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Thursday, September 28, 2023
Badgers hope to retain the Axe

Blake Sorensen: The battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe is a game all players get psyched for, especially Minnesota native and junior linebacker Blake Sorensen.

Badgers hope to retain the Axe

It says something about the rivalry when Paul Bunyan's Axe came out in the locker room after Wisconsin held off Michigan State. Make no mistake about it, this game is special.

Wisconsin takes the short trip west to Minneapolis looking to add to its five-game winning streak against the rival Gophers. It will be the first time this year the Badgers leave the friendly confines of Camp Randall stadium, and the first conference game for Minnesota's TFC Bank Stadium.

""I'm excited for the first road game, it's going to present us [with] a good challenge,"" junior quarterback Scott Tolzien said. ""I'm sure there's going to be some adversity, just with the crowd and everything like that, but it will be fun to handle it.""

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Most of the players agreed that it's not just the fans who see this rivalry as something bigger than the average Big Ten game, pointing to the fact that when these teams meet, the records go out the window. In three of the last four games between the teams, the final difference has been a touchdown or less. 

But the Border Battle also has its fun elements, especially for the Minnesotans on the team.

""I got about 20 tickets this week, but I could definitely use some more,"" Eden Prairie native and junior linebacker Blake Sorensen said. ""I got a lot of text messages and calls, but it's fun. I'm excited my friends and family can see me play.""

Junior offensive tackle Gabe Carimi grew up on the other side of the rivalry and sees it in much simpler terms.

""It's always been a kind of a feud between us, you know states bordering,"" Carimi said. ""[You] always have the fans, and their fans are just always terrible and we're probably terrible back, but it's that rivalry game.""

The Gopher offense is powered by a pair of stars in junior quarterback Adam Weber and senior wide receiver Eric Decker.

Decker is the third leading receiver in the nation, and two seasons ago went for 125 yards against the Badger secondary. He is the focal point of the Minnesota passing attack, accounting for 56 percent of the team's passing yards.

""I think a lot of people investigate him,"" secondary coach Kerry Cooks, who was at Minnesota when they recruited him, said. ""He's a smart player, he runs great routs, he's got phenomenal hands, and when you talk about a guy that's going to compete for the ball, I don't think that there's another receiver in this conference that's gonna compete as hard as he's gonna compete for that ball.""

This season has been far less kind to Weber, who is in his third season as a starter. He has thrown five touchdowns and five picks, while not being much of a runner after getting 850 yards on the ground in his first two years.

Minnesota's offense has also changed from last year's spread into more of a pro-style attack. The Badgers know, however, that stopping the Gophers means more than just stopping Decker and Weber.

""I think you can really get keyed in on one or two guys and you just lose track of some other guys,"" senior safety Chris Maragos said. ""The thing about Minnesota is they've got play makers all over.""

Kickoff is at 11 a.m. and will be televised on ESPN.


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