Badgers chopping their way to BCS bowl
November, 23, 2013
By Brian Bennett | ESPN.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- It's tradition in the Paul Bunyan's Axe series for the winning team to grab the axe and hunt down both goal posts for some pretend chopping.
That tradition hit a slight snag on Saturday night. After No. 19 Wisconsin downed No. 25 Minnesota 20-7, the Badgers rushed to the west end zone at TCF Bank Stadium and attacked one of the goal posts. When they carried the axe to the opposite end zone, however, they found the Gophers' players and coaches blocking their path.
Some heated words were exchanged. There was some shoving. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said a security officer pointed a finger in his face and told his team to leave. The Badgers never got to that goal post.
"It's happened for as long as I've been alive, going to both goal posts," Wisconsin senior linebacker Chris Borland said. "They kind of crashed our party."
For the most part, though, the Badgers simply laughed off the Minnesota blockade. And why not? Nobody has stopped them when it has mattered in nearly two months.
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsBeau Allen and Wisconsin chopped down Minnesota and the Badgers' BCS bowl hopes are looking up.
Wisconsin (9-2) has won six straight games since a 31-24 loss at Ohio State on Sept. 28, with all of those wins coming by at least 10 points. If this keeps up, it might prove difficult to keep Andersen's team from crashing the BCS party.
After three straight Rose Bowl trips, the Badgers are left hoping for an at-large bid since Ohio State clinched the Leaders Division spot in the Big Ten championship game on Saturday. They still need a sizable bump in the BCS standings, but perhaps a road win over a ranked team will provide that boost. Oregon's loss on Saturday might have also helped, as the Pac-12 might not get a second bid now.
Andersen has declined to campaign for his team. But they are doing the important work for him.
"When you have nine wins, you're very close to being a great football team," Andersen said. "I'm not so sure we're not a great team right now. If the season were over, I'd probably say they were a great team. But I don't want to tell them that yet."
Saturday's win was more of an efficient bloodletting than a showcase. The Gophers, who had won four straight Big Ten games behind some inspired play, went toe-to-toe with Wisconsin in the trenches early. Borland said it took some time to adjust to Minnesota's physical style, and the sub-zero wind chill didn't make the shoulder-pad slamming any more pleasant.
But after Minnesota grabbed a second-quarter lead on Aaron Hill's pick-six and then threatened again in Badgers territory, the Wisconsin defense clamped down. Brendan Kelly forced a fumble from quarterback Philip Nelson that Borland recovered, leading to an eventual touchdown. Another quick three-and-out defensive series set up a field goal for a 13-7 halftime lead.
Wisconsin caused a season-high three turnovers and limited Minnesota to just 185 total yards and 3.4 yards per play. For the third straight Big Ten game and the sixth time in 11 games overall, the Badgers defense did not allow an offensive touchdown.
"It's been fun to see this defense develop into what it is," Borland said.
The offense didn't do a whole lot after Joel Stave's third-quarter touchdown throw to Jared Abbrederis for the game's final points. But it says a lot that Wisconsin seemed disappointed with a 197-yard rushing effort.
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said earlier in the week that the Badgers had no weaknesses. That's not quite true, as special teams remain shaky. One of kicker Jack Russell's field goal tries took a dogleg left, and Andersen broke out a bizarre fourth-quarter fake-field goal play that lost 7 yards. He said he'd been holding on to that play for weeks, and that he would definitely scrap it now.
Everything else, however, has been going Wisconsin's way. Now it's a wait-and-see game with the BCS standings.
"I think this team has a lot of talent and deserves a little more recognition," defensive lineman Ethan Hemer said. "Hopefully, a win like this will put us in that spot."
On Saturday, the players were just happy to celebrate a 10th consecutive win over Minnesota, the longest by either side in the 123-year history of the rivalry. Borland hoisted freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton on his shoulders, and Shelton held up a whiteboard that read "10 straight." The many Badgers fans who made the trip chanted, "10 more years."
"Ten's a great number," Borland told ESPN.com. "That's a decade of dominance."
The Badgers have been dominating everybody for nearly two months. It remains to be seen whether they can chop their way through the BCS road blocks.