The Minnesota Golden Gophers are back home Saturday for a Big Ten Conference matchup with the nationally-ranked Wisconsin Badgers Saturday. The game is scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. CT kickoff at TCF Bank Stadium. Wisconsin-Minnesota is the most-played rivalry in all of college football, with Saturday's game being the 121st meeting. It will also be for Paul Bunyan's Axe, one of four trophy games Minnesota plays for each season.
Minnesota is coming off a hard-fought 31-24 loss to Michigan State in its last outing. The Gophers are now 2-7 overall and 1-4 in Big Ten play. Wisconsin enters Saturday's contest with a 7-2 record and a 3-2 Big Ten mark. The Badgers tallied a season-high point total in a 62-17 win over Purdue Saturday.
The Big Ten Network will televise Saturday's game. Eric Collins will call the play-by-play action, while Chris Martin will be the analyst in the booth. Dionne Miller will report from the sidelines.
SCOUTING THE BADGERS Minnesota faces Wisconsin for the 121st time Saturday. The Gophers lead the all-time series 58-54-8.
Wisconsin is coached by Bret Bielema, who is in his sixth season as the head man in Madison. Bielema led Wisconsin to a share of the Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth last season. He was the Big Ten Coach of the Year in his rookie year of 2006. Prior to taking over the Badgers, Bielema was the defensive coordinator under legendary Badger coach Barry Alvarez for two years. He also has coaching experience at Kansas State and Iowa.
The Badgers boast the No. 4-rated scoring offense in the nation. Wisconsin is scoring 47 points per game. They are allowing just 16.1 points per game to rank No. 9 in scoring defense. Quarterback Russell Wilson is a very efficient signal-caller, in fact he's currently No. 1 in the nation in pass efficiency (196.66). The Badgers are good on the ground, as well. Montee Ball ranks No. 12 in the nation in rushing, averaging 119.6 yards per game.
GOPHER GRID-BITS > Minnesota has come from behind in each of its last 11 victories, dating back to the 2009 season. > Minnesota-Wisconsin is the most-played rivalry in all of NCAA FBS football. > Minnesota now has 10 sacks on the season, one more than the Gophers recorded in all of 2010. > Wisconsin has won 7 straight vs. Minnesota. The Gophers have not won Paul Bunyan's Axe since '03. > Wisconsin is one of seven Big Ten schools that Minnesota holds a winning record against. > Minnesota is in its 128th season of college football. Only three other schools -- Rutgers (142), Michigan (132) and Navy (131) have played more.
GET SOME AXE ACTION Paul Bunyan's Axe, named after the mythical giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan, is a prize awarded every year to the winner of the college football game between Minnesota and Wisconsin. The trophy is a symbol of one of the most storied rivalries in college football, representing the most-played rivalry in FBS football, with 120 editions dating back to 1890. The Golden Gophers lead the all-time series, 58-54-8, while the Badgers lead the Axe's series, 36-24-3. Earlier, the schools played for the Slab of Bacon, a piece of wood with an M or a W, depending from which angle one would look on it. Minnesota led that series 11-3 until the trophy was "lost" in 1943. The Paul Bunyan Axe was created by the Wisconsin letterwinners' organization (the National W Club) and would be instituted as the trophy in the series in 1948. The scores of each game are recorded on the axe's handle, which is 6 feet long.
TOUCH OF GRAY Junior QB MarQueis Gray recorded career-high marks for completions (19), attempts (32), yards (295) and touchdowns (3) last week at Michigan State. That makes back-to-back stellar performances by the junior signal-caller. His 64.7-percent completion rate vs. Iowa last week was a career-best and his fourth-quarter touchdown run vs. the Hawkeyes completed his first fourth-quarter comeback win. Gray has now cracked the single-season top five chart for quarterback rushing yards. His 571 yards this season rank him No. 4 on that chart (see column to the left). He needs 260 more to tie the record.
DA'JON'S BIG DAY Senior wide receiver Da'Jon McKnight turned in career-high marks in last week's game at Michigan State. McKnight grabbed nine receptions to tie his career-best mark. His 173 yards were a career-best and his three touchdowns matched his career-high. McKnight has now cracked the Gophers' career top 10 for receiving yards and ranks No. 8 (see chart at left). At his current pace, McKnight would finish with 1,937 yards and would finish with the seventh-best career receiving yardage total in Gopher history. McKnight was the team's top receiver in 2010, hauling in 48 receptions for 750 yards and 10 touchdowns.
G.T. OH! Senior linebacker Gary Tinsley leads the Gopher linebacking corps with 60 total tackles so far this season. He ranks No. 2 on the team in total tackles. Tinsley has 171 tackles to his credit for his Gopher career. Tinsley is tied for the team lead in sacks with 2.0, after recording one of Minnesota's two sacks vs. Michigan State last week.
WETT BEHIND THE EARS With regular kicker Chris Hawthorne nursing a sore quad (thigh muscle), junior kicker Jordan Wettstein was thrust into action two weeks ago vs. Iowa. The junior walk-on, a former soccer player who didn't play high school football, earned the Big Ten's Special Teams Player of the Week award. Wettstein converted his one PAT and one field goal opportunity and kicked off four times. His most important contribution vs. the Hawkeyes may have been the perfectly executed onside kick, which set Minnesota up for a game-winning, fourth-quarter touchdown drive. He added another FG and 3 PATs last week.