2011 Prediction & Game Story
Week 11, Wisconsin at Minnesota
Big Ten Fearless Predictions &
- FREE EXPERT COLLEGE FOOTBALL SELECTIONS
- Get Tickets For This Game
Nov. 12 Wisconsin 42 … at Minnesota 13
CFN Analysis: The Badgers came into the game knowing the Leaders was now theirs for the taking. There’s still work to do, but with Penn State and Ohio State losing in the morning games, it would take three wins to play for the Big Ten title. UW never let the Gophers breathe with a near-perfect performance. … Except for the special teams. Once again, there was a major screw-up, allowing a kickoff return for a score to start the second half to add the special teams’ woes over the last month. … Russell Wilson was perfect, completing 16-of-17 passes with Nick Toon dropping the one misfire. Wilson was in total command, not taking any chances, while Montee Ball was Montee Ball, running for 166 yards and two scores, setting the Big Ten record for most touchdowns in a single season. … There were lots of bumps and bruises, especially to the linebacking corps, and everyone needs to be right to deal with a desperate Illinois team on the road to set up the game against Penn State for the division title.
Minnesota played hard, it took several chances, and it came up with a great pass rush early on, but none of it mattered. Wisconsin is Rose Bowl-good, so getting blown away by an elite team can’t be a concern. The effort is still there, but the offense wasn’t gaining just 156 yards with MarQueis Gray having a hard time finding open receivers, and missing the once that were in the clear. … The defense couldn’t handle anything the Badgers came up with, getting pounded on by the running game and getting picked apart by Russell Wilson and Nick Toon. … With dates against Northwestern and Illinois to close, two teams more Minnesota’s size, the potential is there to win them both if the linebackers can make more plays at the point of attack, and if the offense can pick up the pace like it did against Iowa and Michigan State. That means Gray has to be nearly perfect.
(AP) MINNEAPOLIS -- Whether the distraction was out-of-town scores, remarkable statistics or long-standing records, Wisconsin refused to lose focus.
That perspective has kept the Badgers in position to win the Big Ten despite consecutive crushing losses last month.
Montee Ball set the conference's single-season touchdown record and Wisconsin (No. 18 BCS, No. 16 AP) trampled Minnesota 42-13 on Saturday to keep Paul Bunyan's Axe for the eighth straight year.
"Back in the driver's seat now. We control our own fate," Ball said.
Russell Wilson had a season-high four touchdown passes. He was on target with every throw and every decision, connecting on all but his last pass, a deep ball that Nick Toon had in his hands but let slip out when he hit the turf hard midway through the third quarter.
Toon finished with eight catches for 100 yards and two scores, and Wilson went 16 for 17 for 178 yards.
"I messed it up for him, but nobody's perfect," Toon said, smiling.
The Badgers outgained the Gophers in total yards 461-156 and had 29 first downs to their rival's nine on an unseasonably warm afternoon with a kickoff temperature in the low 60s. Wisconsin, which lead the FBS level in red zone scoring, has reached the end zone 45 times in 52 trips inside the 20-yard line this season.
Yes, it was an ideal day all around for the Badgers (8-2, 4-2).
They have two blemishes on their record -- last-second defeats at Michigan State and Ohio State -- that ended their national championship chase, but thanks to losses Saturday by Leaders Division foes Penn State and Ohio State they can reach the Big Ten title game. They need to win at Illinois next week and beat the Nittany Lions on Nov. 26.
Coach Bret Bielema didn't want his players' minds to stray, so he didn't share the results until afterward.
"We have to concentrate on being in the moment. That's the way we will do it," Bielema said.
Well, some of them sneaked a peek at the scoreboard during the game, but that didn't seem to matter.
"I was like, 'Oh, cool.' I didn't really pay attention. We had to take care of business here," right guard Kevin Zeitler said.
Wilson had the same attitude. He said he barely noticed he didn't have an incompletion after halftime.
"You just want to stay in the now. That's what I talk about all the time. You've just got to have amnesia, no matter how great things are going or how bad things are going," Wilson said.
Then there was Ball, who found plenty of gaping holes behind that gargantuan, Wisconsin-born offensive line and gained 166 yards on 23 carries. He acknowledged his realization that the record was in reach.
When Ball crossed the goal line for his third touchdown -- he ran for two and caught one pass for a score -- of the day, he gripped the ball tightly and carried the souvenir to the sideline to thank his blockers.
"I usually don't do that, but something I really pride myself on is working hard, and I think that's what that record stands for, just finishing and working extremely hard," Ball said.
In 10 games, Ball has 27 total touchdowns. The previous Big Ten mark was shared previously by Pete Johnson (Ohio State, 1975), Anthony Thompson (Indiana, 1988) and Ki-Jana Carter (Penn State, 1994). Ball is 12 scores behind Barry Sanders' NCAA record.
The Gophers (2-8, 1-5) scored twice on special teams, a 5-yard run by kicker Jordan Wettstein on a fake field goal and a 96-yard return of the second half kickoff by Duane Bennett, but they were dominated on both sides of the ball all day.
The yardage at the end of the first quarter was 189 for Wisconsin and minus-1 for Minnesota.
"It wasn't like they did anything that was big trickery," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said. "They just out-executed us."
MarQueis Gray, after his two best games of the season, missed a wide-open John Rabe with a floating pass in the second quarter that was intercepted at the Wisconsin 22 and turned by Wilson into a five-play, 78-yard touchdown march in the closing minutes of the half.
