Coming off a win over Purdue, the Wisconsin football team is looking forward to hosting the Minnesota Golden Gophers this Saturday, where the rivals will fight for Paul Bunyan’s Axe — a trophy that currently resides in Madison.
After a 38-14 win over Purdue, head coach Bret Bielema named Montee Ball and Ryan Groy the offensive MVPs for the game. Groy played much of the game at left tackle after Ricky Wagner went down with an injury, while Ball rushed for a career-high of 247 yards.
“Ryan really did some pretty good things obviously. For him to step in during the middle of the series with limited exposure during the course of the week [and] to pop out on the left tackle and execute the way he did was really special,” Bielema said. “Montee’s numbers and what he was able to accomplish not only in the game but career-wise is very special and significant. I thought he played with a high motor.”
Before the win over the Boilermakers, the former Heisman finalist averaged just 4.2 yards per carry and was still searching for the dominating performances that became a regular occurrence in 2011.
“I never saw anything different in his preparation. I’m sure he’s going to tell you that he has pressed harder and worked harder … He’s really found that groove and getting to where he wants to be,” Bielema said. “[Ball] did some things during the course of the week to change his approach. We’re seven games in and we have five guaranteed left, so it will be fun to watch him grow.”
On the defensive end, Bielema named junior defensive tackle Beau Allen the defensive MVP. In addition to a blocked punt — which the head coach said “was a pure improv by him” — Bielema said Allen, who finished with just one tackle, was very efficient along the defensive line.
After kicker Kyle French missed two field goals against the Boilermakers, Bielema didn’t award a special teams MVP because no player played particularly well.
Following the Badgers’ first road win where the offense established a strong rhythm running the ball, a reporter asked Bielema about how first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada has handled the rocky offensive start.
But UW’s head coach said Canada remained calm through the adversity as he grew more comfortable leading the Badgers’ offense.
“He’s creative, but not creative with a bunch of highlighter and glitter, it’s about doing things that make sense,” Bielema said. “The kids buy into him [because] he knows what he’s talking about and he’s brought in some new concepts.”
Looking ahead to this weekend, the head coach said the team is excited for the biggest rivalry game of the year in Saturday’s Border Battle.
Bielema said it’s always exciting to educate new coaches and freshmen about the history and tradition that revolves around this game. The Badgers will be looking for their ninth-straight win over Minnesota.
Minnesota’s head coach, Jerry Kill, was recently released from hospital after suffering a seizure following last weekend’s loss to Northwestern.
Though Bielema noted he has no idea what it’s like to deal with the regular seizures Kill suffers from, he said Minnesota’s head coach is continuing to develop his squad into a contender.
“[Kill] is a phenomenal coach,” Bielema said. “We knew they were going to be a better team this year.”
Like the Boilermakers, the Gophers also use multiple quarterbacks in MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell. Despite the similarities, Bielema said preparing for Purdue was slightly different because though they rely on a pair of quarterbacks, the Badgers’ defensive strategy didn’t change much based on who was under center.
However, the Gophers’ game plan changes more drastically depending on who is playing quarterback.
“[For Minnesota] there is a different approach when each quarterback is in,” Bielema said. “When MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell are in there together, MarQueis is maybe lined up as a wide receiver. He had another aggravated injury, but when Gray gets going down hill, he’s a load. [That’s] 250 pounds of lean, mean fighting machine coming at you.”
To prepare for the game, Bielema mentioned he would talk to the players about how they wrap up games at home. He also noted there are new plays created as the team approaches each game.
“I’m aware of the numbers, but when we’re dealing with our players and kids, they don’t mention anything but the game in front of us,” Bielema said. “[We’re going to] talk about how it’s an Axe game, it’s about the rivalry, it’s Minnesota and we’re playing at home in front of our crowd, but the only number we want is the one at the end with a ‘W.’”Injury updates
Bielema said linebacker Ethan Armtrong, who arrived in the locker room on crutches after suffering a late injury against Purdue, does not need surgery.
UW’s head coach did not make it clear whether senior left tackle Ricky Wagner will play this weekend and said redshirt senior offensive lineman Robby Burge, who did not travel to West Lafayette, should be active again Saturday.