November 15, 2008

Five things to watch: Minnesota

MADISON, Wis. - Last season, the Wisconsin football team went to the Metrodome and won a high-scoring affair with the one-win Gophers. This season, Minnesota comes to town as the team with the winning record with hopes of putting a bigger damper on UW's somewhat disappointing season.

The following are five things to watch during the 118th edition of this storied rivalry:

1.) Three-peat?

Over the past two weeks, Badger running backs have dominated opposing defenders. Two weeks ago, P.J. Hill and John Clay both rushed for more than 100-yards against Michigan State. Then last week at Indiana, David Gilreath joined those two as the Badgers had three topple triple digits on the ground.

In recent history, UW has dominated Minnesota on the ground. Look for the Badgers to come out and establish its running game early. As Minnesota features the eighth best rush defense in the Big Ten, it could be the Badgers third consecutive week of great success running the football.

2.) Black and (blue) Decker:

Eric Decker established himself as one of the Big Ten's premier receivers during the early stages of the season. However, after he suffered a high ankle sprain, his status for today's game does not look good.

It will be interesting to see how Minnesota, who does not have a great running game, will shift its offensive game plan to try and fill the huge void left by Decker.

3.) Gophers by birth, Badgers by choice:.

Five Wisconsin players, including starting wide receivers David Gilreath and Isaac Anderson, hail from the state of Minnesota. Back-up linebacker Blake Sorensen and linemen Brendan Kelly (defensive) and Joe Schafer (offensive) round out the crew playing their home-state school.

Last season, Gilreath had a major impact on the game in Minneapolis and has established himself as a legitimate playmaker so far this season. Meanwhile, Anderson has impressed his coaches and players alike with his stellar blocking down field. It will be interesting to see how these players perform in this heated rivalry.

4.) Battle of the B's:

It is somewhat obvious that Tim Brewster and Bret Bielema are not huge fans of each other. But as is the case in most rivalries, that is a common theme. There is no respect lost from each other and Brewster has lead a great turnaround from a one-win season a year ago. Still, Wisconsin has been the winner of this rivalry 11 of the past 13 years and playing at home, it could very well be 12 of the past 14 when all is said and done.

5.) Banged up offensive line:

Making UW's recent assault on the ground against opposing defense more impressive, is the fact that they have come with makeshift offensive lines. After losing Eric Vandenheuvel early in the game against Indiana last weekend, the Badgers had to fill his position. Obviously it went well, but the chemistry of the offensive line has definitely been tested this season.

While every offensive linemen that has played this season is very capable, it will still be interesting to see how they perform against a hungry Gopher squad and one of the best defensive linemen in the conference in Willie VanDesteeg.

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