UW ready to protect Paul Bunyan’s Axe

first_imgMATTHEW KUTZ/herald photoThe most played rivalry in Division 1A continues this weekend as the No. 23 Wisconsin Badgers take on their long-time rival, the No. 22 Golden Gophers. In their 115th meeting, the Badgers look to successfully defend Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time since 2000.”It’s pride,” senior linebacker Lamar Watkins said of the axe’s meaning. “We lost it my sophomore year, and that’s a sour feeling when you lose it. You always want the axe.”If the Badgers hope to keep this storied trophy, their defense will have to play a lot bigger than it did against Northwestern, giving up 51 points and 674 yards of total offense to the Wildcats.”You can’t blame one person, it’s all of us.” Watkins said. “You got to concentrate, communicate, and make wrap up tackles. We missed a lot of tackles that turned into a lot of big plays, just concentration lapses. So we’ve just got to eliminate those and I think we can do it.”After allowing a season-high 319 rushing yards to a team known for their passing attack, the Badgers are faced with the task of stopping the nation’s No. 4 rushing attack. Led by junior Laurence Maroney, the Golden Gophers are averaging 280 yards rushing per game, including 276 against a vaunted Michigan defense last week.”I think the thing about Maroney that differentiates him between everyone else at this point is that he’s got good power and is able to do it in a quick burst,” defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. “He’s not a jiggle guy. He runs it north and south and right at you.”However, Maroney isn’t the only obstacle between Wisconsin and the axe.Despite a lingering question as to who will start at quarterback for the Gophers — starter Bryan Cupito went down with an injury last weekend — Minnesota still possesses two big targets at wideout in Ernest Wheelwright, who is listed at 6-foot-5, and 6-foot-2 Logan Payne. Both these players will try to attack the Badgers’ secondary deep.”They probably go down field more with their deep passes than anyone we play,” Bielema said. “Minneosta’s running game feeds into their passing game. Everything they do in their running game looks like their passing game and vice versa. As a defensive player, and as a defensive coach, you’ve always got to take that into consideration.”Despite their size disadvantage, Bielema feels that his corners are up to the task of covering Minnesota’s receivers deep, even in single coverage.”If we put them in the right situations at the right time I have a lot of confidence in them,” Bielema said.Bielema also said he expects senior defensive back Joe Stellmacher to return to the lineup this week after missing the last two games because of an injury.”Stellmacher gives us another player back there with a little bit of maturity to him, who is able to put people in the right position, communicate things on the field and on the sideline, and get done what we need to get done,” Bielema said.One way the Badgers can help out their corners is by making plays in the opponent’s backfield. Against Northwestern, the Wisconsin defense managed only three tackles for loss, a stat they’ll look to improve upon this week.On the other side of the ball, there is good news and bad news for the Wisconsin offense. The good news is that it’s coming off of its most impressive performance of the year. Junior quarterback John Stocco led the way last weekend, completing 77 percent of his passes and throwing for 362 yards and four touchdowns against the Wildcats. The bad news is that Minnesota’s defense is playing as well as they have all year.The Golden Gophers allowed only 249 yards in their victory over Michigan last week, and the Gophers’ freshman defensive end, Steve Davis, has been terrorizing teams, accumulating five sacks and seven tackles for losses in their last four games.”He is a good player,” co-offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. “He’s been productive, but we’ve faced a lot of good ends too. We’ve just got to get up for that individual.”According to Chryst, the Badgers will utilize tight ends and backs to help against Davis in pass protection.”Anyone who’s leading the Big Ten in sacks, you’ve got to have a plan for him,” Chryst said.Stocco should get further help in the passing game this week with the return of tight end Owen Daniels. Daniels suited up for last week’s game but was held out against Northwestern on a game-time decision. While Wisconsin has gotten good play out of backup Jason Pociask, Daniels, who is fourth on the team in catches and second in receiving touchdowns, will provide Stocco an extra weapon in the passing game.And Stocco will need all the weapons he can get if the Badgers hope to hold on to the axe for another year.last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *