U will try to contain Dayne

Murali Balaji

The Minnesota-Wisconsin game has always had tremendous meaning to fans on both sides. But this year, it might mean something more to the teams as well.
If the Gophers play the role of spoiler, then the Badgers’ hopes for an undefeated season and national championship will be dashed. But if Wisconsin hammers the Gophers the way they have handled other teams, any momentum Minnesota has picked up over the last few weeks will be gone.
And then there’s the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the second of three straight trophy games for Minnesota.
Let the game begin.
Gophers on offense
The quarterback position notwithstanding, the Gophers face major problems on the offensive side of the ball. If the coaches were striving for a balanced attack, now would be a good time to find it against a Badger defense that has yielded only 254 yards per game and only five touchdowns all season.
This is beginning to sound like a mantra, but if the Gophers stand a chance of winning against Wisconsin, they must establish the run early.
Running back Thomas Hamner has been far too inconsistent this season, but if he can get untracked early, things could get freed up for the passing game. But don’t expect freshman cornerbacks Mike Echols and Jamar Fletcher to give in that easily.
“They’ve allowed us to do things and control the passing game,” Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said of his corners.
Fletcher has already established himself as a solid defender in the Big Ten and is tied for the conference lead in interceptions (4). That will make it even more important for Minnesota receiver Luke Leverson to bounce back from his two-catch performance against Michigan with a solid effort against the Wisconsin secondary.
Another important factor in slowing down the relentless Badger defense is containing defensive end Tom Burke. Burke’s 15 sacks lead the conference, and he often breaks into the opponent’s backfield before a play can develop.
Look for the Gophers to utilize two-tight-end formations in an effort to slow down the Wisconsin pass rush. With Burke and sophomore John Favret (seven sacks) lined up at the end positions, the Gophers could be tempted to test the middle of the Badger defense with the run.
If the offense can’t move the ball, it will put all the pressure on the defense to clamp down on Dayne and the Wisconsin offense for the majority of the game.
KEY MATCHUP: Leverson versus Fletcher.
Leverson is coming off a season- low, two-catch performance and will need to re-establish himself if the Gophers hope to move the football. This week, he will be tested again by Fletcher, who is playing beyond his years as a redshirt freshman.
Look for Minnesota to establish Leverson early in the ball game with intermediate routes against the Badgers primary zone defense.

Gophers on defense
The Wisconsin offense plays right into the Gophers’ run-minded defense. Unfortunately, the running back in the offense is 260 pounds of pure power and force.
Ron Dayne is not only a punishing runner, but he is surprisingly agile and quick for a big man.
The Gophers’ eight-man fronts will essentially force the two teams into a game of chicken. Quarterback Mike Samuel hasn’t proven he can beat teams with his passing alone, so Dayne is likely to run into the mouth of any defense the Badgers face.
Mason will not alter his game plan for any team, either. By trying to force a poor passing team to pass, Mason’s hope is to take Wisconsin out of its element before Minnesota is taken out of theirs.
What about getting a pass rush against the Badgers’ mammoth offensive tackles, Chris McIntosh and 6-foot-6, 385-pound Aaron Gibson? A better question will be to see how much of 240-pound end Curtese Poole will be left after he goes up against Gibson.
“You’ve got a semi-truck going this way and Volkswagen going the other way,” Mason said. “(Gibson) is just a big man.”
KEY MATCHUP: The Gophers’ run defense versus Dayne.
Dayne is the best running back the Gophers have faced or will face. His explosiveness attacking the holes gives him a lot of momentum when he makes through to the open field.
The Gophers can have success against Dayne if they can close the gaps before he hits them at full speed. If they don’t, things could get pretty ugly in Madison.