More than Axe at stake in Madison

by Dan Miller

Minnesota football coach Glen Mason started rolling on one of his customary analogies Wednesday night.

“When you talk to your stock broker and get a 25 percent return from your portfolio, you’re not really looking at how close your broker did; you’re pretty happy,” Mason explained. “You don’t say, ‘Hey you blew this one or blew that one.’ You’re going to say, ‘Hey, it’s pretty darn good overall, isn’t it?’ “

Mason was trying to explain in his terms, why he believes there’s no such thing as an ugly win.

And if ugly wins didn’t count the same as regular wins, there’s no way Wisconsin would be fourth in the Bowl Championship Series rankings.

The Gophers battle the Badgers for Paul Bunyan’s Axe on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis.

With 43 seconds left and Wisconsin leading 9-7 at Arizona on Sept. 18, Wildcats kicker Nick Folk unloaded a 47-yard field goal attempt. With players on the sidelines holding up their hands, the perfect-looking attempt tailed off and missed.

In West Lafayette, Ind., Wisconsin overcame a 17-7 deficit against Purdue to win 20-17. Then-Heisman Trophy candidate Kyle Orton fumbled with 2:36 left in the game, and Wisconsin’s Scott Starks returned it for a touchdown. Purdue had a chance to tie the game at the end, but Ben Jones missed a 42-yard field goal.

On the other side, ugly wins that mattered have been completely foreign to Minnesota this season and during all of Mason’s tenure.

This year, the team’s only had ugly losses that have mattered.

Mason was quick to point out Wednesday that he’s not the only one in that boat.

“You don’t have to look too far to find somebody in your same exact position,” Mason said. “You think where we are and you think where Purdue is right now. They’re fighting a worse case than ours.”

After falling in miserable fashion to the Badgers, the Boilermakers have now lost three straight and face Iowa on Saturday.

The Gophers know their case would receive some serious healing if they could find some way to upset the Badgers.

Reminiscing, Mason went on to talk about the inches that can decide football games.

But he caught himself.

“You have to deal with absolutes,” he said. “You won six and you lost three and you got another one staring you right in the face. That’s what you have to worry about.”

After a pause and bit of laughing, he finished, “You’ve got a good one staring you right in the face.”

Scouting the Badgers

Something is going to have to give when the Big Ten’s best offense and best defense collide in Madison.

Minnesota is averaging 463 yards per game while Wisconsin is only allowing 236, and the Gophers average 33.3 points per game while the Badgers have held opponents to 8.5.

“We were especially looking at their defensive linemen,”

Joe Ainslie said. “(Anttaj) Hawthorne is a good player; we were all talking about him.”

Hawthorne and linemate Erasmus James have combined for 10 sacks and 17 tackles for loss this season.

But the Gophers aren’t overlooking the Badgers offense or Anthony Davis, who has been a perennial nuisance to Minnesota’s defense.

Davis is averaging 128.4 yards per game and has eight touchdowns in five games.

He missed last year’s border battle with an injury. But in the two years before, he amassed an astounding 509 yards and eight touchdowns in two games.

With Minnesota again having problems with tackling, it could be another long day if Davis gets going on the ground.

“We’ve been kind of plagued by missed tackles,” Minnesota cornerback Ukee Dozier said. “We stress it, but I think a lot of people have a lot of things on their minds.”