Paul Bunyan’s Axe, an undefeated season and much more is on the line for the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers as they go on the road to face their rival, the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Saturday.
Wisconsin (11-0, 8-0) has a chance to retain the Axe for the 14th straight year and keep their perfect record intact. Minnesota (5-6, 2-6) is fighting for bowl eligibility in its first year under head coach P.J. Fleck and will look to rebound after its 39-0 loss to Northwestern last week.
Though the Badgers are the heavy favorites, they respect the Gophers and have kept focus on the game in front of them. Highlights of games past have been played around the locker room. The Axe has been at practice.
The Axe at practice once again #Badgers pic.twitter.com/64TymORSAL— Jake Kocorowski (@JakeKocoB5Q) November 22, 2017
They know it’s going to be a hard fought game.
“We always get their best shot,” defensive end Alec James said on Wednesday. “We always give them our best shot no matter, records aside, it’s always a real, real physical game and it’s a lot of fun to play in.”
When and where is the game?
Wisconsin and Minnesota will kick off at 2:30 p.m. CT at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn.
How can I watch?
The game will be broadcast on ABC with Mark Jones assigned to play-by-play duties, Rod Gilmore as the analyst, and Quint Kessenich reporting from the sideline.
How can I stream the game online?
Via WatchESPN.com and the WatchESPN mobile app.
How can I listen to it on the radio?
On national radio, you can listen to the game on Compass Media with Gregg Daniels assigned to play-by-play duties and Dale Hellestrae as the analyst. You can stream the game on CompassMediaNetworks.com.
On the Badgers Sports Network, you’ll find the team of Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas. Head to BadgerSportsNetwork.com to find the broadcast. You can also listen on iHeartRadio (iOS/Android/online) by searching “WIBA.”
On satellite radio, you’ll find the broadcast on Sirius 134/XM 196.
It’s Axe Week— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) November 22, 2017
Dress accordingly#OnWisconsin pic.twitter.com/5DKN59LL6h
Who and what to watch during the game
Wisconsin rush defense vs. Minnesota running game
It appears Minnesota’s offense is a hint one-sided, but that does not mean UW is taking its rival lightly,
“They got a great team. They’re offensive line is pretty physical,” James said. “Their running back is real good. Quarterback is real mobile, he can pass pretty well and they got some good receivers. So any week that you play someone in the Big Ten, it’s going to be a big game—but obviously this is a rivalry, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
As seen with our preview earlier this week:
The team is currently fourth in the Big Ten in rushing offense (190.5 yards per game) on the legs of Rodney Smith (895 yards, 4.2 yards per game) and Kobe McCrary (476 yards, 5.8 yards per carry, eight touchdowns). They have rushed for 409 yards against Nebraska, 292 versus Illinois and 227 against Purdue in Big Ten play. The offense is 10th in the conference in points per game scored (24.1), however.
Passing-wise, the Gophers are 120th in the nation at just under 134 yards per contest. Quarterback Demry Croft has completed only 42.1 percent of his passes in eight games, throwing for 634 yards with four touchdowns and seven interceptions. Tyler Johnson (35 receptions, 677 yards, seven touchdowns) is the only Gopher to reel in above 20 catches on the year, but he is out with a broken left hand.
If Wisconsin, who leads the country in rush defense (79.4 yards per game allowed), buries the Minnesota run game, it should completely derail the rest of the Gophers’ offense.
Jim Leonhard’s defense should absolutely do so based on this year’s resume, but then again in these rivalry games, sometimes all bets are off.
Wisconsin run game vs. Minnesota rush defense
UW averages 239.3 yards per game on the ground, second-best in the Big Ten. It is going up against a Minnesota unit that is giving up nearly 162 yards on the ground (10th in the conference).
The Gophers have given up 200-plus yards rushing against Big Ten opponents Maryland (262), Michigan State (245), Michigan (371), and Northwestern (277). From B5Q’s Q&A with Chris from the Daily Gopher:
The Gophers have struggled in multiple areas against the run, but lately the problem has been with annoyingly simple elements like gap responsibility, tackling, etc. The linebackers remain the strongest unit overall, and from that unit I'd keep my eye on Celestin and Thomas Barber. Carter Coughlin is a young linebacker who has been playing a lot as a hybrid rush defensive end and having success. If Minnesota is going to have a good day you'll see his name pop up a lot, too.
