The University of Wisconsin football team's defense will be without its star for the first half Saturday. How can the Badgers adjust? Here's a look at the keys to victory for both Wisconsin and Minnesota ... and a prediction for the final score.
Three keys for the Badgers
No picks: UW’s offense isn’t in good shape right now. Quarterback Graham Mertz made just enough plays down the stretch against Nebraska for UW to eke out a win, but he’ll need to be better for UW to beat a good Minnesota defense. The first step is not turning over the ball. Mertz has nine interceptions this season and the opponent has scored a touchdown off six of them.
Minnesota’s defense has 12 picks this season, a bit over one per game, but Mertz has to avoid it the best he can. His interception against Minnesota swung that game toward the Gophers last season.
People are also reading…
Tackle Ibrahim: This is the “easier said than done” portion of these keys. Gophers tailback Mohamed Ibrahim is a force. He was named the Big Ten’s top tailback in 2020, then tore his Achilles last year in the opener and seemingly has come back no worse for wear. Ibrahim’s leading the league in rushing yards per game (152.4) and has had success against UW in the past with a 151-yard performance in 2020.
UW can’t afford to miss tackles in the box and let him get loose in the second level of the defense. Linemen and linebackers have to wrap him up.
Confuse the QB: Minnesota is expected to be without senior quarterback Tanner Morgan against UW. Minnesota only has classified Morgan’s injury as an upper-body issue, but Morgan was diagnosed with a concussion earlier this season.
Redshirt freshman Athan Kaliakmanis has started the past two games for the Gophers, and the fresh-faced QB should be met with a variety of looks from Jim Leonhard’s defense. UW can’t get too crazy and get out of position to stop the run, but any passing situation should show Kaliakmanis something he likely hasn’t seen before.
Three keys for the Gophers
Start fast: Both teams are playing for pride and rivalry more than big-picture stakes. Neither can represent the Big Ten West in the conference title game. But Minnesota as the road team would be wise to get on the board quickly and force the Badgers’ inconsistent offense to play from behind. Kaliakmanis’ mobility could be put to use here — he’s not afraid to keep the ball on read-option looks and can extend plays by moving in the pocket, something that UW has struggled with this season.
Beat up Braelon: Leonhard said the coaching staff will be smart with tailback Braelon Allen’s workload as he deals with shoulder and ankle injuries. Minnesota tackled well against Allen last season, a key factor in Paul Bunyan’s Axe residing in Minneapolis for the past 12 months. Minnesota must hit Allen and force him to the sideline, leaving UW with a still-shaking-off-the-rust Chez Mellusi and Isaac Guerendo in the backfield.
Pick spots to be aggressive: Minnesota’s coaches rave about Kaliakmanis’ potential, but they were fairly conservative in what they allowed him to do last week against Iowa. He threw for 87 yards against Iowa’s stout defense, but he likely will need to do more against UW. The run-pass option schemes Minnesota runs create safe, easy throws, but Minnesota should mix in more shots downfield against UW, which hasn’t had to defend those plays in nearly a month.
This game is going to come down to which team avoids the big mistake on offense or special teams.
These defenses are built to stop the other team’s offense, with strong front sevens able to halt the run. It’s very likely UW will need Graham Mertz to throw to win this game. He’s struggled the past three weeks, but he could return to the level of play he showed earlier this season if the weather cooperates.
UW has more weapons on offense and one of them makes a game-changing play, but the Gophers keep it close.
Colten's pick: Badgers 20, Minnesota 17
The Badgers host the Gophers for the Axe this weekend. Who do you like?— BadgerExtra (@BadgerExtra) November 22, 2022
Badgers fans proud of 'gritty' Wisconsin football win at Nebraska
Nitty gritty victory
Eleven down in the 4th quarter and the Badgers overcame the wind, the officiating, and are now Bowl eligible for the 21st consecutive season! Congratulations to both the players and coaches. They never gave up. A gritty performance!— Jeff Ostach☮️ (@jeff_ostach) November 19, 2022
Just like basketball
The biggest difference between the team that lost to Illinois and the team that won today was that they never stopped fighting.— Craig Smith (@smithcp1) November 19, 2022
But that was one of the ugliest wins in a long time. Like Badgers MBB over UWGB-level ugly.
