Axe Week. Hate Week. Fleck Is A Grifter Week.
Whatever you call it, this is a big week for the Wisconsin Badgers football program. No. 14 Wisconsin (8-3 overall, 6-2 Big Ten) is travelling to the Twin Cities to do battle with the Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-4 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) for Paul Bunyan’s Axe and the Big Ten West division title on Saturday.
While just about everything about the entire state of Minnesota is questionable, we had some specific questions about the Minnesota football team. Thankfully, we were able to get ahold of Blake Ruane from The Daily Gopher to answer our serious football Qs with some of his As.
Here are Blake’s responses!
Are you jealous that Mel Tucker got a brand new contract extension and then his Michigan State Spartans got blown out worse than the Gophers did after PJ Fleck got his new contract?
I think it really establishes P.J. Fleck as a trendsetter in the Big Ten. Not only did Mel Tucker get a longer extension than Fleck, he got a bigger pay raise than P.J. and the margin of defeat the week of his extension was substantially higher. Now we’ve got James Franklin signing a 10-year contract extension. If you’re a gambling man, bet big on Michigan State over Penn State this weekend.
Do you do your banking with Huntington Bank? If so, do they have an option to get Big Ten West co-champions rings on their debit cards? If not, why are you a traitor to your favorite team?
I do not bank with Huntington Bank, so unfortunately I can’t speak to their debit card options. I actually live in Illinois now, where we have the option of having a topless Bret Bielema featured on the front of our debit card. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.
Is the Gophers o-line as good as everyone says? I assume it is pretty good since I saw the depth chart and you are the third string running back now after all the injuries and you’re predicted to gain 85 yards on nine carries.
They’re good when they want to be. They dominated Iowa up front, which is not something Minnesota has been able to say in quite some time. But then they’ve also had inexplicably poor performances against the likes of Bowling Green and Illinois. It’s the best offensive line the Gophers have had in years, so the inconsistency has been maddening.
Minnesota has a great stable of running backs that has been depleted by injuries, but the offensive line is a huge reason why the drop-off has been minimal from one back to the next. I’m talking about holes big enough for you or me to run through.
The Badgers defense is quite good. If they’re able to contain Minnesota’s rushing attack, can Tanner Morgan make them pay?
Can he? Sure. I believe he is capable of that. But will he is a different question entirely. You never know what you’re going to get from Tanner each week, and to a degree it really depends on the game plan. I would say a significant number of fans are less than impressed with offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr., who is in his second (and hopefully final) year at Minnesota.
He has largely been credited with tanking the Gophers’ passing game the last two years. His game plans either work or they don’t. He has shown no ability to make in-game adjustments. So if whatever he has cooked up to attack Wisconsin’s secondary doesn’t work right out of the gate, you can probably kick and relax the rest of the game.
Minnesota’s defense is one of the best units in the country, ranking in the top-15 of rushing defense, passing defense and total defense. If I were to offer them shirts with Graham Mertz’s logo on it do you think they’d take it easy on him? Also, who will be in charge of trying to tackle Braelon Allen?
My best advice would be to include a gift receipt with the Mertz merch. I think the Minnesota defense is going to try their best to rattle Mertz. Of course, they have to stop Braelon Allen first, which is easier said than done. If they’re able to do that, I would imagine lots of tackles for linebackers Jack Gibbens and Mariano Sori-Marin. They are the leaders of this defense and both have the football I.Q. and instincts to be disruptive against the run.
I think I’m most curious to see how Mertz fares against the Gophers’ secondary. They’re a solid if unspectacular group that focuses on keeping everything in front of them and limiting explosive plays. If Minnesota stacks the box to stop Allen, they’re going to have to be able to survive in a lot of single coverage.
I don’t need an exact score prediction if you don’t want to give one, but how do you see this game going? What are the vibes like?
On paper, Wisconsin looks like the better team from top to bottom. I think Minnesota has a good defense, but Wisconsin’s is legitimately great. The Gophers’ ground game has been solid, but Braelon Allen is an elite talent. Neither team is prolific through the air, but the Badgers have at least figured out how to get Mertz comfortable and playing with some consistency.
I don’t think Minnesota can say the same about Tanner Morgan. I see a close game for at least two quarters before Wisconsin starts to pull away. I just don’t have faith in Mike Sanford’s creativity against the Badgers’ defense.