Our “how are you” feature is back for the third year! Each week at B5Q, we’ll take a look at how each of Wisconsin’s opponents fared ahead of their contest with the Badgers.
After winning their seventh straight game and retaining the Freedom Trophy against Nebraska this past weekend, the Wisconsin Badgers (8-3 overall, 6-2 Big Ten) will look to retain control of the Axis. Paul Bunyan this weekend in Minnesota.
In an attempt to preview what to expect on Saturday, let’s take a look at what the Minnesota Gophers (7-4 overall, 5-3 B1G) have been like so far this season.
- Loss to Ohio State 45-31
- Victory against Miami (OH) 31-26
- Colorado wins 30-0
- Loss to Bowling Green 14-10
- Win at Purdue 20-13
- Win over Nebraska 30-23
- Victory over Maryland 34-16
- Victory at Northwestern 41-14
- Loss to Illinois 14-6
- Loss in Iowa 27-22
- Victory at Indiana 35-14
Status of the offense:
Overall, Minnesota ranks 79th in offensive scorers with 26.4 points per game. They haven’t been an overly explosive offense, but they are looking to dominate possession time and rank 23rd for running rush and 117th for passing offense on FBS.
At quarterback, Minnesota has a longtime starter in Tanner Morgan. He didn’t post the same dazzling numbers as in 2019, but instead became a game manager as the team relies on their attack on the ground. Morgan has had his moments again this year, and he’s a very capable passer. Over the course of the year, he completes about 59% of his passes and threw for 1,736 yards and nine touchdowns from seven interceptions.
Statistically, he and Graham Mertz have pretty similar numbers. Sophomore Cole Kramer has also won snaps this season as a change of pace option, though he’s mostly used as a racing threat. Both quarters should see the weather on Saturday.
As I mentioned, Minnesota is definitely relying on their rushed game. The Gophers have run the ball on 67.59% of their offensive shots this year and have largely succeeded despite a string of injuries in their waiting room.
Minnesota is one of only four FBS teams with a higher game-per-race percentage this year than Wisconsin.
The other 3 are all service academies.
Both Wisc / Minns will want to run the ball on Saturday.
– Matt Belz (@savedbythebelz) 22 November 2021
Star player Mo Ibrahim suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener against Ohio State. Then replacement Trey Potts took over as a workaholic before falling with an injury to Purdue. Since then, the duo of Ky Thomas and Mark-Kiese Irving have carried the load and run well behind the Minnesota offensive line.
The Gophers have five different running backs who have reached the mark of the century in one game this season, so no matter who carries the ball, there is talent. Thomas and Irving each average around five yards per carry and each have over 500 yards during the season.
Minnesota’s offensive line is the strength of its offense. An experienced group with a ton of size, they’ve done the dirty work of keeping Gopher’s offense humming this season. I would expect a very physical game to be won in the trenches given how similar the two teams want to win.
Off wide, the Gophers have multiple receiving threats to watch out for, but Chris Autman-Bell is by far the first target. He leads the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns. He’s a player the Wisconsin high school will need to master throughout the game. Beyond Autman-Bell, four other receivers have at least 15 receptions and each has over 200 receiving yards. Mike Brown-Stephens and Dylan Wright have proven to be solid threats on the pitch, while tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford and Daniel Jackson are more possession receivers this season.
The main reason Minnesota has improved over the past year is defense. The Gophers have a very good defensive line and have made huge strides as a unit. Overall, they rank 4th in total defense and are in the top 15 nationwide in run and pass defense this season. While they haven’t reached the quarterback much, they’re tough to score, ranking 13th in the FBS, allowing just 18.7 points per game.
Up front, the two players who have caused the most chaos are Boye Mafe and Thomas Rush. The two defensive linemen combined for 11.5 sacks and gave the Gophers a solid double down the line. Another name to know on the Minnesota front is Nyles Pinckney.
Behind them, linebackers Jack Gibbens and Mariano Sori-Marin are neck and neck for the team lead in tackles with 76 and 75 apiece. Neither player has recorded a sack this year or generated many splash games, but they are tough against the run.
Security Tyler Nubin is a key part of defense. He ranks third on the team in tackles and also leads the defense with three interceptions. Nubin has a good stature at 6ft 2in and 210lb, which allows him to be an asset against the run and on cover.
This is a Minnesota defense that is not loaded with star players like Antoine Winfield Jr, Kamal Martin and Carter Coughlin like in 2019, but there is certainly talent and tenacity that makes them very good. .
Minnesota has rebounded well since suffering a bad loss to Bowling Green. The Gophers have scoffed at the Big Ten lately, but like the Badgers, they still have a shot at winning the Big Ten West depending on how things go this weekend.
Both Wisconsin and Minnesota want to lead the ball and control the clock, while playing good defense. On paper the two teams are somewhat even in many key areas and statistically it should be a low scoring affair based on the numbers.
The Badgers and Gophers are fierce rivals and there’s a ton at stake for this game.
It’s ax week. Buckle up.