More than Paul Bunyan’s Axe will be at stake when Wisconsin hosts arch-rival Minnesota on Saturday in Madison, Wis.
It is the nation’s longest-running football rivalry, covering 131 games dating back to 1890. Wisconsin leads the series 62-61-8 and has won 16 of the last 18.
“It’s the longest rivalry in college football,” interim Wisconsin head coach Jim Leonhard said. “If that doesn’t mean anything to you, then it’s hard. We’ve talked at length on what I feel about rivalries in college football. It’s what makes the game special.”
Wisconsin (6-5, 4-4 Big Ten) is coming off a 15-14 road victory at Nebraska, rallying with two touchdowns in the final 11 minutes to become bowl eligible for the 21st consecutive season and improve to 4-2 under Leonhard.
Shortly after the Badgers win over Nebraska, Wisconsin publicly posted the job opening for the permanent head coaching position. Leonhard was promoted from defensive coordinator to the interim job after Paul Chryst was fired the day after a 34-10 home loss to Illinois on Oct. 1.
Several Wisconsin players have lobbied on social media for Leonhard to get the permanent job and published reports say he is the front-runner.
Minnesota (7-4, 4-4) lost 13-10 to Iowa on Saturday on a field goal with 28 seconds left to fall a game back of the Hawkeyes and Purdue in the congested Big Ten West.
For Wisconsin, inconsistent quarterback Graham Mertz bounced back from a costly interception to direct the two touchdown drives against Nebraska, throwing for one score and then sneaking in from 1 yard out with 35 seconds left for the game-winner.
Braelon Allen, who leads the Badgers with 1,121 yards rushing, battled through a shoulder issue for 92 yards against Nebraska before leaving in the fourth quarter with an ankle sprain. Chez Mellusi, sidelined for four games after breaking his arm, returned to carry 21 times for 98 yards against the Huskers.
“They’re just really athletic at every position,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said of the Badgers. “Whether they’re 325 pounds, or they’re 180 pounds, the whole team is athletic. Sometimes they’re really strong, big, physical — and they still are that — but very athletic across the board on both sides of the ball and special teams.”
Minnesota lost at Iowa despite Mohamed Ibrahim’s career-high 263 rushing yards. He has rushed for a Big Ten-leading 1,524 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Redshirt freshman Athan Kaliakmanis, who made his third start versus Iowa in place of injured Tanner Morgan, has completed just 34 of 73 passes (46.6 percent) for 547 yards with one touchdown and four picks. Morgan’s status for Wisconsin has not been announced.
–Field Level Media