True freshman Jonathan Taylor is a shade under seven yards per carry and has run for 1,657 yards through 11 games. Again, it is rivalry week so there’s always a chance of the absurd to happen against Goldy, but Wisconsin should have success on the ground. It could be an even bigger game for the Doak Walker Award finalist and Heisman Trophy candidate.
If the Badgers cannot run the ball effectively, the Gophers are ranked third in the Big Ten in pass defense, giving up 175 yards per contest. Though quarterback Alex Hornibrook has thrown an interception in nine of his 11 games this season, he has shown that he can bounce back from mistakes to lead the team to points.
Jake Kocorowski: Wisconsin 40, Minnesota 3
Bob Wiedenhoeft: Wisconsin 34, Minnesota 0
Ryan Mellenthin: Wisconsin 38, Minnesota 13
Drew Hamm: Wisconsin 69, Minnesota 0
Andrew Rosin: Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 10
Neal Olson: Wisconsin 24, Minnesota 7
Always excited to see fans interacting with our bold prediction takes. First, some fans’ thoughts on scores:
35-17 Badgers— badgerfan (@MOBadgerfan) November 25, 2017
47-13 #Badgers— Jay (@Jay3B3) November 24, 2017
Buckys boat has a motor and the oars can’t keep up..38-14 #onwisconsin— Casey Berget (@buckyholic) November 24, 2017
38-10. And the Badgers hold back on Minnesota— Neal Gosz (@neal_gosz) November 25, 2017
Badgers 38 Gophers 13 pic.twitter.com/HTTwa7eRjC— CJ Hansen (@ceyhota) November 24, 2017
Minnesota gets shut out— Peter Snodgrass (@aGingerBadger) November 25, 2017
We have some bold ones for Taylor to have a huge day.
JT goes for 300 #heismanfinalist— Cory (@cshimulunas) November 24, 2017
Jonathan Taylor runs for enough yards that UW retires #23 and puts his name up at Camp Randall....by halftime.#BoldPredictionFriday— Jason (@MadCityViking) November 25, 2017
Badgers eat up the Gophers for a score of 85-0. Jonathan Taylor hits the 2,000 yard mark after dominating. #onwisconsin— Michael Stoeger (@stoegersaurus) November 24, 2017
24-3 Wisconsin with JT rushing for 270 yards— Reese's (@justdoitoutdoor) November 25, 2017
Badgers 51, Squirrels with painted tails, 7. Jonathan Taylor doesn’t play Q4 because of the lead. But has 195 yards before that.— K. Rudolph (@scientwest) November 24, 2017
Having two Piesman Trophy candidates would be a dream come true, especially if nose tackle Olive Sagapolu takes one back for six.
Olive Sagapalu with the Pick Six!!!— Rick Czap1️⃣ (@RickyChapps) November 24, 2017
A punt return TD for either Tindal or Nelson— Mara (@alerriebucky) November 25, 2017
More Hornibrook predictions:
Alex Hornibrook throws 0—ZERO—interceptions and Badgers win 41-20 (in homage to Tokyo game against Michigan St. in 1993)— Bart T rvik (@totally_t_bomb) November 24, 2017
Hornibrook DOESN’T throw a pick.— Connor O'Gara (@cjogara) November 24, 2017
Better yet, Alex Hornibrook: Dual-threat quarterback:
Alex Hornibrook gets a 1st down with his feet,— Todd Romance (@toddromance) November 25, 2017
Since Wisconsin has more fans at the game the officials let them wear their red jerseys.— Todd Romance (@toddromance) November 25, 2017
Groshek throws a TD pass out of the wild-cat.— Douglas Greenberg (@DougGreenB) November 25, 2017
#BoldPredictionFriday #Badgers blank grimy Gophers' guts.— Nate T (@ntw853) November 24, 2017
Badgers win, because of course they do, and during postgame celebrations someone uses the axe as a prop while singing "row, row, row your boat"— Kaleb Gottwald (@Kaleb_Gottwald) November 24, 2017
Shaw or Groshek has a very impactful offensive play, and Badgers win 27-13.— Douglas Greenberg (@DougGreenB) November 24, 2017
Sluggish start - offense beings to roll after Hornibrook throws the obligatory pick. Minnie finds their rowboat full of holes. Bucky wins 42-3— Cheesetrader (@cheesetrader1) November 24, 2017
The Badgers finish a regular season undefeated for the first time in 105 seasons. No one will believe this at halftime. https://t.co/ibsFRHfOTB— The Christmas Drews (@thegnc) November 25, 2017