MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - It turns out the Wisconsin Badgers could've left Paul Bunyan's Axe back in its trophy case in Madison if they wanted to. The Badgers (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) jumped out to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter against the archrival Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-8, 1-5), and were in the driver's seat for the rest of the game. The Badgers won 42-13, and will keep the trophy for the eighth straight year.
But with the win, the Badgers gained something even more important than the Axe. After Purdue upset Ohio State 26-23 and Penn State fell to Nebraska at home, the Badgers control their own destiny in the Big Ten once again.
"I knew at halftime ... but I didn't say anything to the team because it would've been out of character for what we do," Bielema said in his post-game pres conference. "After the game in the locker room I said ‘Hey, in the world of college football things worked out for us today.' We have to concentrate on being in the moment. We're a 1-0 mentality, and that's where we'll stay."
"We're in the construction phase of getting back to where we want to be."
The Badgers amassed 461 yards of total offense, and held the Gophers to just 156. Quarterback Russell Wilson lead the way for the Badgers in total yards, going 16-for-17 with 178 yards and four touchdowns. After the game, Wilson said he was glad to get to carry the Axe around the field for the first time, but the team will need to make good on the second chance they've been given.
"Coach [Bielema] talks about controlling what we can control," Wilson said. "We're blessed to be in the situation we're in, and we have to capitalize on it.
Even with Wilson's near-perfect day through the air, the Badgers pounded the Gopher defense on the ground, racking up 305 total rushing yards. Montee Ball ran for 172 yards and had three total touchdowns, giving him sole possession of first place in the Big Ten for total touchdowns in a season. Ball said he gave the offensive linemen a hug after he broke the record, and that he'll give the ball from his record-breaking touchdown to his parents.
"I talked to the coaches on the sideline, and I asked them if it would be a delay of game if I kept the ball, and so they made sure that they talked to the refs about it and the refs told me I could keep it," Ball said. "Something I really pride myself on is working hard, and I think that's what that record stands for."
Even with the win, problems emerged for the Badgers. Special teams continued to be a problem, with both Gopher touchdowns coming on special teams. The first was on a fake field goal where senior cornerback Antiono Fenelus missed a tackle on the Minnesota kicker, and the second came on the opening kickoff of the second half, where Gopher running back Dunae Bennett ran the ball back 96 yards for the score.
In addition, a few key Wisconsin players were injured in the game. Center Peter Konz went down in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be an ankle or leg injury. Konz had to be carted off the field, and Bielema said he didn't know the severity of his junior center's injury.
Sophomore receiver Jared Abbrederis hurt his shoulder on special teams in the third quarter, but Bielema said X-Rays came back negative on Abbrederis' shoulder, and he expects him to be back in practice on Tuesday.
The Badgers will travel to Urbana-Champaign, Ill., next Saturday to take on the Fighting Illini in Memorial Stadium. If the Badgers want to keep their fate in their hands, they need to win their last two games, with the final one coming in Camp Randall against Penn State. But for the time being, the Badgers can't look too far ahead.
"I know it's your guy's job to talk about the future, but I think if we start to focus on what's down the road we'll definitely miss what's in front of us," senior safety Aaron Henry said. "Coach Bielema preaches on having that mindset of ‘right now,' so we're going to enjoy this victory tonight, but tomorrow it's going to be all about Illinois."
So after Saturday night it's back to business for the Badgers, who are just two wins away from playing in the inaugural Big Ten championship game.
"The reason we're in the situation where were at is because we take it day by day," Bielema said. "Next week is Illinois prep, Sunday through Friday."
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