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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, May 27, 2022
Paul Bunyan's Axe

Football: Badgers and Gophers battle for Axe

Conventional wisdom would say that 121 meetings between two opponents would be enough to settle a score.

Wisconsin and Minnesota took a break in 1906, but otherwise they have slugged it out every year since 1890. The current tally: Minnesota 58, Wisconsin 55, with eight ties sprinkled in.

When the Badgers (2-1 Big Ten, 5-2 overall) host their westerly neighbors at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday, though, they will be looking to add to nearly two decades of dominance. UW has beaten Minnesota (0-2, 4-2) eight straight times and 15 of the last 17.

The Badgers appear to be surging, stringing two strong conference appearances together to take a stranglehold on the Leaders Division race.

That improvement is largely attributed to the increased production in the running game. Against Purdue last Saturday, Wisconsin’s running attack racked up 467 yards, averaging 8.2 yards per carry on 57 attempts. The offense put up 645 total yards, the second-most yards in school history.

“Coming into the game, if you told me we were going to put up those kind of numbers against that kind of D-line and that kind of defense, I wouldn’t have believed you,” redshirt junior offensive lineman Ryan Groy said. “We came out excited, we came out knowing our assignments and really executed.”

Senior running back Montee Ball racked up 194 of his 247 yards after initial contact in one of the best performances of his career.

Prior to that outburst, Wisconsin averaged under 330 yards per game. While it is unrealistic to expect another 600-plus yard day, the Badgers enter Saturday looking to build consistency despite the rivalry setting.

“Rivalries you always, I don’t want to say you treat them differently, but you always look at them like you’re playing one of the better teams you’ll play all year,” Groy said. “You have to.”

Groy is set to make his first start at left tackle Saturday. He filled in ably when redshirt senior Rick Wagner suffered a knee injury against Purdue. Groy has played both guard positions and fullback (in certain offensive packages) in his career and started all seven of UW’s 2012 contests at left guard.

“I think just getting used to the techniques,” Groy said when asked about the challenges of moving to tackle. “I’m really working out in practice. I’m looking back at film, looking at Rick’s stuff and looking at what he did in either pass protection or run protection and getting those technique things down.”

The Gophers started the year by winning four straight non-conference games, but have been held to just 13 points in conference losses against Iowa and Northwestern.

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Senior MarQueis Gray has missed time with a sprained ankle and re-injured it Oct. 13 against the Wildcats. Gray could see time at wide receiver, but sophomore Max Shortell (26-54, 309, 2 TD, 2 INT) is expected to see most, if not all, of the reps under center.

“They still do the same stuff with him, though,” redshirt junior defensive tackle Ethan Hemer said. Minnesota’s kind of got that system right now where, no matter who it is, they’re still going to do their stuff.”

Minnesota has averaged 310.3 yards per game, but will need to regain its early-season scoring prowess to have a good chance of reclaiming Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

“We’re so used to having it here,” UW junior defensive tackle and Minnetonka, Minn., native Beau Allen said. “If they were to [win], the Axe would change possession to them. If that were to happen, which it won’t, they would run across our field to grab it. We just keep kind of picturing that image and using it as a motivator to not let that happen.”

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