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Gophers football vs. Wisconsin: Keys to game, how to watch and who has the edge

Minnesota seeks 1st back-to-back wins over Badgers in nearly 30 years

Gophers defensive back Coney Durr takes control of Paul Bunyan’s Axe after the Gophers beat Wisconsin on Nov. 27, 2021.
Gophers defensive back Coney Durr takes control of Paul Bunyan’s Axe after the Gophers beat Wisconsin on Nov. 27, 2021.
Aaron Lavinsky / Star Tribune / TNS
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Minnesota at Wisconsin

When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Camp Randall Stadium
TV: ESPN
Weather: 52 degrees, sunny, 14 mph south wind
Betting favorite: Wisconsin, minus-3

Records: Minnesota (7-4, 4-4 Big Ten) had its Big Ten West Division title hopes dashed in last week’s 13-10 loss at home to Iowa. Wisconsin (6-5, 4-4) was knocked out of that race a while ago but bounced back from a 24-10 loss to Iowa with a 15-14 comeback win at Nebraska last week.

History: The Gophers will go for their first consecutive wins over Wisconsin since 1993-94. Minnesota has captured Paul Bunyan’s Axe in two of the past four matchups, including a 23-13 win in Minneapolis last year.

Key matchup: Both teams vs. the forward pass. Minnesota and Wisconsin are each outside the top 110 teams nationally in passing yards per game, while their pass defenses are within the top 25. A close game will come down to which side can create more explosive plays throwing the ball. Last week, it was Iowa on two scoring drives.

Who has the edge?

Gophers offense vs. Wisconsin defense: RB Mo Ibrahim is coming off a career-best 263 rushing yards against Iowa and is on the verge of more records, including 127 yards away from the program’s all-time career rushing record (Darrell Thompson’s 4,654 set in 1989). But Wisconsin has not allowed more than 112 yards rushing in the past six games, including four kept under 100. … Gophers OC Kirk Ciarrocca said Wisconsin has new faces on defense but the same type of outstanding players. Ciarrocca said they are “definitely clicking” over the past month. LB Nick Herbig has 11.5 sacks this season, but he will be suspended for Saturday’s first half after a targeting penalty against Nebraska last week. … The Gophers have one passing touchdown in their past seven games and haven’t thrown for more than 175 yards in that 3-4 stretch. Last week, Minnesota didn’t throw a pass over 20 yards until the last-ditch final minute of the game. … QB Athan Kaliakmanis has started consecutive games for Minnesota; head coach P.J. Fleck said Monday that Tanner Morgan (upper-body injury) might return to practice this week. … An all-Big Ten matchup to watch will be C John Michael Schmitz vs. DT Keeanu Benton. EDGE: Wisconsin

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Gophers defense vs. Wisconsin offense: Like Minnesota, RB Braelon Allen has put the Badgers on his back. The bruising 6-foot-2, 235-pound tailback has 1,126 rushing yards and 10 TDs. But he has been battling a shoulder injury for a while and appeared to injure his right leg against Nebraska. RB Chez Millusi, who is the speed to Allen’s power, returned from a four-game absence to rush for 98 yards against the Cornhuskers. Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi called them a “formidable duo.” Allen had a monster freshman season a year ago, but Minnesota’s scheme and swarming to the ball kept him to 47 yards on 17 carries. … QB Graham Mertz is completing 57% of his passes this season but has hit on just 41% in the past three games, throwing three interceptions in that span. … WR Chimere Dike leads the Badgers in receptions, yards and touchdowns but did not have a grab against Nebraska. … An Achilles heel for the Gophers defense has been guarding tight ends. Iowa and Penn State hit Minnesota for explosive plays, but Wisconsin barely throws to that position. … Minnesota is plus-3 in turnover margin and plus-48 in points off turnovers. EDGE: Gophers

Special teams: Gophers K Matthew Trickett has made 12 of 14 field goals, but his two misses have come in crucial losses to Purdue and Iowa. … K Dragan Kesich has touchbacks on 53 of 61 kickoffs. … Wisconsin kickers are 8 of 13 on field goals, including three misses within 30-40 yards. EDGE: Gophers

Prediction: With dashed dreams of winning the Big Ten West, the Gophers end the regular season on a high note. They make a few more plays in the passing game to get on the other side of the razor’s edge. Minnesota, 21-20

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Related Topics: MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS
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