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Can Minnesota Take Back The Axe?
Posted Nov 20, 2013

Week 13 Fearless Prediction & Preview - Wisconsn at Minnesota

Wisconsin (8-2) at Minnesota (8-2) Oct. 23 3:30, ESPN

Why You Should Give A Hoot: It’s the longest running rivalry in major college football, with the two schools meeting for the 123rd time with more than just the Paul Bunyan Axe on the line this time around.

The Badgers have won nine straight in the series, but Minnesota actually has a real, live chance at doing something big this season, and if it can take back the Axe, and if Michigan State loses to Northwestern, next week’s showdown with the Spartans would be for the Legends title and a spot in the Big Ten championship.

Wisconsin is pushing for an at-large BCS bid, but Michigan State could be standing in the way and a low spot in the standings – currently checking in at 19th – isn’t making it easy. Technically, beating Minnesota could turn out to be the best win of the season, and that’s the problem – there aren’t enough quality victories to move the needle. Thanks to Minnesota’s shocking success, that could change.

On the other side, if Minnesota can win its next two games, all of a sudden, it might be the second team from the Big Ten pushing for an at-large BCS bid. It might not always be anything pretty, and the offense certainly isn’t explosive, but after winning four straight, and with the first ten-win season since 2003 a possibility, a résumé with wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State and Nebraska might not be all that bad. First, the Gophers have to hold up against the Badger power game.

Wisconsin is killing teams, coming up with blowouts in every game but the losses to Arizona State and Ohio State. This is a typical tough, strong Badger squad that doesn’t beat itself ad is brutally effective on both sides of the ball. With Penn State to close things out, at worst, the Badgers are probably going to the Capital One Bowl by winning out, and at best, Ohio State slips into the BCS championship and it’s on to Pasadena for a fourth straight Rose Bowl appearance. But the Badgers have to take the Gophers seriously.

Why Wisconsin Might Win: There isn’t going to be anything subtle about it. Wisconsin is going to pound the ball. And then it’s going to run some more. And then it’s going to run a little bit more. It’s not like the Gophers have stopped the run cold during this streak, allowing over six yards per pop to Nebraska and Indiana, and giving up 190 yards to Penn State. Iowa took Minnesota’s lunch in a 23-7 win by generating some pop up front early on and never shying away from it the rest of the game. With no Gopher pass rush to worry about, the passing game will work and be effective, but the offense is going to be all about getting James White and Melvin Gordon going right away. On the other side of the ball, Minnesota is too one dimensional, lacking the passing game to provide enough of a balance – Bucky will sell out to stop the run.

Why Minnesota Might Win: The Gophers have to keep the field tilted to one side. Wisconsin has the ability to go on long marches, and it can hit the home run from anywhere with the running game, but Minnesota needs to win the turnover battle, it can’t commit penalties, and it has to keep the chains moving and milk the clock. The Gophers lead the Big Ten in fewest penalties, they’re third in the conference in turnover margin, and they’re almost as good as Wisconsin in time of possession. Everything has to work right for the upset to happen – a repeat of how the Northwestern game worked out, after being outplayed for most of the day, would be nice – and that means a mistake-free day. They can do that – but the running game has to work, too.

Who To Watch Out For: Just when it seemed like Melvin Gordon was going to start receiving all the accolades and respect as one of the nation’s top runners – he still leads UW with 1,306 yards averaging 8.37 yards per pop – James White showed that he’s every bit strong. He’s averaging just under seven yards per carry, and he’s doing a bit more of the heavy lifting but he showed last week his explosive side running for 205 yards with a 93-yard scoring dash on the team’s opening play. During crunch time, White has been terrific, rushing for 100 yards or more in every game but one over the last five, running for 98 against Illinois. The two bad games this year? 45 yards against ASU, 31 against Ohio State. Both were losses. Last season, White had a season-high 175 yards and three scores against the Gophers. Gordon hasn’t exactly slowed down, running for 146 yards last week, but White has been the better all-around back.

- Minnesota doesn’t need Derrick Engel to catch ten passes; he needs to be effective on the few passes he’ll see his way. The senior transfer from Winona State has the speed to work outside, and the toughness to make things happen across the middle. Against the Badgers, he has to average over 20 yards per catch and come with two deep balls, otherwise the UW safeties will tee off against the run.

- It’ll be strength on strength in the interior where the Wisconsin O line has to establish itself right away against Ra’Shede Hageman, an NFL-caliber defensive tackle who has to provide consistent pressure from the interior while also holding up as an anchor. Tackle stats won’t matter to what he does; he has to hold his own and collapse the pocket once in a while.

- If it’s fourth-and-manageable, Wisconsin should give it a shot. Penn State only converted one of three fourth down chances last week, but before that, the Gophers had allowed teams to hit on a Big Ten-worst 10-of-14 tries. The Badgers are 7-of-11 on the year converting their last four shots, trying it once in each of the last four games and succeeding.

What Will Happen: Wisconsin will be too methodical. Minnesota’s early success will start to slip away as the game goes on. The Badger defense might not receive enough credit, but it’ll come up with several key stops in the second and third quarters to take full control.

Prediction: Wisconsin 34 … Minnesota 16
Line: Wisconsin -16 o/u: 50
Must See Rating: (5 Tiebreaker – 1 A Medea Christmas) … 4
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