The Gophers are in an interesting spot. It’s certainly better for them than things used to be in the previous decade. However, a loss to the Badgers and the Gophers would end up in a lower seeding than their rivals at the season’s end. Both teams won’t be able to play for a Big Ten West title but they’re already bowl-eligible. This Saturday only the Axe and bragging rights are up for grabs and that’s more than enough to make this game fun.
Minnesota’s offense hasn’t had much success through the air. While they have an impressive ground game they haven’t seemed to have found a way to use that rush attack to open up the pass. Offensively, Minnesota has one of the most versatile rushing units in the league. They’re second in overall rush yards and tied with Michigan in touchdowns made through their run game.
The Gophers are led by senior Mohamed Ibrahim but the two backups in Junior Trey Potts and Senior Bryce Williams can do more than their fair share of damage too. While it’s likely to be a ground-and-pound battle in the trenches the Gophers have a dominant wideout they typically target.
Juniors Daniel Jackson and Michael Brown-Stephens have shared almost an equal number of targets and yards with Jackson taking home the bigger numbers between the two. Senior Brevyn Spann-Ford is a Minnesota target about the size of a polar bear and they’ve trained him to catch the football. He could be the key to keeping drives alive for the Gophers and extending options for their offensive attack.
The Gopher's defense is one of the best not only in the big ten but in all of college football. Overall, the unit is only third in Georgia and Michigan. Giving up less than 14 points a game will prove to be a test for a Badger offensive group that’s averaging more than 27 points per game. Especially since the Gophers are barely giving up over 100 yards each matchup.
The prospects of beating Minnesota through the air aren’t much better. The Gophers backs have picked off quarterbacks 12 times this season. Senior Tyler Nubin leads the way out of the bunch with four picks on the year. Keeping the total pass yards per game below 200 is more than respectable for any defense. Mertz and his offensive line will have their work cut out for them in allowing Mertz time to progress.
The Gophers are in a good place but not a great place. While PJ Fleck has carried the Gophers to another bowl game it’s still not enough for what many of his fans expected when he
took over the program in 2017. There’s little chance that he’ll be terminated in the way that Paul Chryst was but Gopher fans on social media have seemed to expect more than what this season turned out to be. Expectations aside, the team has spent portions of this season in the top 25. Something new for the program as a whole.
While things are on the up for the program as a whole the Flecks Battle of the Axe record is still on the losing side at 2-4. A win this Saturday would get him one win closer to .500. But a win over Wisconsin would also tie the overall win totals between the two schools. Currently, Wisconsin leads the series 62-61-8 all-time. Wisconsin also leads in odds preview according to Vegas by 3.5 points. Even though the Gophers don’t have the perceived edge they’ve certainly been a lot more competitive under Fleck than they were prior to Fleck. Although hopefully tomorrow they have a complete meltdown but best of luck to them in bowl season.