“All that matters is The Axe. That’s it.”
Graham Mertz is not from Wisconsin, but he gets it. He knows how important Paul Bunyan’s Axe is to this team, to this state. Even during a down season, like last year for example, beating Minnesota and keeping the Axe in Madison washed away a lot bad vibes.
Graham Mertz asked about playing for the Big Ten Championship if they can beat Minnesota.— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) November 21, 2021
"All that matters is The Axe. That's it."
Mertz and the No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers (8-3 overall, 6-2 Big Ten) travel north and west this week to take on their archrivals, the Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-4 overall, 5-3 Big Ten), with the Big Ten West division title on the line.
If the Badgers win...they head to Indianapolis the next weekend to play for the Big Ten Conference title. If the Gophers win...well, things get more complicated then and let’s just say UW doesn’t want to leave their fate up to whether or not Nebraska can win a football game this year.
How to watch/listen
TV: FOX, 3:00 p.m. CT, Tim Brando, Spencer Tillman
Streaming: FOX Sports App; FOX streaming
Radio: Badger Sports Network (Varsity Network App), Satellite: Sirius 111/XM 196, Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas, Patrick Herb; in the Twin Cities the game is on KFAN or Sirius 98/XM 203 if you have satellite
Stadium: Huntington Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn.
Weather: Minneapolis, Minn. (cloudy, but above freezing!)
(Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.)
Fun facts (according to the media guides)
- Wisconsin is in search of their fifth West Division title in eight seasons and their seventh trip to the Big Ten Football Championship Game in the event’s 11-year history.
- Wisconsin is riding a seven-game win streak into Saturday’s clash with the Gophers as they seek to win a third straight meeting with Minnesota and secure Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the 16th time in the teams’ last 17 meetings.
- The Badgers are 20-4 (.833) in games played in the month of November under seventh-year head coach Paul Chryst.
- The Badgers have won 25 of their last 28 games with a traveling trophy on the line. Wisconsin retained the Heartland Trophy with a 27-7 win over Iowa on Oct. 30 and kept possession of the Freedom Trophy with last Saturday’s 35-28 win over Nebraska.
It just means more pic.twitter.com/gmBnvEdIyk— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) November 26, 2021
- Wisconsin and Minnesota will meet for the 131st time, extending the most-played rivalry in the FBS. Only three other FBS rivalries have been contested at least 125 times: North Carolina vs. Virginia (126), Auburn vs. Georgia (126) and Cincinnati vs. Miami (Ohio) (125).
- Since the introduction of Paul Bunyan’s Axe in 1948, Wisconsin leads the series, 45-25-3 (.637).
- At 62-60-8, Wisconsin owns the lead in the all-time series between the Badgers and Gophers for just the second time in a rivalry that dates to 1890.
- The Badgers have won eight straight meetings with the Gophers in Minneapolis, dating to 2005.
- In Minneapolis, Minnesota leads 37-27-2 in the series.
- The Gophers are 2-21-2 when facing a ranked Wisconsin squad, including a 1-10-1 mark in Minneapolis.
- Minnesota tied the series with a win in Madison in 2018, marking just the third time the series had been even since the turn of the 20th century (6-6 in 1901; 59-59-8 in 2016; 60-60-8 in 2018).
- Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard started at safety, recorded nine tackles and an interception, and returned punts when the Badgers defeated Northern Illinois, 24-21, on Sept. 14, 2002, at Camp Randall Stadium. Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck served as the Huskies’ punt returner in the game, recording six fair catches.
- Current UW head coach Paul Chryst won just one game during his senior season at Wisconsin in 1988, a 14-7 victory over Minnesota.
- With last weekend’s win Minnesota has clinched a .500 or better record in Big Ten play for just the ninth time in the past 50 years. Coupled with a 7-2 league record in 2019, Fleck is the first Gophers coach since Glen Mason (1999 and 2003, five wins each) to win at least five conference games more than once.
- The Gophers have never won a game, when coached by P.J. Fleck, that has been televised by FOX (0-3).
- Wisconsin inside linebackers coach Bob Bostad served as a graduate assistant at Minnesota from 1992-94, working with the Gophers’ offensive line.
- Wisconsin sophomore QB Graham Mertz’s father, Ron, played football as an offensive lineman at Minnesota from 1989-92.
- Wisconsin junior OL Cormac Sampson and Minnesota junior OL Zack Kern were prep teammates at Eau Claire (Wis.) Memorial High School.
- Wisconsin senior OLB Izayah Green-May and Minnesota senior DL Micah Dew-Treadway both attended Bolingbrook (Ill.) High School.
- The Badgers have five players on their roster from Minnesota: OLB Kaden Johnson (St. Paul), OL Riley Mahlman (Lakeville), ILB Jake Ratzlaff (Rosemount), ILB Garrison Solliday (Eagan), OLB Aaron Witt (Winona).
