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Key to Saturday’s Badgers football game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers

The University of Wisconsin football team’s defense will be starless for the first half of Saturday. How can the Badgers adapt? Here’s a look at the keys to victory for Wisconsin and Minnesota… and a prediction for the bottom line.

Three keys for the badgers

No selection: UW’s offense isn’t in great shape right now. Quarterback Graham Mertz made just enough plays against Nebraska for UW to secure a win, but he needs to be better for UW to beat a good Minnesota defense. The first step is not to flip the ball. Mertz has nine interceptions this season and the opponent has scored six of those for a touchdown.

Minnesota’s defense has 12 picks this season, just over one per game, but Mertz needs to avoid it as best he can. His interception against Minnesota tipped this game towards the Gophers last season.

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Tackle Ibrahim: This is the “easier said than done” part of these keys. Gopher’s Jam Mohamed Ibrahim is a force. He was named the Big Ten’s best traffic jam in 2020, tore his Achilles tendon in the opener last year and doesn’t appear to have come back any worse. Ibrahim leads the league in rushing yards per game (152.4) and has had success against UW in the past with a 151-yard rush in 2020.

UW can’t afford to miss tackles in the box and let it loose on the second layer of defence. Linemen and linebackers have to wrap it up.

Confusing the QB: Minnesota are expected to be without senior quarterback Tanner Morgan against UW. Minnesota has classified Morgan’s injury as an upper body issue only, but Morgan was diagnosed with a concussion earlier this season.

Redshirt rookie Athan Kaliakmanis was a starting XI in the last two games for the Gophers, and the new QB was set to face a multitude of looks from Jim Leonhard’s defense. UW can’t get too crazy and out of position to stop the run, but every passing situation should show Kaliakmanis something he’s probably never seen before.

Three keys for the gophers

Start fast: Both teams play more for pride and rivalry than big stakes. Neither can represent the Big Ten West in the conference title game. But Minnesota as a road team would be wise to get onto the board quickly and force the Badgers’ inconsistent offense to play from behind. Kaliakmanis’ mobility could come into play here – he’s not afraid to hold the ball on read option looks and can extend plays by moving into the pocket, something UW have struggled with this season .

Beat up Braelon: Leonhard said the coaching staff will manage wisely the workload of Braelon Allen, who is dealing with shoulder and ankle injuries. Minnesota handled well against Allen last season, a key factor in Paul Bunyan’s Ax residing in Minneapolis for the past 12 months. Minnesota must beat Allen and force him to the touchline, leaving UW with Chez Mellusi and Isaac Guerendo in the backfield.

Choose spots to be aggressive: Minnesota’s coaches rave about Kaliakmanis’ potential, but they were pretty conservative in what they allowed him to do against Iowa last week. He threw for 87 yards against Iowa’s strong defense, but he’ll likely need to do more against UW. The run-pass option schemes Minnesota is going through make for safe, easy throws, but Minnesota should mix more shots into downfield against UW, who haven’t had to defend those games in nearly a month.

predictions

This game will come down to which team avoids the big mistake on offense or on the special teams.

This defense is designed to stop the other team’s offense, with strong front sevens able to stop the run. It’s very likely that UW will need Graham Mertz in scoring to win this game. He has struggled for the last three weeks but if the weather cooperates he could return to the level of play he showed earlier this season.

UW has more guns on offense and one of them makes a breakout play but the Gophers are keeping it tight.

Colten’s choice: Badgers 20, Minnesota 17

This is how fans choose the game.

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