MADISON, Wis. (AP) — For once, elusive running back Melvin Gordon got stuck in a crowd on the field.
It happened at Minnesota on Nov. 23, 2013, a 20-7 victory for Wisconsin. The Badgers won their 10th straight in the not-so-friendly Big Ten rivalry. Some pushing and shoving ensued after Wisconsin claimed Paul Bunyan’s Axe for another year.
Expect another chippy affair Saturday when No. 22 Minnesota (8-3, 5-2) and No. 14 Wisconsin (9-2, 6-1) meet again — and not just for that old-fashioned trophy.
The winner claims the Big Ten West crown and a berth in next week’s league title game against East Division champion Ohio State.
“It’s a rivalry game, neither of us like each other. … Let’s not try to sugarcoat it,” said Gordon, the Badgers’ Heisman Trophy candidate.
Tensions reached a new level after the Badgers’ victory last year in Minneapolis. Wisconsin went over to ceremoniously “chop” down the goal post in front of the Minnesota student section.
That’s where memories start to get a little blurry, depending on who you talk to.
The Gophers encircled the goal post and denied access to the Badgers. Minnesota players apparently were in the middle of a postgame group song. The scene got tense, though it never escalated beyond the short shoving match.
“I was in the mix,” Gordon said this week with a wide grin. He didn’t elaborate.
Minnesota receiver K.J. Maye said the encounter was misinterpreted by some as the Gophers wanting to fight the Badgers.
“But it wasn’t nothing like that,” Maye said. “We took the loss like men, and we went back to the locker room and moved on.”
A year later, they’re actually doing quite well.
Minnesota has cracked The Associated Press poll for the first time in more than six years. Its confidence is sky-high after rallying from a 14-point deficit last week to beat Nebraska in Lincoln.
Some things to watch when the schools wrap up the regular season on Saturday:
LAST RUN: Gordon is playing it coy, though it would be a shocker if the junior decided to return to Wisconsin next season. That means the Minnesota game is likely his last appearance at Camp Randall Stadium. Gordon won’t be introduced with the 18 players to be honored in Senior Day ceremonies, though expect the star running back to get a hero’s farewell anyway, win or lose.
HEISMAN HOPES: Another clutch performance in a big game would stuff Gordon’s already jam-packed Heisman resume. The nation’s leading rusher at 191.7 yards per game is currently tied with former Badgers back Ron Dayne for the Big Ten single-season rushing record of 2,109 yards.
“If it was all over today and we were sitting here talking about Melvin Gordon, it’s been a tremendous ride and one I will never forget that I was able to be around the kid and be part of his life for two years,” coach Gary Andersen said this week.
TRAINER’S ROOM: Andersen said he’s preparing as if Minnesota will have its own star running back in David Cobb, though coach Jerry Kill said at midweek that Cobb was “very questionable” after pulling his left hamstring in the Nebraska game.
Berkley Edwards is next in line, though he had a concussion against Nebraska. Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams could also get carries. But they can’t match the production of Cobb, a 1,400-yard rusher with 12 touchdowns.
MINNESOTA MILESTONES: The Gophers are looking to win six Big Ten games for the first time since 1973 and win all big three trophy games (Wisconsin/Iowa/Michigan) in the same season for the first time since 1967. A program once perceived as one of the Big Ten’s perennial down-on-its-luck teams is a victory away from playing for a conference championship.
AXE TO GRIND: Wisconsin said it was instituting a new policy for the postgame axe celebration to try to avoid a confrontation similar to the one last year at Minnesota. Instead of being situated on the sideline in the second half, the axe will be placed near the goal post closest to the locker room for the winning team. This allows the losing team to get off the field.
“I’m more worried about our game,” Kill said. “We hadn’t beat them in, what, 10 years? There’s supposed to be a rivalry, so you have to win to make it a rivalry.”
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