Know Thy Opponent: Wisconsin

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The Gophers play at Wisconsin tomorrow in the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe. We chatted with Mike Fiammetta of Bucky' about the Badgers. You can follow Mike on Twitter @mikefiammetta.

GopherSports: Mike, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Can you give us a brief scouting report on the Badgers?

Mike Fiammetta: After a close Week 1 win over Northern Illinois and a loss at Oregon State the following Saturday, Wisconsin faced much more early-season adversity than it likely could've expected. But with improved play from quarterback Joel Stave, the apparent revival of running back Montee Ball and the coalescing of the offensive line, the Badgers' offense seems to be rounding into shape.

On the other side of the ball, the Badgers rank fifth in the Big Ten in both scoring defense and total defense, and they are third in the league in rushing defense. They don't force a whole bunch of turnovers (minus-3 turnover margin is 9th in the conference), but as always, they are a "bend-but-don't break" unit that has been solid.

GS: You mentioned the early struggles at the beginning of the year, but Wisconsin seems to be rolling now. What was the turning point for them?

MF: If anything, the turning point might've been the loss at Nebraska. Wisconsin led 27-10 in the third quarter before collapsing in the rest of the second half, amounting to an understandably crushing loss in the conference opener. Since then, the Badgers have won two games in resounding fashion, are getting healthier by the week and do indeed appear to be rolling pretty well right now.

GS: Everyone knows about Montee Ball, but tell us about an under-the-radar player that Gopher fans should keep an eye on Saturday.

MF: Stave, a redshirt freshman, is still facing some growing pains. But should the passing game get going (I see the Gophers do have the Big Ten's second-ranked pass defense), wide receiver Jared Abbrederis has emerged as perhaps the best player on this team. Abbrederis missed the Week 3 game against Utah State after suffering a concussion early in the Oregon State game the week before, but he is as legitimate a big-play threat as you can have. His 18.0 yards per reception are fourth in the conference while he has also scored five touchdowns, tied for third.

GS: Wisconsin does have two defeats this year. What is the key to beating the Badgers this year?

MF: The key to beating the Badgers this year has been limiting their production on the ground while taking advantage of a few costly miscues. Again, the defense has been fairly solid, but the offense has been prone to periods of turnovers and an inability to move the ball.

GS: Want to give us a prediction?

MF: Since these two teams look to be heading in different directions, I see Wisconsin taking this one easily, 41-17.

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