The Badgers and the Gophers begin the battle for the Battle Axe at 2:36 p.m. central time Saturday
Mason: ‘Dominated By Wisconsin'
With just one regular season game remaining, Minnesota really can't change its status very much at this point. The Gophers will still have a winning record, even if they lose at home against Iowa this week, while a win in that game won't send them to anything more than a mediocre bowl game.
Minnesota was at its worst in a 38-14 loss to Wisconsin. The Badgers came into the game unbeaten and hungry to regain Paul Bunyan's Axe — the trophy that goes to the winner of this annual border war — but lacking an explosive offense.
Somebody forgot to tell Glen Mason's team. Wisconsin scored three touchdowns in the first quarter and Minnesota was never competitive despite its multitude of offensive weapons.
The Gopher defense proved to be the right antidote for the previously sick Wisconsin passing game. Badger QB John Stocco completed 19-of-26 passes for 297 yards with a touchdown. Stocco also ran for two scores, and the Gopher defense also gave up two TD runs to Anthony Davis.
By the time the Gophers got on the board with 4:07 remaining in the second quarter, they were already behind 31-0.
Mason had no excuses after the game and he did not try to bolster his players' sagging egos following the team's fourth loss in five games.
"Needless to say, we were dominated by Wisconsin," Mason said.
"For whatever reason, we didn't start that game ready to play. Really, that whole first half there was very little quality football on our part. At halftime it was on the verge of being totally embarrassing and run out of the state of Wisconsin. I think I used the word frustrating last week. I'm totally disappointed in almost every aspect of my program."
GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Ernie Wheelwright — Head coach Glen Mason would not give a game ball to any of his players, but Wheelwright got the Gophers on the scoreboard when he caught a 10-yard TD pass with 4:07 left in the second quarter. Wheelwright caught six passes for 83 yards and appeared to fight hard for 60 minutes — something few of his teammates could say.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Head coach Glen Mason — His team was simply awful in one of its key rivalry games and has now lost four of five games. Mason is a fine recruiter and can put together an effective offensive game plan. However, when his team loses a heartbreaker — as it did to Michigan earlier this year — it goes into a funk. The Gophers have to learn how to put painful losses behind them and go from there.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That first quarter was probably the worst quarter since I've been at Minnesota. I don't know what was going wrong." — Minnesota QB Bryan Cupito on the 38-14 loss at Wisconsin. The Gophers trailed 21-0 at the end of one quarter.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber — The two star running backs were held to a combined 91 yards by the Badgers. However, they are still a very talented duo and the core of the offensive team. If the Gophers are going to emerge from their funk, Maroney and Barber are going to have to make the key adjustments and get the running game going again.
STILL NEEDS SOME WORK: This team needs to prepare for battle in a much more serious way. It's one thing for the powerful Badgers to grind out a win, it's quite another for them to explode out of the starting gate. Prior to this game, Wisconsin had struggled to find an offense. The Gophers rolled over, and that's no way for a big-time program to react to a key road game.
ROSTER REPORT: For the first time in four weeks, the Gophers weren't forced to start backups in the secondary. Senior Justin Fraley (calf) and cornerback Trumaine Banks (leg) both returned to the lineup.
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