October 8, 2010

Behind Enemy Lines: Gophers

MADISON - In recent years, really dating back to the mid-1990's, Wisconsin has dominated the series with Minnesota. Having won six-straight, the Badgers are only one win shy of setting a new record for most consecutive wins in the series.

In an effort to lean more about the Gophers, BadgerBlitz.com went directly to the source. The following is a Behind Enemy Lines feature with Matt O'Connell from GopherIllustrated.com.

Obviously every time these two teams meet up they are physical and highly emotional contests. This time around, what does Minnesota absolutely have to do in order to win in Madison?

O'Connell: The key for Minnesota is going to be to control the clock and keep the ball out of the Badgers hands. The Minnesota defense has struggled this year and their best defense has often been to keep the opposing offense off the field. They need to find a way to score on as many opportunities as possible, but doing so with sustained drives.

On defense they must keep the Badger running backs from breaking off big chunks of yardage and force some punts and turnovers. The Gophers do not appear to have enough to win in a shoot out, so they need to try and keep the game low scoring to have a chance.

Adam Weber has been around for quite some time. As a senior, does he have enough talent around him to produce at the level he showed he was capable of as an underclassmen? Who needs to step up offensively if the Gophers are going to make a push for a third straight bowl game.

O'Connell: The Gopher offense has actually been fairly good this season. Weber has been good and made very few mistakes. Second-string quarterback/ receiver MarQueis Gray has become Weber's go to guy in the pass game and is tough to stop at 6'5", 225 pounds. Tight end Eric Lair is also quickly emerging as a dangerous weapon.

The Gopher line is finally giving Weber time as well as opening holes for the running backs. The main complaint about the offense this year has not been the play, it has been the play calling. At times the offense of former UW quarterback coach Jeff Horton has been very predictable and very conservative. They claim to have some twists for this week for the Badgers, but it would not be surprising to see them revert quickly to runs up the middle on first and second if they don't hit on some big plays early to try and control the clock.

The Gophers have given up more than 30 points a game so far this season, good for 95th nationally. What has been the biggest problem on that side of the ball? And how confident are you that UM will be able to slow the rushing attack of John Clay and James White, two Badger players averaging more than six-yards per carry so far this season?

O'Connell: Fortunately for the Badgers, Minnesota has been downright awful in most cases against the run. Gopher opponents are averaging over 185 yards per game on the ground this season and an average of almost seven yards per carry. The defensive line has been pushed around in several games allowing for repeated big gains up the middle. The tackling has also been an issue with far too many ball carriers picking up yardage after initial contact. Based on what has gone on so far this season it is hard to believe that Clay and White won't have big games on Saturday.

Wisconsin has compiled a 13-2 record over the past 15 meetings against the Gophers, including a six-game winning streak. What has been the overriding theme throughout Gopher camp this week? What have the players been saying and how are they treating this game? I assume this is about as big as it gets for the Gophers.

The theme continues to be one game at a time for the Gopher team. They keep preaching that they are close to winning games and they are talking themselves into believing they are close. They played better last week against Northwestern, but gave away a great shot to win a game late. It will be interesting to see if they build off of last week's near victory or are demoralized by yet another loss.

The seniors have yet to touch the Axe (or any of the three other rivalry trophies for that matter) and the real drive motivation appears to be to give the seniors a chance to win a big game. The players are saying all of the right things about being committed to the team and winning, but signs of frustration have started to show. This is easily the game of the year so far for the Gophers and it will be interesting to see how they play early on, especially if Wisconsin can jump in front early.

Finally, how do you see this one playing out. Give us a final score.

I think the Gophers will come out strong early and maybe even jump out to a lead. In the end the Badger running game will be way too strong and the Gophers will fall behind by half time. In the end the Badgers will likely cruse to a fairly comfortable win by around 20, maybe 41-21.

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