Gophers vs. Wisconsin: Week 13 Preview

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Broadcast Info:

  • Date: Sat., Nov. 25
  • TV channel: FS1
  • Time of kickoff: 2:30 p.m. (CST)
    • Betting line: Minnesota (+2.5) vs. Wisconsin, o/u: (42 points)

Opponent Information (Wisconsin):

  • 2023 record: 6-5
    • V. Buffalo 38-17 W
    • @ Washington State 22-31 L
    • V. Georgia Southern 35-14 W
    • @ Purdue 38-17 W
    • V. Rutgers 24-13 W
    • V. Iowa 6-15 L
    • @ Illinois 25-21 W
    • V. Ohio State 10-24 L
    • @ Indiana 14-20 L
    • V. Northwestern 10-24 L
    • V. Nebraska 24-17 W
  • Head Coach: Luke Fickell (1st year)
  • Players to watch: Braelon Allen (RB), Tanner Mordecai (QB) Ricardo Hallman (CB), Will Pauling (WR), Riley Mahlman (OT), Hunter Wohler (S)

After Wisconsin broke a three-game losing streak last week against Nebraska, it now travels to Dinkytown in hopes of not starting a new three-game skid vs. the Gophers. The 2023 season has had its fair share of ups and downs for Minnesota, but with a win Saturday, they would have victories over Wisconsin and Iowa in the same season for the first time since 1984. With hopes of getting to six wins and becoming bowl-eligible, Saturday’s Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe becomes even more pivotal.


  • Year One of the Luke Fickell era:

Per usual, Wisconsin was the champions of the offseason. Hiring Luke Fickell was dubbed as a “home run” by most pundits while pairing former UNC OC Phil Longo and SMU transfer QB Tanner Mordecai together, the Badgers were preseason Big Ten West favorites. It has not been smooth sailing for Fickell in Madtown.

Oddly enough, the product on the field is not much different from what we saw from former HC Paul Chryst and his staff. Braelon Allen and the running game is still one of the best in the country, but their 22.4 PPG ranks 102nd in all of college football. Modercai’s injury in the middle of the season put a damper on the hopes of a new style of football in Madison, even though he returned two weeks ago vs. Northwestern, as of now they just look like another typical Big Ten West team with a solid defense and great running game.

  • First 2-game losing streak vs. UMN since 1993-94:

The last time Minnesota beat Wisconsin in back-to-back games the head coaches were Jim Wacker and Barry Alvarez. The last time the Maroon & Gold won three in a row, it was John Gutekunst and Dave McClain/Jim Hiles/Don Morton. A lot has happened since those days, as the Badgers have played in a bowl game 21 straight seasons and Minnesota looks to grow their streak to three.

In my article earlier this week addressing the state of the Minnesota program, this is incredibly pivotal for PJ Fleck and the Gophers program. Fleck has a chance to be one of the most successful UMN coaches against the Badgers this century and go to three straight bowl games for the first time in his career. While a lot of people are beginning to question Fleck and his tactics, beating your rivals can solve every issue that you have and Saturday would go a long way in taking another step in the right direction.

Gophers’ path to victory:

Wisconsin’s prized transfer portal QB Tanner Mordecai returned from injury two weeks ago vs. Northwestern and he has played “well” since. Averaging 207.5 passing yards per game while completing 65% of his passes isn’t great for most fans of college football, but the fact that he has not turned the ball over and he plays in the Big Ten West constitutes as good QB play for a matchup like this one.

With all that being said, Wisconsin is designed to win games in a very similar way to Iowa. While the Badgers might be more talented on paper, their strength is their pass defense and they want to control the clock and force you to make mistakes. This is nothing different than the style of football that has won in the Big Ten West for the past five seasons.

The fact that this game is at Huntington Bank Stadium obviously helps the Gophers immensely. I do not want to sound like a broken record, but to retain Paul Bunyan’s Axe they have to play mistake-free football and beat Wisconsin at their own game. 11 games into the season, I think it would be fair enough to say that last year’s pass-game explosion vs. the Badgers was an anomaly. Saturday’s game will come down to a handful of plays, Athan will need to make a handful of big-time throws and the Gophers cannot lose the turnover battle.

It might sound repetitive or boring, but that is how games are won or lost in the part of the country. Last week’s win over Nebraska to become bowl-eligible takes a little pressure off Luke Fickell and Wisconsin’s back, but I believe they still have their fair share of issues as a football team and they’re still very beatable. I am optimistically hoping that PJ Fleck used last week’s shellacking at Ohio State an opportunity to get healthy and prepare for this week and he understands the magnitude of a victory, so I think the Maroon & Gold retain the Axe in a 24-20 hard fought battle.

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