Battle of elites: Gophers' offense against Badgers' defense

The game starts at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
Publish date:
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By the numbers, the 129th Big Ten border battle between the Gophers and Badgers is due to be one for the ages, not only because it's No. 8 Minnesota against No. 12 Wisconsin, but also because it features one of the nation's most explosive offenses and one of the best defenses. 

Here's how it'll shake down in different areas of the game. 

Third downs

Minnesota converts 51.9% (4th nationally) of its third-down attempts, and they're facing a Wisconsin defense that allows opponents to convert just 24.6% of third downs – that's No. 1 in the country. 

Red zone opportunities

The Badgers' elite defense is 11th in the nation in allowing opponents to score on just 69.6% of trips to the red zone. Minnesota's offense is lethal in the red zone, ranking 11th nationally while scoring on 48 of 52 trips (39 touchdowns, nine field goals). 

One dimensional Badgers offense?

Minnesota's pass defense is ranked ninth in the nation allowing 176.3 yards per game, meaning Wisconsin, as they usually do, may again have to rely on the nation's second leading rusher, Jonathan Taylor (1,685 yards). 

Badgers quarterback Jack Coan has run an efficient passing game, but taking shots downfield is not his game. Coan ranks 88th nationally in yards per completion (11.2). 

Throw in the fact that Minnesota ranks 27th nationally against the run and this could be a very tough day for Wisconsin's offense. 

One dimensional Gophers offense?

It's no secret that Penn State and Iowa really limited Minnesota's ability to run the ball. Those run defenses ranked fourth and 22nd, respectively. Wisconsin's run defense ranks ninth, so it could be another long day for Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks and Mohamed Ibrahim. 

How elite is Wisconsin's pass defense?

Yes, the Badgers' rank sixth in the nation in passing defense, but are they really that good? As 247 Sports points out, they might be very susceptible to Minnesota receivers running slants. 

"However, when it comes to best-on-best and who has a better chance to take away the other's top threat, I have to give the edge to Minnesota. Wisconsin is riddled with cornerbacks who don't make plays on the football nor do they thrive in press coverage. That's a dangerous matchup against a Gopher squad that's sixth in the country in yards per completion (16.0 ypg)."

247 Sports adds that Wisconsin's defense has not faced a top-40 offense outside of Ohio State over the past five weeks. 

How elite is Minnesota's passing attack?

Having torched good defenses from Penn State, Iowa and Northwestern in consecutive weeks, Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan will now face the nation's sixth-ranked passing defense that allows just 169.9 yards per game through the air. 

But, as mentioned in the notes above, the Gophers are extremely dynamic with two 1,000-yard receivers who have helped Morgan rank fourth in yards per completion (15.64) and fifth in yards per attempt (10.63). 

Can the Gophers protect Morgan?

Minnesota has the biggest offensive line in the country, and it got leaky late in their lone loss to Iowa two weeks ago and ranks 85th in the nation in sacks allowed. The Badgers pose a real threat as they rank fourth in sacks with 3.55 per game. 

Time of possession

Gophers coach P.J. Fleck is known to burn as much clock as humanly possible, and it's evidenced by Minnesota ranking fourth in the country in average time of possession. Guess who ranks No. 1? It's Wisconsin. 

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