Gophers prep for rivalry matchup with Wisconsin

This Saturday will be the final home game for 19 players on the roster.

Minnesota defensive lineman RaShede Hageman rushes Penn States Ty Howle on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers game against Wisconsin on Nov. 23 is Senior Day for the team.

Image by Amanda Snyder, Daily File Photo

Minnesota defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman rushes Penn State’s Ty Howle on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers game against Wisconsin on Nov. 23 is Senior Day for the team.

by Nate Gotlieb

The Gophers will face arguably their toughest test of the season Saturday when they play No. 16 Wisconsin at TCF Bank Stadium.

The Badgers (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) have five straight wins and one of the top defenses and rushing offenses in the nation.

Wisconsin is a 16.5-point favorite Saturday and has won nine straight games against Minnesota.

“They’ve gone to the Rose Bowl. They’ve done a lot of good things, but I’m not too sure this isn’t their best football team,” Gophers head coach Jerry Kill said.

Kill took a leave of absence Oct. 10 to focus on his epilepsy treatment but has coached from the coaches’ box the last three games. He said he will coach from the box again Saturday.

His defense will face the Badgers’ high-powered, physical running attack, which features two 1,000-yard running backs in Melvin Gordon and James White.

The duo led Wisconsin to 554 rushing yards in a 51-3 win over Indiana last Saturday.

Gophers redshirt senior Ra’Shede Hageman said there’s no recipe for stopping the run other than everyone doing their jobs.

“We can’t be selfish and try and make plays we’re not supposed to make,” he said.

Minnesota’s defense must also contend with wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, one of the best pass catchers in the Big Ten.

“Even if it’s a run-heavy game, it’s not a game where the [defensive backs] get to slack off,” senior safety Brock Vereen said. “If anything, we’ve got to be more focused.”

Vereen and the Gophers are 8-2 and have won their past four games. The four-game winning streak started with upsets over Northwestern and Nebraska and continued with wins over Indiana and Penn State.

“It’s been a great ride,” redshirt senior offensive lineman Ed Olson said. “We just treat each day like it’s our last, and for the seniors, we’re just having a great ride.”

Olson and the offense have run the ball effectively in the past four games, but they will face a Wisconsin defense that allows less than 100 rushing yards per game.

The Badgers employ a 3-4 defensive scheme and have one of the top linebackers in the country in redshirt senior Chris Borland.

Olson said the coaches gave players the game plan early in the week and they’re focusing on treating Saturday like any other game.

Olson is one of 19 seniors who will play their final home game Saturday. The class has been through a coaching change and three losing seasons but has a chance to play in a New Year’s Day bowl game this season.

“This has been a special year,” Vereen said. “It’s about how special we can make it.”