We still lead the all-time series 59-51-8, but in this age of 'what have you done for me lately' few seem to care that we're still 8 games their superior. That's fair. We haven't won many of these contests lately anyways (2 of the last 14). We've come close many times, and had our hearts broken a few. Is our last decade and a half of futility vs. the Red Menace a form of penance for ruining the Badgers national title chances in 1993? Maybe. But even if that were somehow true, it doesn't change the fact that I hate losing to Wisconsin more than anything. My blood absolutely boils over when I think of the some of the brutal games between these teams I've attended both at the Dome and Camp Randall. Now don't get me wrong, I hates me some Iowa too. But there's something about growing up in Wisconsin, going to the U, and then fully committing your fanship to the school you pay tuition to, only to see other kids in the same boat wear a 'Wisconsin' sweatshirt to games that just twists the knife in my back.
Now according to the ESPN College Football Encyclopedia - The Complete History of the Game, I'm apparently not the first to have felt bad blood when Wisconsin comes to town. This stuff is deep seeded. When discussing our rival on page 523, it states that "President Theodore Roosevelt canceled the 1906 game because there were too many injuries and deaths on the field" Deaths? Really? Why didn't we think of that during those years we were clearly out classed on the field and double-digit underdogs? If only we'd just gone on a killing spree we could have avoided so much pain. Ah, hindsight is 20-20.
I kid of course, but if that story is indeed true (seems like if it were, it would be more widely known) things have cooled off in the rivalry a bit. I place the blame squarely on us for that. But this weekend we have a chance to douse gasoline over the smoldering embers. We've got the Badgers coming into our new, unfamiliar, loud, and (with any luck) irritatingly yellow/gold stadium. Time to start a new chapter in this rivalry, and take the first game at our new
To do this, it begins with our play in the trenches, as cliche as it may be to say. You can't beat Wisconsin without at least matching them physically across the line of scrimmage. The running game must be effective enough to keep Wisconsin guessing as to when we're winging the ball out to Decker. My primary concern on defense is with Badger DEs O'Brien Schofield (yeah, I know - who names their kid O'Brien) and J.J. Watt. Our tackles (Wills and Stommes) have got to keep these two from getting in Weber's grill too frequently. Beyond that, I like how we match up with Wisconsin's defense.
Defensively, Gopher DTs Garret Brown and Eric Small will need to continue to be disruptors in the middle, especially with the suspension of DE Cedric McKinley. Wisconsin's John Clay and Zack Brown are both excellent Big Ten running backs, and our trio of senior LBs will have to roam free to keep the yardage on the ground from piling up. The good news is, neither of them are nearly as fast as Jahvid Best (few are).
Scott Tolzien has been the big surprise of the year for the Badgers, getting UW more production out of the QB position early in the season than any would have thought. I have absolutely no idea how he'll handle a hostile crowd on the road, so I won't speculate one way or the other. I do know he throws a pretty accurate deep ball, and a decent 4-man pass rush will hopefully prevent him from getting his feet set and finding his WRs. He has got to be made uncomfortable early and often. I expect Simoni Lawrence to use his speed to match up with TE Garrett Graham, and make things difficult for him. Graham is the best TE in the conference, and this is obviously a big challenge. Based on some behind the bench conversations overheard at the NU game last week though, Brewster seems to have supreme confidence in #21.
Offensively, we all know the Badgers will be trying to lock down Eric Decker. Easier said than done. The Badgers shut down MSU's Blair White last week, but they're dealing not only with the premiere WR in the conference, but also a QB that has developed 3 years of comfort with him. This is an edge perhaps only shared by Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn at Illinois. Weber will force the ball in to Decker as he always does, in spite of the coverage, and Decker should come up with his usual 8-10 catches for 80 to 120 yards and a score. I'd like to see Weber check down to Green a little more instead of telegraphing most of his throws to Decker, and to keep finding Tow-Arnett at least 4-6 times a game. The real wildcard here though is MarQueis Gray. Will he be fully unleashed and get to throw the ball? Have we been keeping a good chunk of the playbook shut for this very game? I'm hoping so. If he can protect the football, we should see some big plays from Gray.
I've continued to assert that Troy Stoudamire will bust a TD return each week. He's been good, but the TD has eluded him. So I won't break tradition here - Troy gets one this week.
Predictions: Minnesota 31, Wisconsin 27
Badger Player of the Game: John Clay - 122 yard rushing, 2 TDs
Gopher Player of the Game: MarQueis Gray = 60 yards rushing, 1 TD, 95 yards passing, 1 TD
Get your gold on this Saturday, Gopher Nation. Rah Rah Rah for Ski-U-Mah! Rah for the U of M!