Gophers v. Wisconsin: Week 13 Preview

Nov. 24, 2021: After a disappointing two-week stretch, the Gophers answered with a dominant 35-14 victory over Indiana in Week 12, they now look to cap their 2021 campaign with a season-finale win against the Wisconsin Badgers.

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Broadcast Info:

  • Date: Sat., Nov. 27
  • TV channel: FOX
  • Time of kickoff: 3:00 p.m. (CST)
  • Broadcast team: Tim Brando (play-by-play) & Spencer Tillman (color)
  • Betting line: Minnesota (+7) v. Wisconsin; over/under (39)

Opponent Information (Wisconsin):

  • 2020 record: 4-3
    • Duke’s Mayo Bowl Champions (42-28 W/Wake Forest)
  • 2021 record: 8-3
    • V. Penn State 10-16 L
    • V. Eastern Michigan 34-7 W
    • (@ Soldier Field) Notre Dame 13-41 L
    • V. Michigan 17-38 L
    • @ Illinois 24-0 W
    • V. Army 20-14 W
    • @ Purdue 30-13 W
    • V. Iowa 27-7 W
    • @ Rutgers 52-3 W
    • V. Northwestern 35-7 W
    • V. Nebraska 35-28 W
  • Head Coach: Paul Chryst (7th season)
  • Returning starters: 14
  • Players to watch: (FR/RB) Braelon Allen, (RS-SO/QB) Graham Mertz, (RS-SR/TE) Jake Ferguson, (RS-SR/RT) Logan Bruss, (JR/LB) Leo Chenal, and (RS-SR/FS) Scott Nelson

After a disappointing 1-3 start to the 2021 season, the Wisconsin Badgers have reeled off eight straight impressive victories. Led by freshman running back Braelon Allen, the Badgers have started to find their identity of a strong rushing attack and elite defense. Their 17-year-old RB has totaled just over 1,000 rushing yards this season on an impressive 7.6 yards per carry and it seems as if they have found their next elite running back. His great form paired with a defense allowing a nation’s fewest 64.3 rushing yards per game, putting Wisconsin back on top of the Big Ten West standings.

Wisconsin season storylines:

  • Braelon Allen’s Breakout:

Freshman running back Braelon Allen‘s breakout this season has evolved a Wisconsin team with a lot of questions early this season into one of the best teams in the Big Ten Conference. The Badgers had a tremendous amount of questions at the RB position earlier this season, as it initially looked like Jalen Berger was going to be the bell cow, but he is not gone (transfer). It then looked like Chez Mellusi was going to be the main man again, but he suffered a season-ending leg injury a few weeks ago.

After not appearing in a week one loss against Penn State, true freshman, 17-year-old phenom running back Braelon Allen has quickly become one of the best players at his position in the country. As a four-star top-300 recruit from Fon Du Lac, Wisc. Allen has some expectations, but nobody could’ve guessed he would’ve been this good, this quickly. On the season, he has 140 total carries, 1062 yards and 12 TDs. The 6-foot-2, 238-pound man child will need to be contained if the Gophers want any chance of winning back Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

  • Second Half Dominance:

Allen’s dominant campaign has done a lot for this Badgers team, but it has been more than just him that has turned around their season after a dissapointing 1-3 start. Graham Mertz looked like one of the worst QBs in the country earlier this season, and a once-dominant defense looked like it had a tremendous amount of questions.

After allowing 25.5 points per game in the first four weeks of the season, the Badgers have only allowed more than 14 points once, which came last week against Nebraska. Their defense as a whole looks like one of the best units in the country, led by one of the best inside linebacker duos, Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn. Mertz has certainly not been a world-beater in the second half of the season, but he has only thrown three interceptions in his last seven starts after six in his first three. The Wisconsin Badgers are doing what they have done best over the last decade, peaking at the right time.

  • Graham Mertz’s Second Season:

Redshirt-sophomore QB Graham Mertz came to Madison, Wisc. as the Badgers’ high-rated recruit ever at the position, and he was supposed to take their program to the next level. After a terrific first start against Illinois, it has not been that for Mertz. His 61.1 completion percentage, for 1,238 yards, 9 TDs and 5INTs in seven starts last season, was far from the expectations he had before taking over under center.

This year he was expected to make the “next jump”, but that has not happened. After recordings six interceptions in the first three games of the season, and failing to top 200 yards in his first four, he has begun to settle in. His 61.9 completion percentage, 138.42 passing yards per game, 7 TDs and 3 INTs over the last seven starts is nothing to write home about, but he isn’t making mistakes. My takeaway from Mertz this season is that he is nothing more than an average Wisconsin QB. He had the hype and talent to be more, but at the end of the day, he will just run the Badgers system and never be asked to do more than that.

Gophers’ path to victory:

On paper, there is not much, if anything that the Gophers do better than Wisconsin. But on the other side, there is not much that the Badgers do better than Minnesota. These are two very evenly matched teams that should be in line for a terrific football game. The easy answer to beat Wisconsin has and always will be to make them throw the football. Mertz has begun to run the Badgers’ system at a high level, but anything more can put him in uncomfortable situations where he reverts to making mistakes. Wisconsin will look to force Minnesota and Tanner Morgan to do the same, and whoever’s QB has a better performance this week could play a major factor in determining who takes home Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

Much like the Iowa game, I believe that this week’s contest will come down to those special situations. The 4th & short decisions — whether to go for it at midfield or settle for field goal in the red zone, those decisions will quickly flip the outcome of this football game. Both teams will run the football and both teams will likely find success running the football, it will be whoever steps out of their comfort zone and does well in the areas they don’t normally do well in, will come out on top. There is zero reason why the Gophers cannot win this football game, but their margin for error will be very small.

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