1. D-line needs best game: The improvement of the Badgers’ defensive line has been one of the most important factors to the defense being the FBS’ best against the run. That unit needs to have its best game of the season against the Gophers and contain the rushing attack to give the defense added flexibility against Minnesota’s quick passing game.
Minnesota is down a handful of tailbacks and relying on redshirt freshman Ky Thomas and true freshman Mar’Kiese Irving. UW couldn’t contain Mo Ibrahim on the ground last season, but the Badgers defensive line dominated the front in 2019 to make Minnesota one-dimensional. Do that again and UW is going to Indianapolis to play for the Big Ten title.
2. Outside linebackers handle the pressure: Senior quarterback Tanner Morgan is making quick, decisive throws over the middle of the field when Minnesota is moving the ball how it wants. Badgers inside linebackers Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal may not be able to be as active in the pass rush as they’ve been all season to take away those Morgan passes.
UW needs sophomore Nick Herbig and senior Noah Burks to create pressure on the quarterback without as many inside linebacker blitzes as the Badgers have done this season.
3. Continue protecting Mertz: The Gophers’ pass rush has slowed since the calendar turned to November, recording two sacks in three games this month. UW can’t let Saturday be the game that Minnesota gets its pass rush back on track. The Badgers have allowed one sack of starting QB Graham Mertz in their past four games but will have to contend with senior defensive linemen Boye Mafe (six sacks) and Thomas Rush (5½ sacks).
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Tight end Jake Ferguson laid out a couple Nebraska edge defenders with chip blocks last week, so that could be an option to help slow down pass rushers if Minnesota is getting pressure.