The Battle of the Axe is one of the most storied rivalries in all of college football. It’s so old that the Axe wasn’t even the original trophy the two teams began to fight for. In this rivalry, like so many others, records mean nothing. Either team could be undefeated or not have a win at all and the game would still usually come down to one of the final drives. So let’s take a look at the keys to victory that’ll help Wisconsin earn the W by the end of the game.
Release the three-headed running monster
Yes, Braelon Allen is the #1 back at Wisconsin but it certainly helps to have guys like Mellusi and Guerendo waiting in the wings. Mellusi has mentioned he’s planning to return for the ‘23 season; thank you for the dedication and service, sir. Last week Wisconsin as a team was able to chew up over 235 yards; 225 of those yards were earned by the trio mentioned above.
Two of the three Badger backs, Allen and Guerendo, are averaging over five yards a carry. Mellusi is averaging a more than respectable 4.2 per rush. Either way, no matter what happens to Allen these two backup backs need to find ways to step up when called on. They’ve been able to do this all season and it’s hard to imagine that they won’t be able to make things work now. The Minnesota front is formidable; but so is the Wisconsin offensive line. Take control in the trenches and show them who’s the real RBU.
Shut down the Gopher running game
While Wisconsin boasts an always impressive rushing attack, Minnesota has actually eaten more yards than the Badgers. The Gopher's trio of backs have actually gained collectively 409 more yards than the Badgers have this year. Wisconsin’s top three backs have rushed for 1,792 yards while Minnesota’s top three have found ways to chew up 2,201 yards. How dare they rush for more than us?
Minnesota’s trio consists of starter Mohamed Ibrahim, backup Trey Potts, and backup Bryce Williams. While the Gophers might have gained more ground than the Badgers their average is actually slightly less by almost the smallest of margins. The Gophers top three have averaged 5.30 yards pre carry while the Badgers have rushed for 5.31 yards per carry.
This Gopher ground game can cause of a lot of problems for the defensive front just like Illinois did the game before Chryst was fired. Hopefully, Leonhard has an adjusted game plan to shut these guys down. If Herbig isn’t able to play until the half begins we’ll need to see a lot of leadership come from Benton up front. With or without Herbig this defense is more than capable of rising to the challenge.
Find a way to open up the ariel attack
They say pressure can make diamonds. Hopefully, pressure can produce great quarterback play from Mertz. Minnesota’s quarterback Tanner Morgan has thrown a higher percentage of interceptions and a lower percentage of touchdowns but his QBR is actually higher at 148.6 compared to Mertz's 138.2. Mertz will need to navigate his way through a tumultuous Gopher defense that sits amongst the top half of the conference in interceptions with 12 on the season. Senior defensive back Tyler Nubin is the biggest ball hawk of the bunch with four total interceptions on the year.
But creating space for Mertz could be the biggest battle for this Wisconsin offense. The line-up front has had a difficult time consistently creating enough cushion to allow Mertz to go through his read progressions comfortably. However, it was also Mertz, not the line, who threw the ball into dangerous situations while under pressure.
We’ve seen the receivers find ways to create separation from the defensive so it’s just a matter of timing for all three phases of the passing game to come together. The blocking from the line, separation by the receivers, and accuracy of the quarterback. I’m ready to see Chimere Dike fly off my TV screen hauling in a bomb from Mertz one last time this regular season. Let’s go out with a BANG! On, Wisconsin! Beat Minnesota!