Wisconsin Football: Are the Toothless Gophers Growing Fangs?
The Wisconsin Badgers railroaded the Purdue Boilermakers, and now turn their attention up I-94 to the Minnesota Gophers.
While the Gophers' season has been the very definition of "rebuilding," the team's last two contests have given hope to the "U" (as the locals call it.)
A bowl game is out of reach, but an upset of a road-rattled Badgers squad would be enough to consider this year a success for new coach Jerry Kill.
Has a win over the Iowa Hawkeyes and a close call to the Michigan State Spartans given Minnesota enough confidence to beat an overpowering Wisconsin team? The Badgers hope not. A trip to the Twin Cities could either be a pit stop on the way to Indianapolis or simply the end of the road.
Offense Has Signs of Life
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Marqueis Gray is by no means a Heisman contender.
His numbers all season have been rather pedestrian, but the last two games have given Minnesota fans something to cheer about. He threw for 295 yards against Michigan State and 193 against the Hawkeyes. In the game at East Lansing, he tossed three touchdowns (but also threw two balls into the defense's hands during that game.)
Duane Bennett had a great showing against Iowa with 101 yards, but struggled against a Michigan State front that also kept the Badgers largely in check. Again, his 4 yards-per-carry is nothing to set the comment boards on fire, but Wisconsin would regret overlooking a steady performer like Bennett.
What's more, the last two games were against quality defensive units and in many ways, the Gophers were on the right side of the statistics if not always on the right side of the score.
Home Sweet Home
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The Minnesota Golden Gophers may have one of the worst records in college football, but as always, records can be deceiving.
No writer will ever contest that this team belongs in the same sentence as Wisconsin Badgers when it comes to level of play. But, in all the Gopher gut wrenching losses this year, games played at TCF Bank Stadium have been decidedly closer.
Minnesota lost by an average of 15.7 points in all three of their home losses. The differential in away games lost is closer to 24. That gives the home team a little more than a touchdown more to work with.
The Badgers have also seemingly wilted under the glare of road lights, so the Gophers will take any advantage they can get.
Emotions Run High
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Wisconsin has seen firsthand what a team fueled by emotion can do. The Badgers fell to an adrenaline-powered Michigan State before meeting a revenge-bent Ohio State.
Both times, the emotion of the moment outweighed the talent in the locker room.
The Gophers will not go bowling this year, and this season has been a painful lesson in humility. The team's straight-shooting new coach has had a few health problems while being painfully honest about his players' academic problems.
But this is a trophy game, and the oldest FBS rivalry.
The circumstances mean little because a victory in this game alone could make for a happy winter for Kill and Co.—even if they never leave the cold of Minnesota.