WISCONSIN vs. MINNESOTA
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Huntington Bank Stadium
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: KFAN, 100.3 FM
Weather: 31 degrees, cloudy, 9 mph northeast wind
Betting spread: Wisconsin, -2
Records: With a 37-3 defeat to No. 2 Ohio State last week, he Gophers (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) have lost three straight games. The Badgers (6-5, 4-4) ended a three-game losing streak with 14-point comeback for a 24-17 overtime win against Nebraska last Saturday.
History: With a win, Minnesota will possess Paul Bunyan’s Axe for a third consecutive time, a streak unseen since winning four in a row in from 1984-87. College football’s most-played rivalry sits dead even at 62-62-8.
Key matchup: P.J. Fleck vs. Luke Fickell. Fleck is 3-3 vs. the Badgers, while Fickell has not played Minnesota. The rivalry between the two schools was rekindled off the field when Fleck accused Wisconsin’s new staff of negative recruiting in December. On the field, will Fleck call the necessary shots to get a positive result?
Who has the edge?
Gophers offense vs. Wisconsin defense: OC Greg Harbaugh said the biggest challenge with a Fickell defense is how multiple the fronts and coverages will be during the game. “What will they do?” he said. “… They can change the picture and their guys do a good job of adapting to what they are doing schematically. They are also physical.” … An anonymous Big Ten assistant told Athlon Sports that Fickell “is a legit great DC as a HC, so we know they’re going to be really tough out of the game on that side of the ball.” … Wisconsin is 24th in nation in scoring defense (19.4 points per game); Minnesota is 109th in scoring offense (20.8). …Minnesota’s running game has had a harder time grinding out yards in the last few weeks. After averaging 191 over the previous seven games, the U has put up only 92 in the last three. Injuries and inconsistent play has hurt the tailback room. If Darius Taylor or Zach Evans can’t come back, it will remain fifth-string RB Jordan Nubin. … QB Athan Kaliakmanis threw for a career-high 319 passing yards in the Gophers’ 23-16 win over Wisconsin last year. In the 12 games since, he hasn’t eclipsed 300 once and only 200 twice. … The biggest ranking disparity: Gophers passing offense is 123rd in nation, while Wisconsin pass defense is 26th. The Badgers have buckled down in second halves, allowing an average of only 66 yards after the break, the lowest mark in the nation. EDGE: Wisconsin
Gophers defense vs. Wisconsin offense: The addition of OC Phil Longo was “the strangest hire of the entire cycle” given his Air Raid concepts coming to the Big Ten, per an assistant coach in the conference to Athlon. Gophers DC Joe Rossi, however, says he has “great respect” for Longo and how he has married downfield passing game concepts in that style with a physical run game within Wisconsin’s tradition. … At 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, RB Braelon Allen remains a load to bring down. He’s averaging 82 rushing yards per game, which is third-best in the Big Ten. He also has 10 TDs. The Gophers defense must close up the run-fit issues that has hurt them over the two weeks. … LB Cody Lindenberg was getting closer to a return from injury last week but didn’t play the Buckeyes. No player is more important to the U’s front seven. If he can’t go, young LBs might continue to struggle. … QB Tanner Mordecai has returned from a three-game absence due to a broken throwing hand. The Southern Methodist transfer has only four passing touchdowns and three interceptions, but has a go-to target in slot WR Will Pauling. The Cincinnati transfer has averaged nine catches over the last two weeks. … Split WR Byrson Green, an Oklahoma State transfer, has provided another target; he is the younger brother of former Gopher QB/TE/WR Seth Green. … S Tyler Nubin will cap his stellar career at Huntington Bank Stadium on Saturday. He needs one interception to break a tie for career-most in program history. EDGE: Wisconsin
Special teams: Both kickers — Dragan Kesich and Nathanial Vakos — have made more than 82 percent of field goals this season. Both punters — Mark Crawford and Atticus Bertrams —are averaging 42 yards. But Wisconsin has a bit more in the return game. Minnesota is last in the Big Ten in kickoff return average (11.0) and last in total punts returned (5). EDGE: Wisconsin
Prediction: The Gophers lament not being able to put together a complete and consistent game this season. After 11 tries, it’s hard to see them doing so now, especially with injuries at RB and LB. At 5-7, the Gophers will be under .500 for the first time in a full season since 2018. Wisconsin, 24-20
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