is really good. The unevenness of quarterback play has made the offense sputter at times though.
All in all, the Minnesota will attempt to keep control of the ball (third in the country in time of possession), and light up the scoreboard on the ground. The Gophers rank No. 4 in the B1G at 29 points a game, and have a relatively balanced attack with around 200 yards through the air and on the ground a game.
Status of the defense:
On the other side of the ball, Minnesota has struggled for much of the year. The Gophers are allowing over 31 points per game this season, and are averaging over 430 yards allowed on a per game basis.
In terms of leaders on the defensive side of the ball, Mariona Sori-Marin leads the way with 47 tackles. The junior from Illinois has not created many splash plays this year, but he is an effective tackler from his linebacker position.
The Gophers are not great at getting to the quarterback, only tallying seven sacks in six games. If there is one player to watch in that department though it is Boye Mafe. The junior defensive lineman has a team high 4.5 of those quarterback take downs, and he does a good job of being disruptive.
In the secondary, Tyler Nubin is the second leader tackler on the team, and he has also accounted for two turnovers this season.
There aren’t a lot of huge names to watch out for on the Minnesota defense, a stark contrast from last season when Antoine Winfield Jr. and Kamal Martin jumped off the screen as future NFL guys.
For a Wisconsin offense that has been struggling this season, the Minnesota defense could be just what the doctor ordered.
The Badgers enter this game losers of three straight, while Minnesota has rallied to win their last two despite playing with a depleted roster. While everything up until this point in the season somewhat matters, the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe just matters more. The most-played game across the FBS, this game could define the season for both teams.
The Gophers will lean on their ground game, while the Badgers will need to figure out a best course of moving the ball against the Minnesota defense without Jalen Berger. Neither team is at the point where they had hoped heading into this season, but the last thing Wisconsin wants to do is drop the Axe at home.