Gophers need to end 14-game slide against Badgers to become bowl eligible
The Gophers are in the midst of a 14-game overall losing streak against the Badgers dating back to 2003. That is the longest winning streak for either side of this rivalry that dates back all the way to 1890. In last week’s attempt to get to six wins, Minnesota struggled on offense, failing to crack 400 yards for the first time in a month. Two crucial interceptions by quarterback Tanner Morgan also sealed the Gophers’ fate against Northwestern.
As for the Badgers, it has been a disappointing season given the expectations surrounding the program each year, but they have a chance to close 2018 on a high note with consecutive victories after beating Purdue 47-44 in overtime last week.
Plenty at stake Saturday for both teams as they battle once again for the Paul Bunyan Axe trophy.
Minnesota at Wisconsin
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 24 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Wisconsin -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Who starts at QB?
Starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook did not travel with the team last week to West Lafayette for Wisconsin’s 47-44 overtime win over Purdue. On Monday’s preliminary injury report released by the team, Hornibrook is listed as questionable once again for this week. Backup QB Jack Coan got the start in place of Hornibrook and asserted himself well against the Boilermakers, completing 16-of-24 passes for 160 yards with two touchdowns and, more importantly, zero interceptions. To throw a slight wrench into the mix, one more appearance by Coan in 2018 takes away any possibility of a redshirt as he would have surpassed his four-game limit. Does that mean we could even see third-stringer Danny Vanden Boom? We may not know until later in the week who will get the nod under center.
2. Limit the mistakes
How Minnesota played against Northwestern will not get it done against the likes of Wisconsin on Saturday. The defense kept the team in the game, and offensively the Gophers were able to run the ball with success. It was the mistakes, though, that were Minnesota’s undoing, as the Gophers committed three costly turnovers while not forcing any by the Wildcats. That will ultimately get you beat every time, and Minnesota's minus-9 turnover margin in 2018 is a big reason why the Gophers currently have a losing record. Considering that there is some precipitation in the forecast in Madison on Saturday, one would assume that this will be a heavy emphasis by the Minnesota coaches in preparation this week.
3. Super sophomore
For the second straight season, Jonathan Taylor is among the three finalists for the Doak Walker Award, along with Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Memphis’ Darrell Henderson. And it would be a surprise if the Badgers running back did not take home the trophy in 2018 as he leads the country by a wide margin with 1,869 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. Last week against Purdue, Taylor’s 321-yard rushing performance was the third-best mark by a Wisconsin running back in program history, falling just behind Melvin Gordon’s 408-yard game in 2014 and Ron Dayne’s 339-yard effort against Hawaii back in 1996. Not even a full two seasons into his collegiate career, Taylor already ranks seventh on Wisconsin’s all-time rushing list and will likely move up a few more spots before this season is over.
Wisconsin is the heavy favorite entering Saturday, but the Badgers know they will get Minnesota’s best shot as the Gophers try to claw their way towards bowl eligibility. With sloppy weather expected on game day, look for both teams to lean heavily on the run game — and you never want to go toe-to-toe with the Badgers in that department. Minnesota keeps this close, but Wisconsin will extend its win streak to 15 games over the Gophers.
Prediction: Wisconsin 26, Minnesota 17
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.
(Top photo courtesy of gophersports.com)