October 1, 2009

Behind enemy lines: Minnesota

For the first time in 2009, the Wisconsin football team will pack up and take their game on the road.

So far, the Badgers have an unblemished 4-0 record after handling Michigan State to open Big Ten play last weekend. Minnesota, on the other hand, is 3-1 with a win over Northwestern.

On Saturday, they will meet for the 119th time. And, for the first time in nearly 30 years, the game will be played outdoors in the state of Minnesota.

Looking to find out more about the Gophers, BadgerBlitz.com went straight to the source, GopherIllustrated.com's football analyst Matt O'Connell, who provided some insights from behind enemy lines.

Read O'Connell's thoughts about the Gophers here…

1.) Eric Decker is obviously one of the leagues premier wide receivers. What have teams done in the past to successfully slow him down?

O'Connell: In all honesty, I don't know that I have seen Decker slowed down. Teams have tried doubling him with two corners, putting a safety over the top and even both. And it has not worked. The past two weeks he has faced two of the best in Cal's Syd'Quan Thompson and Northwestern's Sherrick McManus and he has scored four touchdowns and racked up nearly 200 yards.

Decker is so big and strong, along with being such a precise route runner, he is nearly impossible to slow down. That, along with his almost psychic connection with Weber when it comes to broken plays, makes him a danger all the time.

2.) Adam Weber and Decker have a pretty outstanding chemistry with one another on the field. Who else on the Gopher offense can be considered a threat the Badgers should be worried about?

O'Connell: At receiver, Brandon Green has established himself as Weber's number two. He has breakaway speed but is most dangerous on the crossing routes. He seems to come up big late in tight games.

Tight end Nick Tow-Arnett is another guy who always seems to come up with a big play at the right time. He does not have the stats of Graham, but he is sneaky fast and has great hands.

Look for redshirt freshman running back Kevin Whaley to be big this week. He missed two games with turf toe, but ran hard in limited duty last week. He is small at maybe 185 pounds, but super quick and tough to bring down.

3.) Even though Minnesota eventually lost to Cal, who was ranked in the top 10 at the time, how much can a close game against a top-notch team like that boost the confidence of the Gopher players? And have you seen that boost in confidence?

O'Connell: For the Gophers, the loss to Cal was huge. They expected to win that game and nearly did. After getting down early, they came roaring back to tie the game and appeared to have shut the Bears down again until they jumped early and got a re-do on a third down play. They proved they belonged on the field with a top 10 team and that will carry over to every other game.

4.) Head coach Tim Brewster announced that starting defensive end Cedric McKinley has been suspended for the Badger game. How do you see that disciplinary action affecting the way the Gophers will be able to slow John Clay and the rest of the Badger running game?

O'Connell: Unfortunately for the Badgers, McKinley will not be a major loss. He has made a few nice plays against the pass, but has been invisible at times. Anthony Jacobs will take his place, and at nearly 290 pounds and similar speed, he might be more suited to take on Clay.

Senior Derrick Onwauchi is healthy again and will bring a speed rush element along with rising sophomore D.L. Wilhite who has two sacks in limited duty this year.

5.) Finally, with the new stadium and all the hoopla that is sure to surround this game, how do you see it going down?

O'Connell: Clearly the atmosphere will be like nothing Minneapolis has seen for a Gopher game in 30 years or more. Campus should be alive with activity and the crowd will surprise the Badgers and their fans.

The Gophers have improved a ton since the Syracuse game and there is no reason to believe that won't continue. The game will be tight, but I believe the new Gopher attitude of winning will over take the Badgers and the axe will stay in Minneapolis.


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