Questions from the other side: Wisconsin

Colten Bartholomew, sports reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal, gives the Daily a Badger perspective ahead of Saturday’s game.

John Miller

The Minnesota Daily interviewed Colten Bartholomew, a sports reporter who covers the Badgers for the Wisconsin State Journal. 

1) Minnesota took the Axe back for the first time in 15 years last year. What was the vibe around the school after last year’s loss?

It was a lot of disappointment and shell shock. I don’t think it was the fact that they lost, but the way that they lost — Minnesota controlled that game physically. That doesn’t happen often to the Badgers. I think it was another gut check for Wisconsin in a lost season and provided a lot of motivation through the offseason. Players already said Saturday after beating Purdue that they have a bad taste in their mouths from that loss and want to avenge it.

2) The loss against Illinois is one the Badgers would like to forget. Despite the loss, what does it mean for Wisconsin to still control their own destiny with a shot at a Big Ten West title?

I think Wisconsin was able to use the bye week after the Illinois and Ohio State losses to get back to basics. Opponents, like the Illini, were loading the box and shutting down the run, and the Badgers weren’t doing enough on the edge or with their receivers to stop it. For them to beat Iowa in a close game, then handle business against Nebraska and Purdue, showed poise. It was clear that once Iowa gave Wisconsin the help it needed by beating Minnesota, the Badgers weren’t going to waste the chance to make Saturday’s game be for the Big Ten West title.

3) Last year, the Gophers seemed to get bailed out by Alex Hornibrook’s mistakes. What is the difference this year in the offense with Jack Coan at the helm?

Coan doesn’t put the ball in harm’s way like Hornibrook did. He has four interceptions this year, but the majority of them are mistakes in accuracy or ball placement as opposed to bad decisions. You look at his picks against Iowa and Purdue — he threw a pass too far in front of his receiver against the Hawkeyes for a pick, and just didn’t get enough on a deep shot to an open receiver against the Boilermakers. Since the late-season bye, this offense has retooled the running game and added more jet motion and jet sweeps to keep opponents’ front sevens occupied, and Coan has taken advantage of play action to make plays down the field.

4) Jim Leonhard has the Badgers’ defense playing very well on defense this season. How does he handle Minnesota’s passing attack?

Good question – I think that matchup between Minnesota’s great receivers and the Wisconsin secondary will determine the game. My best guess is Leonhard will try to bring pressure off the edges and make Tanner Morgan get the ball out of his hand fast to not let the receivers get downfield. Minnesota’s line has been pretty good this season, but speed on the edges has given it problems, so I think they try to slow the pass game by applying pressure.

5) How does Minnesota stop Heisman hopeful Jonathan Taylor?

I’m not sure, to be honest. The way Wisconsin has added jet motion and the wildcat to the offense creates more stressors [for] opponents and diverts some attention from Taylor. Taylor was given a curtain call at Camp Randall Stadium last week, and even though he hasn’t stated it publicly, certainly looks to be closing his college career over the next few weeks. He’s coming off three 200-yard games and has been more patient letting blocks get set this month.

Wisconsin offensive player to watch: Quintez Cephus. He’s their best receiver, especially at making contested catches. Wisconsin’s going to need to hit a deep shot or two in this game, and he’s been the target on the majority of those.

Defensive player to watch: Chris Orr. He’s been the catalyst to a lot of good things for the Badgers’ defense this year, and his pressure up the middle on blitzes and delayed blitzes could be key to putting Morgan under fire.

Prediction: Wisconsin 24-21.