Gophers-Badgers rivalry ramps up

A rivalry between the Gophers and Badgers that was already intense ramped up last year with accusations and quotes from both sides. Time to renew acquaintances again on Saturday.

There wasn't much good that came from Minnesota's 29-6 loss to Michigan, so the coaches didn't even bother reviewing the game film with the players on Sunday.

Instead, they went right to work on Wisconsin. After last year's theatrics, there is plenty to see. The battle between the border states could be getting nasty.

Badgers coach Bret Bielema last year accused Gophers receiver Eric Decker of punching Badgers defensive back Jack Ikegwuonu in the groin. Minnesota coach Tim Brewster's then-freshman son, Clint, who is no longer on the team, was taunting former Badgers kicker Taylor Mehlhaff after Mehlhaff missed two field goals.

There was plenty of pushing and shoving during the game, after which Bielema curiously sprinted to midfield after the game to shake Brewster's hand. Later, he stoked the rivalry with the memorable line, "You want a rivalry? You got one."

"It's an important rivalry game," Brewster said Sunday. "The feeling is not underplayed between the states. All our trophy games are big games, important games. This one is more important than the rest of them."

The Badgers have spent plenty of time with the Paul Bunyan Axe, the reward for winning this game. Wisconsin has won four straight and 11 of the last 13 in the series, which could be why Brewster is adding so much importance to this game.

That and the fact that Minnesota routinely loses much of its in-state talent to the Badgers.

"You lose friendships or cause more hard feelings during recruiting than any game day," Bielema said.

One of Brewster's top priorities since taking the job has been closing off the borders to Bielema and the Badgers. So far, he's been fairly successful. Now, though, the Gophers have to do it on the field. A brilliant 7-1 start has been tarnished with two straight losses. Another defeat against Wisconsin, and all that hard work in winning seven of the first eight will slowly unravel.

Given the history of these two teams, Wisconsin would enjoy nothing more.


  • WR Eric Decker (ankle) will not play against Wisconsin after leaving the Michigan game prior to halftime and not returning. While Decker was sidelined, WR Brandon Green had a pair of nifty catches for 36 yards. Brewster singled out Green as someone who could help carry the load in the passing attack if Decker is unable to go.

    SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Eric Decker's importance to the offense was magnified during the loss to Michigan. The Gophers have struggled running the ball most of the season, and without his top target, QB Adam Weber was erratic throwing the ball, too. Weber has already been sacked 23 times this season, 10 more than he was last year during a one-win season. Weber has been sacked 10 times in the last three games. If Decker can't play against the Badgers, it could be another long day for Minnesota's offense.

    SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Michigan had just one turnover, which is in part why the Gophers struggled. They thrive off turnovers (27 this year), both to get the defense off the field and set the offense up with great field position. When that doesn't happen, a fairly ordinary defense gets exposed. Wisconsin will pound the ball at a Gophers defense that ranks eighth in the league, allowing 4.2 yards per carry. The key to beating Wisconsin is getting it in third and long and forcing Dustin Sherer to beat defenses throwing the ball. Sherer has four touchdown passes in five games since taking the starting job away from Allan Evridge.

    THIS WEEK'S GAME: Minnesota at Wisconsin, Nov. 15: Two border rivals that don't like each other very much and typically compete for the same recruits. Wisconsin has won four straight in this series and 11 of the last 13, but that doesn't mean much this year. Minnesota coach Tim Brewster has done a lot to change the mindset of the Gophers in a short amount of time. Now he must prepare them to beat their biggest rival.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Adam Weber — Struggled last week without Eric Decker, his top target. Still, Weber is the MVP of this offense. He has thrown for 2,256 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    WR Ben Kuznia — Without Decker, much of the pressure falls on Kuznia, who is second on the team with 28 catches. Granted, that's a long way from Decker's 74 receptions, but Kuznia must do better than his one-catch effort against Michigan.

    DE Willie VanDeSteeg — The anchor of the line leads the defense with 15 tackles for loss. He'll have a tough time getting into the backfield and slowing Wisconsin's powerful backs.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's an important rivalry game. The feeling is not underplayed between the states. All our trophy games are big games, important games. This one is more important than the rest of them." — coach Tim Brewster, on the Wisconsin rivalry

  • Gopher Illustrated Top Stories