- The Gophers have nine players on their roster from Wisconsin: DB Calvin Swenson (Kaukauna), WR Quentin Redding (Menomonee Falls), LB Derik LeCaptain (Gardner), Lucas Finnessey (Sussex), LB Ben Wileman (Edgerton), DL Jack Kern (Eau Claire), OL Jackson Hunter (Oconomowoc), OL Tyler Cooper (St. Croix Falls), K Dragan Kesich (Oak Creek).
- The Golden Gophers have one of the strongest rush defenses in the country, ranking No. 12 nationally and third in the Big Ten by allowing 103.6 rushing yards per game this year. Only two Gopher opponents have even gone above 144 yards rushing this year and five have been held to fewer than 100 rushing yards.
- Wisconsin leads the nation in rushing defense (64.3 ypg), and ranks second in the FBS in total defense (237.7 ypg) and fifth in scoring defense (15.8 points per game).
- Wisconsin’s defense has allowed opposing rushers just 2.01 yards per carry, the best mark in the FBS this season and the best mark by any team since Alabama (2.01) in 2016. The Badgers have held six of their 11 opponents to 2.0 yards per carry or less.
- During their seven-game win streak, the Badgers are averaging 267.1 rushing yards per game behind freshman All-America candidate Braelon Allen. A 17-year-old, Allen has topped the 100-yard mark in seven straight games to surpass 1,000 yards on the season while scoring 11 TDs during that stretch.
Here are my top performing PLAYERS from WEEK 12:— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) November 23, 2021
1- @OhioStateFB Offense
2- @AlabamaFTBL Offense
3- Malik Cunningham, @UofLFootball
4- Braelon Allen, @BadgerFootball
5- Tavion Thomas, @Utah_Football
6- Jordan Addison, @Pitt_FB
7- DeAndre Hughes, @AF_Football pic.twitter.com/jlccN3l2zw
- With 1,062 yards this season, Allen is the No. 19 player in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season and joined Ron Dayne (1996), James White (2010) and Jonathan Taylor (2017) as the only players to do so as true freshmen.
- Braelon Allen’s average of 7.59 yards per attempt is the best of any FBS player (min. 100 carries). Ohio State’s TreVeyon Henderson ranks No. 2, at 7.32 yards per attempt.
- A Butkus Award finalist and Bednarik Award semifinalist, junior ILB Leo Chenal has put together an AllAmerica resume by averaging 11.2 tackles and racking up 14.0 TFLs and 6.0 sacks over the last six games. He ranks No. 3 nationally at 1.7 TFLs per game.
- The Badgers’ defense has allowed opposing offenses to score just 16 touchdowns and 133 points in 11 games this season (12.1 ppg).
- Of the 23 scores Wisconsin’s defense has allowed (16 TDs, seven field goals), only eight have come on drives longer than 60 yards.
- Overall, UW has allowed its opponents to score on just 17.6% of their posesssions (23 of 131), the second-best mark in the FBS this season. Only Georgia has allowed points on a lower percentage of its opponents’ drives, at just 11.1% (15 of 135).
- UW’s defense has limited opponents to an average of just 5.1 plays per drive this season, the third-best mark of any FBS team, trailing only Oklahoma State (4.9) and Houston (5.0).
- Wisconsin ranks fifth nationally in pass efficiency defense, with an opponent rating of 106.0 that trails only Cincinnati (94.9), Georgia (95.3), Washington (102.0) and Iowa (104.3).
- UW has limited opponents to 2.16 yards per rushing attempt. The best mark in the country.
Headed back to Minneapolis..... pic.twitter.com/n9LHzN5i2l— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) November 23, 2021
- TE Jake Ferguson has caught at least one pass in each of his 45 career games, a school record and the second longest active streak in the nation.
- With the top-four RBs on the depth chart out for the season, the Minnesota running game rests on the shoulders of true freshman Mar’Keise Irving and redshirt freshman Ky Thomas. Until the duo did it against Maryland, no Minnesota freshmen had run for at least 100 yards in the same game since at least 1932. Irving and Thomas then became the first Minnesota duo to go for 100 yards in consecutive weeks since Laurence Maroney and Gary Russell did so at Michigan (10/8/05) and vs. Wisconsin (10/15/05).
- Minnesota has had five different players rush for over 100 yards in a game this season. They are the only FBS team with that many.
- The Gophers have also had eight different players rush for a touchdown this year.
- The Golden Gophers’ offensive line has more combined starts at the FBS level than any team in the nation with 225. The next closest squad is Miami (FL) with 214, while Michigan State (211) is third.
No other words necessary ...— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) November 22, 2021
It's AXE WEEK pic.twitter.com/UkhGg3AFqD
- Minnesota enters Saturday’s game with the No. 4 total defense in the country, allowing just 289.5 yards per game. That’s on pace to be the best mark the program has had since 1974 when it allowed just 135.4 yards per game.
- The Golden Gophers have held each of their last five opponents under 300 yards of total offense, the longest active streak in the nation. On the season they’ve held seven teams below that number, tying with Alabama and Georgia for the second most in the FBS behind only Wisconsin (nine).