A home game against Minnesota is Badger of Honor’s end of an eight-part series of B1G football previews.
The last game of Wisconsin’s regular season may keep Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Madison for its 11th year in a row. The Badgers have to get through Northwestern, Illinois, Maryland, Rutgers, Purdue, Nebraska and Iowa, before hoisting the trophy taller than most members of the team.
Week 14, November 29: Home against Minnesota
I have to be honest, the last 10 years have been fantastic. The Badgers won last year’s game 20-7 in Minnesota. The game’s margin of victory, 13 points, was the narrowest margin since 2009. The Golden Gophers have come quite close, losing by three points in 2009 and 2008, seven points in 2007 and the unforgettable victory off a blocked punt in 2005.
Navy’s 12-game streak over Army is the only other rivalry I can think of where one team has been so dominant over the other year in, year out.
Minnesota ranked 33rd last season in total defense despite nobody having a breakout season. You could say the Gophers are poised to have their guys break out this year after they’ve had experience under the belt, but I just don’t see it.
Theiren Cockran will be their best defensive lineman, but at around 240-pounds, the 6-foot-6 pass rusher will need a lot of help from linebackers trying to overload the edge. Senior Damien Wilson will be that guy at linebacker, but nobody on that side of the ball has shown any ability to get to the quarterback like Cockran.
I like Joel Stave for this game even though I’ve said I want Tanner McEvoy to be the Week 1 starter. Stave doesn’t get too overwhelmed with pressure, as seen in last year’s game where Minnesota hunkered down on D in the second half, but he still made something work, although it was mainly to Jared Abbrederis.
Last year, David Cobb was running downhill and fast. Cobb compiled four-straight 100-yard games for the Gophers, but ran into a really big wall against the Badgers. Cobb finished with just 68 yards, but that was with Philip Nelson at the helm.
If redshirt sophomore Mitch Leidner reminds you of any quarterback, it’s going to be a difficult task. He stands 6-4, but likes to tuck and run like Jordan Lynch. He’s passed more often this practice season, but should the Minnesota brass really be pushing him to air it out after 477 yards with seven TDs on 89 carries in limited play in 2013?
Simply, if Minnesota plays Wisconsin football and let’s the backfield have two imposing rushers, the game will be another 3-pointer. If Leidner is made into a pocket passer by the end of the season, the Badgers have something to exploit.
Minnesota has the 58th-ranked Class of 2014, according to ESPN. Running back standout Jeff Jones will be a force in the coming years, and may even be like Corey Clement was last season. Jones and wide receiver Melvin Holland Junior, both four-start recruits, were offered spots by Wisconsin. Their decision to cross into the Gopher state could haunt us defensively and possibly break the streak in in the next year or two.
Home Field Advantage
Pass, oh, we’re done? Camp Randall on a rivalry, plus a full house as usual, plus last and possibly West-clinching day for the Badgers is almost too great a circumstance for Minnesota to overcome.
Thanks to all the readers of this series. Keep reading Badger of Honor as camp comes to a close and we can all focus on beating the Tigers in Houston.