12:00 PM ET, October 14, 2006
Camp Randall Stadium, MADISON, WI
Wisconsin linebacker DeAndre Levy hears so many stories about Minnesota and Paul Bunyan's Axe that he finds it hard to believe them all.
"All week, we've been talking about how much history is in this game," Levy said. "There's a bunch of crazy stories involved in this game -- I think they made up some of them -- but it adds to the mystique."
The game for the right to keep Paul Bunyan's Axe will be played for the 116th time on Saturday, the most played rivalry in Division I-A. As usual, one of the teams is ranked.
No. 25 Wisconsin (5-1, 2-1) cracked into the rankings after winning against some of the Big Ten's lower-tier teams -- Northwestern and Indiana -- by a combined score of 93-26.
The Badgers could easily overlook Minnesota (2-4, 0-3), on a three-game losing streak, but linebacker Jonathan Casillas said the Golden Gophers stand out.
"It's crazy, because on film they look good," he said. "They run the ball good. They have a good senior quarterback. They have good receivers, a big tight end. You look at their record, and it's 2-4, and that doesn't match up."
Minnesota flashed some of its potential in a 28-27 overtime loss to Penn State after Jason Giannini shanked an extra point that ultimately cost the Golden Gophers the game and may cost them a bowl game with matchups still left against Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa.
"We're fed up with the mistakes that we're making being the cause of why we're losing games," said linebacker Mike Sherels. "At this point it's kind of becoming, 'We're fed up. Let's do whatever we've got to do to win a game now."'
Minnesota coach Glen Mason said there's no special remedy to bounce back from the latest loss.
"They have to realize that what happens one week, they have to let it go," Mason said. "There are 12 chapters to this book and you have to read them all, so you move on."
With that recent setback, it may be easier for Minnesota to forget last year's matchup. The Badgers overcame a 10-point deficit with 3:27 to play after Casillas blocked a punt that was recovered in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown in the final minute. The Badgers won 38-34.
"It was a heartbreaker, one that sticks in my mind pretty clear," said center Tony Brinkhaus. "It was one we had and just slipped away at the last second."
After making NCAA history by producing a pair of 1,000-yard rushers three consecutive seasons, the Gophers have forced senior quarterback Bryan Cupito to take the lead role in the offense this year after the departures of Laurence Maroney and Gary Russell and blockers Greg Eslinger and Mark Setterstrom.
"Maroney, you can't really replace a guy like that," Levy said.
So Cupito has shouldered more of the load, throwing for 347 yards and two touchdowns against Penn State to rally them to overtime before Giannini's kick.
Meanwhile, Minnesota can only wish it had a runner like Wisconsin's P.J. Hill, who has 847 yards rushing this season -- the fifth most yards per game in the nation -- and 10 touchdowns.
The Wisconsin staff is starting to scale the freshman back in practice to keep him rested because he's averaged almost 27 touches per game.
"I think our guys realize and understand too we're a better ball club with P.J. out there, so no one's taking any unnecessary shots at him during the course of the week," coach Bret Bielema said.
Minnesota hopes to get its shots in on Hill on Saturday in Madison.
"Their offensive line's doing a tremendous job. They're really jelling and blocking well, and he's a hard runner," Sherels said. "When you combine those two things with a team, especially coming into a rivalry game, it's going to be tough."
But the rivalry always comes back to that Axe, which replaced the Slab of Bacon trophy in 1948 as the official token given to the game's winner.
"I don't know if it can escalate any more," Bielema said. "(Being) able to see last year firsthand how crazy of a game that was up there ... this year I don't expect it to let down at all."
Top 25 Overview
This will mark the 116th meeting between the Gophers and the Badgers, making it the most-played rivalry in Division I-A. And the winner gets to keep the Paul Bunyan Axe, which could be a bad mix on a Homecoming weekend in Madison.
|Avg Points Allowed||24.7||12.7|