Wisconsin Football: X-Factors For Badgers Against Minnesota
Madison, Wis. – You can throw everything that’s happened this season out the window; this one is for the Axe.
Interim head coach Jim Leonhard and the Wisconsin Badgers (6-5, 4-4 Big Ten), who are looking to reclaim Paul Bunyan’s Axe, play host to the Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-4, 4-4 Big Ten) at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Here are three X-factors for the Badgers when they take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
QB Graham Mertz
The past three weeks have been anything but ideal for Wisconsin Badgers starting quarterback Graham Mertz, totaling 336 passing yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
In short, he’s damn near been a liability. Yes, he’s been playing hurt, and I commend him for that, but if you’re going to be on the field, you have to produce, no excuses.
If UW is going to reclaim Paul Bunyan’s Axe, they’ll need the Kansas native to take care of the football and make a few plays in the passing game. The Gophers have the No. 3 run defense and No. 4 passing defense in the Big Ten, so they’ll need QB1 to be a net positive in the regular season finale.
Wisconsin’s run defense
Minnesota enters Saturday’s contest averaging 229.5 rushing yards per game, good for the second most in the conference. Simply put, the Gophers’ offense lives and dies by the running game – sound familiar?
If UW is going to win this grind-it-out matchup against their rivals to the north, they’ll need their run defense to bottle up star tailback Mo Ibrahim. Unfortunately, nobody has figured out how to do that, considering Ibrahim has toppled 100+ yards rushing and scored in every game this season.
Over the past four games, however, Jim Leonhard’s defense has allowed an average of 85 rushing yards per game and is playing its best ball of the season.
What happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force? We’re about to find out. But one thing is certain: Wisconsin’s run defense will be an X-factor in Saturday’s showdown.
The Wisconsin Badgers stable of RBs
Star running back Braelon Allen has a hurt shoulder and is playing through tremendous pain – that much is apparent. Despite the injury, he’s still doing everything he can to spark UW’s offense.
Thankfully, backup RB Chez Mellusi returned last week against Nebraska and ran for 98 yards on 21 carries after missing the past month due to an injury of his own. More importantly, he looked outstanding and ran with intention.
I have no doubt that he and Isaac Guerendo, who has home-run potential, will each receive touches. If UW’s offensive line comes to play and can wear down Minnesota in the trenches, the Badgers’ three-headed monster at tailback could steal the show.
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