MADISON – Saturday afternoon against Minnesota the Wisconsin Badgers will look to control Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the 14th consecutive season. Wisconsin’s last loss to Minnesota came in the 2003 season when they fell to the Gophers 37-34 on a Rhys Lloyd 35-yard field goal as time expired. In 2004 the Badgers handily beat the Gophers 38-14, and they haven’t lost in the rivalry since.
Here are three keys to victory for the Badgers to keep Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Madison for the 14th straight season:
1. Run the football – It’s no secret that Wisconsin wants to run the football effectively in each and every week. They boast one of the country’s best running backs in freshman Jonathan Taylor. He’s currently third in the country in rushing yards with 1,657 on the season. Taylor has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week a record-tying seven time. A big game against the Gophers could give him sole possession of that record.
Minnesota’s defense hasn’t exactly been stout against the run. They’ve given up over four yards per carry. That is quite the difference after Taylor rushed for 132 yards against one of the country’s best rushing defenses last week against Michigan. Taylor could be poised for another big game in his first taste of this rivalry. Look for him to have his ninth 100-yard game, and possibly his fourth game of over 200 yards.
2. Limit mistakes – In nearly every upset that occurs in college football, the underdog team is able to win the turnover battle. Wisconsin has made quite a few mistakes, but been consistently bailed out by an outstanding defense. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook has thrown 13 interceptions on the season, which is tied for third most in the country. He’s thrown an interception in each of the Badgers’ eight Big Ten wins.
This would be an excellent time for Hornibrook to play his best game of the season and build a bit of momentum before the Badgers head to Indianapolis to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship game. The defense will likely be able to bail out Hornibrook if necessary this weekend, but the Buckeyes are a different story.
3. Follow the plan – Wisconsin has stuck to the same plan in nearly all of their games this season. Things have been close in the first half. They’ve had an opportunity to feel out their opponent, the defense has been strong and the game has been close. The second half of games is where the Badgers have dominated, only trailing for 8:49 in the second half this season. They only other game this season in which they trailed during the second half this year was the Big Ten opening matchup with Northwestern.
If the game is close heading into the second half, as it should be, Wisconsin will find themselves in very comfortable territory and likely to pull away. It would be even better if they took control a little earlier this week. Wisconsin is the more talented team, but anything can happen in rivalry games.
Prediction: Wisconsin completes their first ever 12-0 season with a 38-13 win to keep Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Madison for at least one more year.