No. 20 Wisconsin looks to extend dominance over Minnesota in battle for Axe

By Colin Fly, AP
Friday, October 8, 2010

No. 20 Wisconsin looks to extend Gophers’ grief

MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Badgers can’t help it: They are being a little bit selfish this week even with rival Minnesota coming to town.

The 20th-ranked Badgers have a six-game winning streak in the annual battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, a rivalry that resumes on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. But when Minnesota safety Kyle Theret said “nobody hates red and white more than us” this week, Wisconsin players barely noticed.

“I don’t really think too much about colors or whatever,” quarterback Scott Tolzien said. “I just play the game.”

That’s because the Badgers (4-1, 0-1 Big Ten) have been very focused on themselves. They’ve got to fix their maddeningly inefficient offense after going 1 for 8 on first-down passes and 3 of 11 on third down in a loss to Michigan State last week.

A loss to the struggling Gophers (1-4, 0-1) would send Wisconsin’s season into a tailspin.

During Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema’s weekly press conference, there were 16 questions before someone asked about Minnesota. And there was only one more question after that.

“Because of where they’re at right now, I expect them to come in here as hungry and as eager to be part of success as anybody that we’ve faced to this point,” the coach said. “They’re going to come in and know it’s a rivalry game, know that it’s homecoming here, and they’ll have all those things working on their behalf for motivation.”

Wisconsin believes it has a new weapon in freshman James White, who went from third-string tailback in fall camp to splitting the workload with reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year John Clay.

White has 243 yards rushing and six touchdowns in Wisconsin’s last two games. He’s also impressed the coaching staff by not repeating rookie mistakes.

“When I make mistakes, it puts a little anger in me, it makes me want to run harder,” he said.

Bielema said White’s work ethic has definitely merited more carries, which in turn will keep Clay fresh. Clay crushed the Gophers in last year’s matchup, running for 184 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries.

The two teams will look very similar by each trying to establish the run before using play-action to give their senior quarterbacks time to look down field. The normally sharp Tolzien shouldered some of the blame for his ugly numbers in the loss to the Spartans.

Adam Weber, who chose Minnesota over Wisconsin in the recruiting war, will become the most experienced active quarterback in the country when he starts for the 44th time on Saturday. He’s never touched the Axe.

“As coach (Tim) Brewster always says, ‘The best sound in sports is a big stadium like that completely quiet,’” Weber said. “So that’s what we’re hoping: To really quiet them down and not let them be a factor in this game.”

That hasn’t happened much. Wisconsin has won 13 of the last 15 meetings and every matchup in Madison since 1994, when Weber was 7 years old. Minnesota has fallen just short recently. In four of the last five matchups, Wisconsin has won by seven points or less.

“Every game has been close,” Wisconsin lineman John Moffitt said. “They play, they come to play. It’s always a battle and that’s why it’s a great game. You have to take it seriously and respect the game and respect the rivalry and I hope they’re doing the same.”

No doubt.

“All I can think about is how meaningful it’ll be to our players, to see the smiles on our players’ faces, to see them succeed when they’ve poured so much effort in to what we’re trying to accomplish,” Brewster said. “I would just love to sit back and watch our guys celebrate. That’s how we’re going to plan this week, and that’s what we’re going to expect when we go over there.”

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