Can't take that away
Was looking like the points lost on two Chim drops would cost them. Love the QB sneak and having both backs be the “pushers”. Say this for Mertz: the guy has toughness.— Rob Finley (@finleyr27) November 19, 2022
This team has been through a ton…yes they played unevenly…but made plays in the end.— Todd (@pilprin) November 19, 2022
Progression in the ugly?
Ugly on a technical level, but gotta give the team credit for fighting, not sure they win this type of game early in the season— Dan D. (@One_Punch_Dan) November 19, 2022
Very gutty win... I love CFB because you see kids, most of who won't ay in the NFL, giving 100% effort on every play. And they got rewarded for it.— firstname.lastname@example.org (@seanu82766) November 19, 2022
Herbig ejection galvanized them a bit I think. And Kaden Johnson played well in his place!!
Not one ...
Never a doubt.— Bob Bradovich (@BobBradovich) November 19, 2022
Looks good in hindsight
Been saying all year, Get the ball in Guerrendo’s hands!!! Look what happened!— Richard Earlier (@EarlierRichard) November 19, 2022
Room for running backs
Isaac and Chez carried the load for a very obviously hurting Allen. Great grit shown by all of them.— DesertEagle (@D3s3rtEagl3) November 19, 2022
Not a great team
They didn’t cover— BrockinSB (@HiuraFan) November 19, 2022
Shadow of greatness
Coach Leonard stole one. Just like Barry did at times.— Ilija Radjenovic (@IlijaQZ) November 19, 2022
Count Chocula Bowl here we come!!! (that’s a thing right?) 🧛🏼♂️— Russ Evansen (@waunaruss) November 19, 2022
Where it always sleets
can't wait for the "welcome to shreveport pirelli tire bowl", but glad to get the win— Slim Hickman (@SlimHickman) November 19, 2022
The future is now
Fought hard. All you can ask. Give Leonhard the job already. The short term future (and, by extension, long term future) of the program depends on it— Jon Corbett (@Jon_Corbett) November 19, 2022
McIntosh at work
Gutty win but start the national search. AD needs to weigh alternatives: if Jim’s olan is better and he thinks he can execute it, fine. Otherwise, move on— Fred Ehle (@FredEhle) November 19, 2022
Not bad for rock bottom?
Great win during a bad year. I hope this proves to be "rock bottom" and Leonhard has the offensive line and defense on the upswing by next year, but I know that's a tall task.— JZilla (@zillmerjsh) November 19, 2022
The record is the record
Leonhard 4-2 and a few plays from 5-1. Mertz hung tough!— Douglas Greenberg (@DougGreenB) November 19, 2022
A vote for Jimmy
Painful to watch but love the fight which wasn’t there early in the season. Chez looked good. A much-needed win - give Jimmy the job!— Susan Balsai (@sesbadger) November 19, 2022
Despite the win, team languishing; barely defeated a bad team. UW better in most metrics yet never appeared dominant.Hope is that once OLine is consistent and healthy, they can blow out teams like this. 6-7 wins=mediocrity. We’ve become accustomed to better.— Mark Schutta (@MarkSchutta) November 19, 2022
Onto the Axe
Happy for the team after a brutal week. Needed something to go their way. D was special again. Offense arose when needed.— Chris Davis (@cdavis20000) November 19, 2022
Now let’s go get the Axe!
A huge win. Bowl practices are really important, particularly with a transition to a new head coach.— David Roelke (@droelke) November 19, 2022
Ugly win, BUT very important For the future of the program. Hope it can help stop the recruit bleeding and give them some confidence going into The Axe game.— Eric M. Tostrud (@EricTostrud) November 19, 2022
Pride on the line?
Get the Axe back. Win the Quik Lane Car Care Bowl….— Brian Suttie (@BigDaddySutt) November 19, 2022
And pretend this season never happened!!
The real 'football'
With the World Cup coming up, it’s appropriate to note that they call soccer the beautiful game. That does not apply here.— Peter Healy (@PeterRHealy) November 19, 2022