Since Saturday's loss against Michigan State, plenty of people have noted that head coach Bret Bielema's career record against ranked Big Ten teams now stands at 1-8. Minnesota is not ranked this year-not even close, really-but they are Wisconsin's archrival, and Bielema has their number.
The fifth-year head coach has yet to spend his first day at the helm of the Wisconsin football program without having possession of Paul Bunyan's Axe. Factor in two straight wins to close out the rivalry under the tenure of Bielema's predecessor, Barry Alvarez, and the Badgers check in with six straight wins over Minnesota.
By beating Minnesota every year since 2004, no player currently on Wisconsin's roster has lost to the Gophers. Senior tight end Lance Kendricks said he has no interest in finding out how it feels.
"For me, having the axe ever since I've been here is very special," said Kendricks, who caught a fourth-quarter touchdown that put UW up 24-13 against Minnesota last year. "That's something to be proud of."
Though none of the Badger players have lost possession of the Axe, some of the upper classmen do know what it's like to lose grip on a rivalry trophy. In 2008, Wisconsin carried the Heartland Trophy into Iowa City after a dramatic win the year before, but suffered a 38-16 blowout and watched as the Hawkeyes came to take it away.
"They ran on our sideline and we were getting bumped by fans on the field," said senior strong safety Jay Valai, a sophomore at the time. "It was just a disgusting feeling."
Given the style Wisconsin plays, it should come as no surprise that the Badgers run the ball very effectively against the Gophers. Each of the last ten matchups between the two schools has seen a UW running back compile at least 100 yards on the ground. On top of that, a Wisconsin running back has found the endzone at least twice in eight of the last nine meetings.
Notable rushing performances in recent memory include a 2002 matchup in which Anthony Davis rolled up 301 rushing yards on 45 carries, and last year's game which saw then-sophomore running back John Clay rush for 159 of his 186 yards in the second half.
Clay's second half performance in 2009, along with a timely strip from defensive end O'Brien Schofield helped UW overcome a 14-13 halftime deficit and keep Minnesota's late-game chances to a minimum. Close calls seem to have become the norm in this rivalry.
In 2005, it took a miraculous blocked punt and touchdown for Wisconsin to cap off a ferocious fourth-quarter comeback and claim a 38-34 victory in the Metrodome. The last three years, UW has won by a combined thirteen points. No matter the fashion, the Badgers look run their win-streak to seven and keep Paul Bunyan's Axe in Madison.
"The best part of the rivalry is when the clock is winding down and you're up," sophomore center Peter Konz said. "Even if guys are talking smack, it's down to the final score. You know you did your job when the score reads what it's supposed to read."