You hear the same message from University of Wisconsin players ever year at this time. The Badgers place the utmost importance on sending their seniors out the right way by beating Minnesota and keeping Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Madison for yet another season.
These 2018 seniors were barely in grade school the last time the Badgers failed to come through in that regard, and every victory UW adds to its streak in the rivalry makes the Golden Gophers’ previous Axe celebrations fade even further from memory.
As the winning streak, now at 14 with eight straight double-digit victories, continues to grow, however, maintaining ownership of the iconic trophy doesn’t necessarily become any more routine for the Badgers.
“You’ve got to make sure you’re not the team that ever loses it,” UW left guard Michael Deiter said. “I think there’s an extra edge you get from that feeling, knowing you can’t be the team that gives up that Axe.
“I think the more you keep it, the more you have to treat it with less complacency because just the law of averages — the longer you keep it, at some point you might lose it.”
Everyone outside the program expects the Badgers, who enter the week as 10-point favorites, to make it 15 straight on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, taking care of business against a struggling Minnesota team like they always do.
UW doesn’t find it too difficult to fight against that complacency, though. The Badgers’ coaches and more experienced players stress the added importance of this game all week, adding a renewed hunger for extending the streak if it didn’t already exist.
Deiter remembers a speech from former UW offensive lineman Rob Havenstein before the 2014 game. It was the Ohio native’s first year on campus, and Havenstein’s words helped him understand just how meaningful the rivalry is.
“I just kind of knew right then, it was the game,” said Deiter, with an emphasis on the word “the.” “It was just different to me, the intensity it had and everything. You could just kind of feel the edge was a little bit different.”
Senior safety D’Cota Dixon said Jonathan Taylor even mentioned the importance of beating Minnesota after Saturday’s game at Purdue — not long after the sophomore running back ripped off a 321-yard performance in the Badgers’ triple-overtime victory.
“Coach has already hit on it a couple times,” Dixon said Monday morning. “(Jonathan Taylor) hit on it last week after the game. So it is a big deal. … I don’t think it’s hard to avoid (complacency) as long as you’ve got guys who set the tone and who set the message, and we have those type of leaders on this team.”
UW displayed the words “Keep the Axe” outside its locker room Monday, likely one of numerous references to the rivalry for players to digest throughout the week.
Badgers coach Paul Chryst didn’t get into specifics when asked what his plans were for hammering home the importance of the streak, but he made it clear that, by Saturday, everyone on the roster will understand the urgency behind a 15th consecutive win over the Gophers.
“We’ll hit on it every day,” Chryst said. “… There’s no question that all of our players at the end of the week will know how important this game is.”
Hornibrook, Edwards, Deal remain questionable
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook (concussion), right tackle David Edwards (left arm) and running back Taiwan Deal (right leg) are all listed as questionable for this week’s game against Minnesota after the trio missed Saturday’s triple-overtime victory over Purdue.
Chryst said Hornibrook, who practiced as far back as Tuesday of last week, is still “progressing through” the concussion protocol. Backup quarterback Jack Coan has played in four games this year and will lose the ability to redshirt if he sees the field again this season.
Safety Scott Nelson, who did not play against the Boilermakers, is not listed on UW’s injury report.
Taylor named finalist for Doak Walker Award
Taylor was named one of three finalists Monday for the Doak Walker Award, presented annually to the best running back in college football.
His 1,869 rushing yards this season are 425 more than any other Power Five player, and his 15 rushing touchdowns rank fifth nationally. The other finalists are Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Memphis’ Darrell Henderson.
The nation’s leading rusher averages 169.9 yards per game, 31.6 yards better than second-place Darrell Henderson of Memphis. With 3,846 career yards going into Saturday against Minnesota, Taylor has smashed former Badger Ron Dayne’s major college record for career rushing yards though a sophomore season (3,566).
Taylor also won the co-Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week award for his 321-yard rushing performance against Purdue, sharing the honors with Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
Taylor scored three touchdowns against the Boilermakers, including the 17-yard game-winner in triple overtime. His 321 rushing yards were the third most for a single game in UW history.