Daily Breakdown: Minnesota unlikely to get axe back against Wisconsin

The Gophers will try to get to .500 in the final regular season game.

Quarterback Demry Croft hands the ball off to running back Rodney Smith at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 11.

Jack Rodgers

Quarterback Demry Croft hands the ball off to running back Rodney Smith at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 11.

Drew Cove

Minnesota will conclude its regular season at TCF Bank Stadium Saturday, against its toughest opponent yet: Wisconsin.

The Gophers face daunting odds to break No. 5 Wisconsin’s unbeaten record. The No. 5 Badgers is the highest ranked opponent for Minnesota yet, and it will be a challenge while fighting for a rivalry win, bowl eligibility and an upset on senior day.

Wisconsin has won 11 consecutive games and Minnesota was just shutout against Northwestern.

When Minnesota runs the ball:

Minnesota found limited success against a tough Northwestern front on the run, gaining 139 yards, but no scores.

The Gophers are a run-first team, and have had most offensive success on the ground this season, with running backs Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks and Kobe McCrary all chipping in with games over 100 yards.

Wisconsin is ranked No. 1 in the nation on rushing defense. The Badgers have allowed only four touchdowns on the ground this season, and allows an average of 79 rushing yards per game.

Matchup to watch:

RB Rodney Smith vs. LB T.J. Edwards

Advantage: Wisconsin

When Wisconsin runs the ball:

Wisconsin features a freshman running back, Jonathan Taylor, who won the Big Ten offensive player of the week twice and freshman of the week twice.

Taylor ranks third in all of college football in rushing yards this season with 1,657, and has 12 touchdowns.

Minnesota’s rushing defense had been the heart of the unit until late in this season, giving up 371 rushing yards against Michigan. The Gophers also gave up 277 against Northwestern.

Matchup to watch: DE Carter Coughlin vs. RB Jonathan Taylor

Advantage: Wisconsin

When Minnesota passes the ball:

Minnesota hasn’t had much success passing the ball with either quarterback this season.

Quarterback Conor Rhoda remains the leading passer for the Gophers, despite not having started a game since the Michigan State game on Oct. 14. Quarterback Demry Croft has added versatility to the offense, but against Northwestern, he had more interceptions, three, than completions, two. 

Minnesota’s passing game is further depleted as top wide receiver Tyler Johnson didn’t suit up for the game against Northwestern. Johnson will not be available against Wisconsin. He has 677 yards and seven touchdowns this season, the next leading receiver, Phillip Howard, has 132 yards and no touchdowns.

Wisconsin’s defensive unit is completed with the pass defense being ranked No. 7 in the nation, holding teams to an average of 167 yards per game.

Matchup to watch: WR Phillip Howard vs. S Natrell Jamerson

Advantage: Wisconsin

When Wisconsin passes the ball:

Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook has played all 11 games this season, and he has passed for over 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns, with an average of 182 yards per game. He has thrown 141 completions for 225 attempts, with 13 interceptions. That’s a completion percentage of almost 63 percent.

Tight end Troy Fumagalli has gotten the bulk of the share this season receiving, with 460 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games.

Minnesota’s secondary and pass defense has shown improvement with new injuries becoming less common, and guys getting more comfortable in their position, but they still feel the absence of safety Antoine Winfield Jr.

Matchup to watch: LB Thomas Barber vs. WR A.J. Taylor.

Advantage: Wisconsin

Prediction:

Wisconsin 38, Minnesota 7.

Wisconsin is unbeaten, fielding one of the best defenses in all of college football, with Minnesota’s inexperienced offense still learning how to adjust to the college game.

Daily prediction record: 10-1

Everything else you need to know:

Start time: 2:30 p.m. CST, Saturday, Nov. 25

TV: ABC

Radio: KFAN 100.3 FM

Line: Wisconsin by 17

Minnesota depth chart

Wisconsin depth chart