‘Biggest game’ awaits football team

Brett Angel

Minnesota senior linebacker Ben West is already making the necessary preparations for Saturday’s game against Wisconsin.

And not just on the practice field or in the film room.

A native of Appleton, Wis., West bought about 50 tickets for friends and family members who will make the trip to watch Minnesota’s annual battle with the Badgers for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. Two of West’s brothers who have never seen him play at Minnesota are planning to fly in from California.

“So far, it’s probably the biggest game of the year for me,” said West, who is one of 15 Wisconsin natives on Minnesota’s roster.

In addition to being crucial to the bowl picture of both teams, Saturday’s contest will also be the final home game for Minnesota seniors. The Gophers play their final game of the season in Iowa City, Iowa, against the Hawkeyes.

Saturday’s game is especially meaningful for a Gophers defense that gave up 301 rushing yards to Wisconsin running back Anthony Davis last season.

“It’s something we’ve been thinking about all summer,” West said. “It just stings.”

Badger wounds

After consecutive disappointing losses to Purdue and Northwestern at the end of October, Wisconsin players made the most of their bye last week to rest and get healthy.

Davis has been hampered for nearly two months by a severely sprained left ankle and has only seen extensive action in one game since. He started the Badgers game against Northwestern on Oct. 25 but re-injured the ankle early in the game.

Senior quarterback Jim Sorgi had surgery Oct. 19 to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee and missed Wisconsin’s game against Northwestern as well. Earlier this season, Sorgi was temporarily sidelined after being jabbed in the throat by Ohio linebacker Robert Reynolds. Reynolds was suspended one game as punishment for the action.

Kicker Mike Allen has also struggled with injuries, but coach Barry Alvarez expects all three to be ready in time for the Minnesota game.

“It appears as though most of them will be back in a lot better shape than they were a week ago,” Alvarez said. “They all practiced (Monday) and as of right now we’re planning on playing them.”

For the Gophers, right tackle Mike Nicholson is expected back in the starting lineup after sitting out Saturday’s game against Indiana.

Coach Glen Mason said his team as a whole is a lot healthier than it was a week ago.

A fond farewell

It was brought to Mason’s attention during Tuesday’s press conference that Saturday’s game against Wisconsin would be Minnesota’s final game on the traditional artificial turf in the Metrodome.

“Thank God,” Mason said before cracking a smile. “Thank God.”

The Gophers have stayed remarkably healthy this season despite playing what will be seven games on the old-fashioned AstroTurf, which is essentially a thinly padded carpet laid over concrete.

A new sand- and rubber-based AstroPlay surface – similar to the turf in place at the Gophers’ practice facility – was approved by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission three weeks ago. The new synthetic turf will be installed in March at an estimated cost of $715,000.

Standeford sets record

With four catches for 88 yards last Saturday against Northwestern, Purdue senior wide receiver John Standeford became the Big Ten’s all-time leader in career receiving yardage.

Standeford now has 3,418 receiving yards in his career.

David Williams, who played for Illinois from 1983-85, held the previous mark of 3,392.

“To now be in first place is nothing short of remarkable in light of the fact when he first came to Purdue, we didn’t think he would play for us for a year or two,” Purdue coach Joe Tiller said.

Standeford ended up starting as a true freshman for the Boilermakers. His 240 career receptions rank second in the Big Ten all-time to Williams’ 262.