Rivalries were nothing new to Wilson, who thrived at N.C. State by beating in-state foe North Carolina all three seasons under center, but the concept of a traveling trophy, especially a 15-pound axe named after a mythical giant lumberjack, was hard to fathom.
That was one of the reasons players grabbed Wilson during the week, particularly Neenah, Wisconsin, native Peter Konz, to explain that ‘this isn't just an ordinary game, this isn't just business as usual.' It's a reason Paul Bunyan's Axe made regular appearances at practice during the week and why players touched the red Wisconsin portion of the 6-8 trophy that hadn't left Wisconsin's possession since 2003.
"Rivalry games are always big and fun to play in," Wilson said. "It means the world to these guys, the guys who are from Wisconsin, and the guys from the Minnesota area too as well. So it just means a lot in terms of the pride and the tradition here at the University of Wisconsin.
"Coach Bielema did a great job of reminded us what it means, the tradition it means from the past and we have to set history in terms of winning. That's what the axe meant."
Maybe that's why Wilson continues to do things that open people's eyes. Starting 6-for-6 on Wisconsin's first touchdown drive in the Badgers' 42-13 blowout, Wilson was perfect in the first half as he picked apart Minnesota's defense, finishing 13-of-13 for 162 yards and three scores.
The passes weren't cheapies either. He hit Jeff Duckworth on a slant over the middle for 17 yards on a third-and-13 and Nick Toon on a 21-yard and 17-yard sideline pass, the latter of which went for a touchdown.
"I definitely felt in a groove and some guys made some great plays," Wilson said. "I was going through my progressions, seeing guys and the offensive line gave me enough time to throw the ball to the right guy at the right time."
Prior to this week, the closest thing to a ‘trophy' was North Carolina fans trying to paint the ‘Free expression tunnel' on the N.C. State campus a shade of Carolina Blue in the week leading up to the game, only to have Wolfpack fans respond with paint buckets full of red.
After senior Aaron Henry passed off the axe to him, Wilson realized what a ‘trophy game' is all about.
"It definitely was exciting for everything to get together and chop down the goal posts," Wilson said. "The hardest part is running run the entire field several laps."
Gaffes Again on Special Teams
After two lengthy kickoff returns set up 13 points for Purdue last weekend, coach Bret Bielema said all week that the special teams personnel were going to be evaluated and improved. Apparently the evaluation process is still ongoing or the Badgers simply don't have better options.
Whatever the reason, special teams played a negative role, as gaffes on special teams cost Wisconsin points for the fourth straight game, preventing the shutout in the Twin Cities.
Down 21-0 and facing a fourth-and-goal from the UW 5, kicker Jordan Wettstein sprinted out left on a fake 22-yard field goal attempt and should have been dead to rights with Antonio Fenelus there off the edge. Problem was Fenelus missed the tackle, as Wettstein shook him off his leg and barreled into the end zone. He missed the extra point as added insult.
"I gave Antonio a little bit of heat that a kicker stiff armed him," Bielema said.
Arguably the bigger embarrassment came at the start of the second half when Duane Bennett took the opening kickoff untouched for a 96-yard touchdown to close the gap to 28-13. Without reviewing the film, Bielema said the unit did fairly well except the first kick of each half, meaning the next step if finding consistency.
"We committed another two periods of practice to it, so we've got to get the results," Bielema said. "Again it's inconsistent. The first one was obviously bad and the first one of the second half was … can't have it."
From the Infirmary
Junior center Peter Konz got his left leg rolled over by a Gophers defender tackling Montee Ball on an 8-yard run early in the fourth quarter. Bielema didn't have an update on Konz, who remained down for several minutes and needed to be carted off the field. Sophomore Ryan Groy replaced Konz.
"Just seeing it happen looked really bad," senior Kevin Zeitler said. "He's my best buddy, so it double sucks."
Sophomore Jared Abbrederis suffered a strained left shoulder injury during the second half kickoff and did not return. He was replaced by senior Aaron Henry on the punt return unit and sophomore Jeff Duckworth became the No.2 receiver. Bielema hopes to have him back Tuesday.
Junior linebacker Mike Taylor banged up his knee in the first half, but still finished with a game-high 13 tackles, his fifth double-digit tackle game of the season.
"I was surprised to get him back in there," Bielema said. "This game meant a lot to him. He's a tremendous competitor."
A Little Chippy
After senior Nick Toon chopped down one goal post, Aaron Henry brought Paul Bunyan's Axe in front of the student section goal posts to give a few pretend chops. Problem was the defeated Gophers were about to do their postgame ritual of singing the school's Alma Mater and didn't take too kindly to being pushed out of the way for a little showboating.
"I forgot that they go down there and sing at the end," Bielema said. ‘We probably should educate our guys to the other end first."
In the middle of the scrum was sixth-year safety Kim Royston, the former Badgers safety who transferred out of the program prior to the 2008 season and received an extra year of eligibility after breaking his leg in spring practices and missing all of last season. He was the only players on the Minnesota roster to have held the axe.
"It's a rivalry, so it's bigger than a person or anything else," Henry said. "We chop down the goal posts just like they would have done if they were in Camp Randall. We were going down there to chop down the goal posts. It's standard. It's routine … and I guess they didn't like it. That's not our problem."
Extra Points: Wisconsin has scored a touchdown off its last 11 turnovers gained. The Badgers have turned every turnover they have forced in Big Ten play into a TD … With four TD passes, senior QB Russell Wilson now has 25 on the season, breaking the UW single-season record for TD passes. Wilson also became just the 13th QB in FBS history -- and fifth from a BCS conference -- to pass for at least 100 TDs in a career. He is on pace to become just the fourth QB in Big Ten history to throw at least 30 TDs in a season … Senior CB Antonio Fenelus recorded his third interception of the season and eighth of his career, picking off a second-quarter pass.