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College Football: Gophers desperate for the Axe

November 22, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS — Could this — finally — be the year the Minnesota football team beats the Badgers in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe?

Minnesota has lost 14 consecutive football games to Wisconsin since 2003 and 11 in a row in Madison since 1994. The memories of past Gophers wins have faded — if they ever existed for some.

“For me, I can’t even remember the Gophers ever having it,” said Gophers senior linebacker Blake Cashman, from Eden Prairie, who was 7 years old in 2003.

In addition to playing for a coveted rivalry trophy at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, the Gophers need a victory to secure bowl eligibility for the first time in coach P.J. Fleck’s two seasons at Minnesota.

And that certainly is possible considering Badgers’ blemishes. Wisconsin started the season ranked fourth in the nation only to suffer four defeats — the most in any of Badgers coach Paul Chryst’s four seasons in Madison.

Since 1994, the Gophers (5-6, 2-6) have never beaten Wisconsin (7-4, 5-3) when the Badgers enter the game with a winning percentage of .700 or greater. But when Wisconsin has a winning percentage less than .700, the Gophers are 3-6. A poor record, but when the Badgers are relatively down, Minnesota has snagged a few victories.

Entering Saturday’s game, the Badgers have won at a .636 clip this season. And it is only that high because Wisconsin pulled off a 14-point comeback in the final six minutes of Saturday’s game against Purdue. The Badgers eventually beat the Boilermakers 47-44 in triple overtime.

Wisconsin’s struggles start with quarterback Alex Hornibrook (concussion) missing three of four games, including against Purdue. In his past three games, he has thrown six interceptions, and he has passed for more than 200 yards just twice in eight games this year.

Jack Coan has made three starts in place of Hornibrook, and he produced his best numbers of the season against the Boilermakers: 160 yards passing, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Also hurting the offense is the the absence of expected go-to receiver Quintez Cephus, who hasn’t played this year as he faces charges of sexual assault.

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