Each week, a reporter covering the Gophers’ opponent will be my guest to break down his or her team. This week, it’s Jason Galloway of the Wisconsin State Journal. He takes a look at Wisconsin and Saturday’s game.
Here’s the Q&A with Jason Galloway:
Q: Wisconsin is known for producing standout running backs. Is it surprising that freshman Jonathan Taylor has been this productive so quickly?
A: If you look at where Taylor began in fall camp, it’s shocking. He was pretty clearly the No. 5 running back on the roster during the first couple weeks of practice. During a closed scrimmage in August, he apparently made a few extremely impressive plays against the first-team defense that opened the eyes of the coaching staff. He didn’t even start the first game of the season and had just nine carries. In Game 2, with Bradrick Shaw injured, he went off for 223 yards and three touchdowns against FAU and the rest is history. With the way he’s played this season, he definitely deserves to be in the Heisman Trophy conversion.
Q: Quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s stats don’t jump off the page, so what intangibles does he bring that makes him effective?
A: His ability to respond after interceptions has been really key to Wisconsin’s success this season. He doesn’t show any reaction after turning the ball over. Just goes out the next time and plays better. Hornibrook certainly needs to cut down on his mistakes, but take last week’s Michigan game for example. His stat line — 9-of-19 passing for 143 yards with one touchdown and one interception — looks completely underwhelming, but after he threw that interception in the third quarter, he made three of the most important plays in the Badgers’ season with on-the-money, third-down throws that led to two straight touchdown drives.
Q: How has Wisconsin’s defense been able to be so effective with the injuries they’ve had at linebacker, and how has Jack Cichy contributed without playing?
A: Luckily for the Badgers, they entered the season with more depth at inside linebacker than any other position. Chris Orr missed all of last season with a torn ACL, while Cichy sat out the second half of the year after tearing his pectoral muscle. Wisconsin’s used to playing without those guys. We already knew T.J. Edwards could emerge into one of the country’s better linebackers this season, and Ryan Connelly had to step into a starting role last season and played really well in doing so. Cichy has certainly helped coach up the other guys since his injury this season, and you can see him with a headset on the sidelines during games. I’m sure he’s continued his role as an emotional leader for this defense, too.
Q: How important is Paul Bunyan’s Axe to the Badgers?
A: Extremely important. They take a lot of pride in their 13-game winning streak over Minnesota, and the seniors certainly don’t want to be the class that ultimately doesn’t have an opportunity to chop down the goal posts after the game. Players have discussed this week about how devastating it would be to not have the Axe in their trophy case for an entire year. When you talk to those guys, it’s clear their focus is all on the Gophers and not on next week’s Big Ten title game or the College Football Playoff.
Q: What is your prediction for a final score, and how did you arrive there?
A: I’m going with 31-10, Wisconsin. I think it’ll be really difficult for Minnesota to score too many points against this Badgers defense. If Wisconsin can get its running game going early, it’ll be a long day for the Gophers.