Bucky Badger hoisted the axe over Goldy Gopher for the tenth consecutive season as the No. 19 Wisconsin defeated No. 25 Minnesota 20-7 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Saturday.
Chuck Bednarik Award semi-finalist (among many other awards) Chris Borland flexed his muscles into the NCAA record books forcing his 14th career fumble, tying him for the most all-time. He would recover another two fumbles and caused a plethora of havoc on the day leading Wisconsin to the win.
The Badger defense pitched a shutout as Minnesota’s only points came on a second quarter interception, thrown by Joel Stave, returned for a touchdown by Minnesota’s Aaron Hill. Hill ran it back giving the Gophers a 10-3 lead and all sorts of momentum.
Wisconsin responded with a one-yard touchdown run by James White and then a 20 yard field goal by Jack Russell with three seconds left in the half giving the Badgers a 13-7 lead at the break.
Stave bounced back from his first half interception by throwing a two-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis in the third quarter. On the game, Stave was 16/26 for 127 yards.
A month ago Badgers’ sophomore superstar Melvin Gordon III seemed to be running away with the Ameche-Dayne Big Ten Running Back of the Year Award. He was the only semi-finalist for the Doak Walker Award from the Big Ten. But, in recent weeks senior James White has been receiving the bulk of the carries. That trend continued against the Gophers on Saturday as White rushed for 125 yards on 26 carries while Gordon, “MG3,” received only 12 carries; but he still managed an impressive 69 yards. Gordon’s top competition for the Ameche-Dayne Award, other than Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, is now his fellow Badger White. On the year Gordon leads the Big Ten in rushing with 1375 yards but White is close behind with 1281 yards; White has 13 touchdowns and Gordon has 12.
But this game wasn’t about the offense, it was about the defense.
Sojourn Shelton continued his phenomenal freshman campaign with another handful of great plays – the cornerback has to be in consideration for Big Ten freshman of the year. Although, it really was the whole defense that shined against the Gophers.
Minnesota had averaged 30 points-per-game over their last four conference victories coming into the game. Against the Badgers they would be stifled for zero offensive points in what was the second coldest game in the history of the rivalry that dates back to 1890.
The overall series is 58-57-8 in favor of Minnesota but the Badgers’ current 10 game winning streak is the longest such streak for either team in the rivalry.
“The Axe” is undoubtedly one of college footballs coolest trophies and the post game antics it brings about are one of college football’s most iconic rivalry-game scenes. “Stealing” the axe and then chopping down the opponents goal posts is a sight to be seen.
Fortunately for Bucky, Wisconsin hasn’t had to “steal” Paul Bunyan’s Axe for a decade. Regarding his first Axe win the Badgers’ first year coach Gary Anderson spoke about the cold,
“That was the coldest game I’ve ever been associated with, I’ll tell you that much. Don’t let anybody tell you (differently), that was cold.”
Game Ball: Chris Borland, he showed why he will be a first round draft pick in April. He flew all around the field amassing double-digit tackles again and caused multiple game-changing plays. He should get the game ball for this game and for his career, what an honor it’s been to watch him put on the “W” helmet all of these years.
What This Means: The Badgers’ hope for a BCS game is still alive as they have crawled up to 14 in both the AP and the coaches poll; hopefully the BCS follows suit. Also, next week they can accomplish a 10 win regular season and finish with only one conference loss. Quite a feat for a first year head coach.
Dark Spot: This game had two. The first being the Badgers’ continually porous kicking game. Incoming freshman Rafael Gaglianone should turn around Bucky’s kicking game next year… hopefully. The second dark spot was another Stave interception, he was hit on the play so I’ll cut him some slack. But, he has to grow out of these turnovers soon, although no one can question his mental toughness — he always bounces back.
Looking Forward: The Badgers face Penn State next week. Penn State is barred from bowl action again this year, so this will be their “bowl game.” Wisconsin must keep their poise in the final game at Camp Randall this year. The Badgers lost in overtime in Happy Valley last season. If the Badgers win they should come close to an Orange Bowl invitation; likely against Clemson.
It is exciting times for a season that seemed to be lost in October as the Badgers sat with a 3-2 record. Bucky is 9-2 (6-1) and has won 6 consecutive games. If — the big IF — they beat Penn State, look out for a possible big game come January 3rd.
The game against Penn State is in Madison at 2:30 PM CT and can be viewed on ESPN.
Anyone else smelling oranges?