By Jake McCormick
A 5-0 start is not unfamiliar to the Wisconsin Badger football team. Then again, neither is a 1-5 finish. After a sixth straight year hoisting Paul Bunyan’s Ax, the Badgers are one win away from bowl eligibility. Wisconsin’s win against the Minnesota Golden Gophers was extremely significant if they want to play in a bowl game that isn’t sponsored by a pizza chain or ends in a .com/. The Badgers now enter their two toughest games of the season, at Ohio State and hosting Iowa, with a 2-0 record in the Big Ten. If Wisconsin can manage to win one of those two games, they could easily be in the running for the Big Ten title and a January bowl.
Under Jim Tressel, the only team the Buckeyes don’t have a winning record against is Wisconsin (3-3), but Bret Bielema was not head coach during those three wins. Most games between these two teams have been underrated by Vegas, and with Ohio State fielding a perceivably weaker roster than in years past, Wisconsin could come out of Columbus undefeated, making their next challenge at home against Iowa a potential hootenanny of a hoedown.
How will the Badgers respond to their first Big Ten road game, especially in a new stadium that adds more hype to an already strong rivalry?
In the past six losses to the Badgers, the Gophers have opted for flight instead of fight against Wisconsin’s running game, and Saturday’s 31-28 victory was no different. The Badgers put up a certain other Minnesota running back’s stat, with 295 rushing yards on a day that quarterback Scott Tolzien lived down to his preseason expectations of doing just enough in the passing game to help the team win. His most significant play may very well have been his naked bootleg run of 47 yards in the fourth quarter.
The defense gave up only 57 rushing yards, and defensive end O’Brien Schofield is nailing his certificate for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week to his wall after pulling a Jared Allen before Jared Allen could do so Monday night. Schofield had 2 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, and forced the Adam Weber fumble that allowed the team to parade around the stadium with the Axe. Schofield continues to be a disruptive force and leads the nation in tackles for loss.
The Badgers held star Spartan receiver Blair White to one catch for nine yards. How will they deal with Minnesota stud Eric Decker, who is the focal point of the gopher offense?
I am going to have to agree with Mike Gallagher and say that Eric Decker is a baller. He was really the only major offensive threat Wisconsin had to game plan for, and he still managed to tally eight catches for 140 yards. I hope he makes the decision Jeff Samardzija didn’t, i.e. the right one, and stick with his best sport.
Wisconsin has multiple weapons in its passing offense, and it seems like a different player leads the team in receiving each week. Can the Badgers utilize their offensive diversity to neutralize a good Gopher linebacking corps?
It’s clear that Tolzien has more than a few options, and tight end Garrett Graham is his safety net. Graham led the team in catches and yards, with seven for 68, and second string tight end Lance Kendricks continues to make me less and less worried about losing Graham after the season. Kendricks had a nice touchdown catch in the beginning of the fourth quarter. This is clearly one of the more talented receiver groups in the Big Ten, and they all need to bring their A, A-, or B+ games against the Buckeyes.
Was the 30 carries, 143 yards against the Spartans a breakout or fluke for John Clay? Can he continue that in a rivalry road game?
I think a stat line of 32 carries, 184 yards, and three touchdowns answers that question. Clay leads the Big Ten in rushing and needs to be a major factor if Wisconsin wants to even compete against Ohio State. Clay’s development this season has been very steadily improving, and each game he literally one up’s himself. I doubt Clay will be able to chase that green mushroom down the field against the Buckeyes, but he just needs to establish himself early in order for Wisconsin to control the tempo of the game.
The Badgers’ season so far has played out like a video game. The first two levels weren’t massively difficult and borderline tutorial, but you are just trying to get the hang of the controls at that point. Once that happens, you dominate a relatively easy boss and move on to the meat of the game. As far as Wisconsin is concerned, they’ve survived two increasingly challenging levels, and are heading into the hardest part of the game with a full head of confidence and full clip of ammo. Ohio State will clearly be their hardest test, with Iowa’s resurgence not far behind. Judgment day starts now for Wisconsin.
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