Badgers Bully Gophers, Keep Axe for 8th Straight Season

Posted: November 14, 2011 by Kodi in Gopher Redemption, NCAA

Minnesota welcomes Wisconsin to The Bank, Badgers storm the house and embarrass the Gophers

The Gophers used to actually compete against the Badgers but haven’t fared so well lately

The Football season is almost over for the Gophers and it couldn’t come soon enough

In the past two weeks the Minnesota Golden Gophers football team had upset the Iowa Hawkeyes at TCF Bank Stadium and nearly stole a game on the road at Michigan St. The Gophers faced off against the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday for the 121st time, increasing the number of meetings between the most-played rivalry in college football. Surprisingly the Gophers lead the all-time series 58-53-8 coming into Saturday’s match-up and a 37-20-2 mark at home.

Since 1948 the Gophers and Badgers have battled for Paul Bunyan’s Axe since 1948 but from 1929-1943 the two teams battled for the Slab of Bacon. The Slab of Bacon was a piece of wood that was notched with an M for Minnesota or a W for Wisconsin but the trophy was lost in 1943 only to reappear in 1994. The Gophers led held the Slab of Bacon for 11 of the 14 years the two teams played for the trophy but since the two have transitioned to the Axe Wisconsin leads the series 36-24-3.

Wisconsin has won the Axe 14 of the last 16 games and a win Saturday would make it 8 in a row, 15 of 17. Minnesota’s last win against Wisconsin came in an exciting 37-34 victory at the H.H.H. Metrodome in 2003 and they haven’t won 8 in a row against the Badgers since 1933-41. Tradition allows the winner of the game to grab the Axe, if a team that wasn’t currently holding the Axe wins they are allowed to go to the other teams sideline to steal the trophy and carry it around the field. Wisconsin Head Coach Bret Bielema has played into this tradition by having his red-shirt freshman dress in Gophers uniforms and steal the Axe from their teammates.

This is the Gophers worst loss since a 48-12 defeat at Camp Randall in 2006 and their 5th worst loss since 1978. Minnesota hasn’t embarrassed the Badgers by more than 28 points since 1965 when they blew out Wisconsin 42-7 and have only beaten their border rival by more than 20 points twice since 1948. Minnesota fans may have been optimistic but they weren’t crazy it was highly unlikely that the Gophers could win the game against the Badgers but they could embrace a moral victory of at least competing with Wisconsin.

That didn’t happen.

Wisconsin has lost their last 2 meetings on the last play of the game and were looking to right the ship on the road against the Gophers. Wisconsin did just that and Minnesota lost the game 42-13, while the Badgers were fueled by a nearly perfect game by their QB Russell Wilson and the Gophers struggled to do anything offensively. The most positive thing that took place this weekend for Gopher’s QB MarQueis Gray wasn’t anything that happened on the field but rather the birth of his twin sons, MarShawn and MarZell, late Friday night.

It is understandable if Gray’s mind was in other places on Saturday but if that was the case why would Kill throw him to the wolves the way he did? Kill was surprised by the media’s ability to know what’s happening with players off the field but told them that “[MarQueis] was still able to play today. That’s just part of growing up and being a man” continuing “I wouldn’t have played somebody if he wasn’t in the right state of mind. He was ready to play. Gray said that “as soon as I left the hospital I knew I had to get back into game mode, they didn’t do anything that we didn’t prepare for. They were just a better team today”.

Gray did have a couple of passes sail on him but an inexperience WR corps wasn’t helping him dropping balls that should have been caught. Gray finished the game with 68 yards rushing and brought his season total to 639 the 3rd most by a Gophers QB in a single season but he added just 51 passing yards completing 6 of 14 passes and throwing one terrible INT. Jerry Kill told reporters that “we just didn’t play very well today. That starts from up front all the way back to MarQueis”.

Badgers HC Bielema knew that the focus to stopping the Gophers offense was to limit the impact that Gray had on the game. “The phrase we use a lot with these athletic quarterbacks is ‘keep a guy inside the front’ . . . I know he ran around a few times, but we didn’t want to let him get those big plays” Bielema said after the game. The Badgers were able to drive down 81 yards for a TD on their first possession when QB Russell Wilson connected with Monte Ball on a 5 yard TD pass. The Gophers were able to sack Wilson twice on the fist drive but never disrupted the offense enough to force them to punt the ball.

Minnesota’s first drive was a three and out, two incomplete passes and a rush by Gray for a loss of 4 yards. With a shortened field the Badgers scored their 2nd TD on a 14 yard run by RB Montee Ball. The Gophers second drive was a three and out that was followed by a punt by P Dan Orseske’s that fluttered off of his foot, bounced backwards and was eventually downed by Orseske for a net gain of 4 yards. With the ball on their own 44 yard line the Badgers ran the ball 7 straight times until Wilson connected with WR Nick Toon for a 9 yard TD catch on a 3rd and 3.

The Gophers were quickly down 21-0 and going into their 3rd possession they had yet to gain more than 3 yards offensively. Minnesota ran the ball a lot on their 3rd drive but also completed their first pass to WR DaJon McKnight for 7 yards with just under 10 minutes left in the first half. Immediately after that 7 yard catch Gray found McKnight for a 12 yard gain that gave Minnesota a 1st and goal from the 6 yard line. Gray rushed the ball twice for a loss of a yard and a gain of two but an incomplete pass to Ed Cotton had the Gophers facing 4th and goal from the 5.

HC Jerry Kill decided that it was time to call a fake field goal and it was time for K Jordan Wettstein to prove that kickers are athletes too. Wettstein had to shed a tackle before he was able to break the plain and get into the end-zone. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline or if the Gophers kickers are just terrible, probably a little of both but more of the former, Wettstein missed the ensuing extra point and the Gophers were down 21-6. Wettstein was asked about the play and told reporters that he “was expecting to kick it. I was expecting maybe that call. I was ready for either thing” telling them that “we’ve done enough reps the last week that it was just kind of second nature” and finished by saying “I’ll be honest I thought I was down”.

The Badgers were able to put another TD on the board with just under a minute left in the first half after Wilson connected with Toon for a 17 yard TD catch, his 2nd of the day. Going into the half Wisconsin was up 28-6 and Minnesota needed a shot in the arm to try and get back into the game. RB Duane Bennett gave the team their closest opportunity when he returned the opening 2nd half kick 96 yards for a TD.  Bennett said “the biggest thing was coming out the first half, we had to forget about what happened”.

The Gophers sideline was very excited after Bennett’s big return and the defense was able to hold the Badgers defense for the next few drives but ultimately Wisconsin was too much and the Gophers offense was too ineffective. Russell Wilson finished the game with just a single incomplete pass going 16-17 throwing for 178 yards and 4 TDs while Nick Toon finished by hauling in 8 of those ball for 100 yards and his 2 first half TDs. Monte Ball also had 2 TDs and racked up 166 yards on 23 rushing attempts, overall the Badgers rush offense was very effective combining for 283 yards on 45 attempts averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Wisconsin dominated this game and the Gophers never had a chance hopefully when Minnesota travels to Camp Randall next year they will have a more competitive game but realistically Gophers fans know this is an uphill battle.

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