Gray looked gimpy when he scrambled -- Kill said he had a bad back -- and also undoubtedly had a lot on his mind, as a new father. His girlfriend gave birth to twin boys on Friday. Gray finished 6 for 14 for 51 yards and ran 19 times for 68 yards.
"They didn't do anything we didn't prepare for. They were just the better team," Gray said.
The Gophers were going to need some good luck to keep this game close, given the discrepancy in talent, but they didn't get much of that.
Dan Orseske's punt later in the first quarter bounced backward and netted just 4 yards, setting up Wisconsin for an easy score on a shortened field. Then after Wettstein -- the walk-on who didn't even play for his high school team in DePere, Wis. -- caught a slick between-the-legs lateral from holder Adam Lueck and slipped out of a tackle near the sideline to plunge into the end zone, he pulled the extra point wide left.
Wisconsin (7-2) at Minnesota (2-7) Nov. 12, 3:30, BTN
Here’s The Deal … It’s always an interesting rivalry game for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, even if the game has been a bit one-sided lately with Wisconsin winning seven straight. It’s always hard-hitting, and despite the run by the Badgers, the Gophers with four of the last six games decided by a touchdown or less.
Minnesota is playing better. This still might be the Big Ten’s second worst team behind Indiana, but it beat Iowa in a stunner two weeks ago and, more impressively, pushed Michigan State in East Lansing last week. The offense is starting to work again, and the defense has discovered a new concept called tackling. At least the team is competitive again, but it’s going to take something special to push past a Badger team that really and truly might be good enough to beat LSU, even though it won’t get the chance.
The Badgers bounced back from heart-ripping losses to Michigan State and Ohio State by destroying Purdue 62-17 in an impressive display of offensive firepower. Now the Badgers have to show they can produce in a true road game, beating Northern Illinois in Chicago and losing to Michigan State and Ohio State on the road. Minnesota isn’t Michigan State or Ohio State.
Wisconsin is still in the thick of the Big Ten title chase, needing Penn State to lose to either Nebraska or Ohio State and needing the Buckeyes to lose at least once more. But even if the tie-breaker doesn’t work out and Wisconsin doesn’t win the Leaders, at 10-2, and at-large BCS big might be on the table if the impressive wins pile up. For a team two plays away from probably being ranked No. 3 in the BCS, there’s still a lot to play for.
Why Wisconsin Might Win: Minnesota won’t be able to stop the fastball. Yeah, the Gophers are tackling better, and yeah, there’s been an improvement over the last two weeks, but the run defense still gave up 96 yards and two scores to Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell and 252 yards and two scores to Iowa’s Marcus Coker. The Minnesota defensive front doesn’t generate pressure, and if a line can’t get to Montee Ball and Russell Wilson before they have time to set up and operate, it’s uh-oh time. The Badger offensive front will start beating on the Gophers from the start, and the holes should open wide by the second half.
For all the good things Minnesota has done, the offense isn’t putting points on the board. The Gopher attack has yet to hit the 30-point mark and is 111th in the nation averaging just 18.7 points per game. Wisconsin has yet to score fewer than 29 points and is averaging 47 points per game.
Why Minnesota Might Win: Can MarQueis Gray take control of the game from the start? He’s not as shifty as Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, but he’s one of the best running quarterbacks in the Big Ten and he’s starting to find his groove. With 62 rushing yards or more in each of his last three games, while throwing for 295 yards and three touchdowns last week against Michigan State. Miller gave the Badgers fits with 99 yards and two scores, and Gray will get as many carries as he needs to work on the UW linebackers.
So what will Wisconsin’s special teams problems be this week? Against MSU and OSU, the punting team gave up a game-changing blocked punt. Against Purdue, the kickoff coverage team was miserable. Minnesota might not have great special teams, but the return game is solid and the punting game is strong. It’ll take something special for the Gophers to have any sort of a shot, and that means winning the special teams battle and winning it big.
What To Watch Out For: If Montee Ball doesn’t win the Doak Walker Award, he’ll come close. The junior is on a phenomenal touchdown pace with 21 rushing scores so far and one receiving touchdown, to go along with 1,076 rushing yards and 229 through the air. If he keeps this up, he’ll flirt with the 30-touchdown mark with around 1,400 rushing yards. Last year against the Gophers he only ran three times for ten yards after running four times for five yards as a freshman. He might have more than 15 yards this week on one carry.
Minnesota wide receiver Da’Jon McKnight caught 48 passes for 750 yards and ten touchdowns last season and came into this year as a fringe all-star candidate and one of the team’s best weapons. He caught a touchdown pass against New Mexico State, but that was it only time in the end zone and his only 100-yard game on the year. Last week against Michigan State he caught nine passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns in the breakout game he needed to have. Last year he only caught two passes against the Badgers, but they both went for touchdowns.
What Will Happen: It’ll take about a quarter and a half. Minnesota will be fired up at home, and Wisconsin will stumble a bit early on with a special teams gaffe keeping it close, and then Russell Wilson and the offense will start connecting on drive after drive, and the Gophers won’t have an answer. A late run at the end of the first half will put it away.
CFN Prediction: Wisconsin 44 … Minnesota 17
Click For Latest Line From ATS: Wisconsin -27.5 O/U: 63.5
- Get Tickets For This Game
- FREE EXPERT COLLEGE FOOTBALL SELECTIONS