Nov. 23, 2013
BY RYAN EVANS
UW Athletic Communications
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Wisconsin football seniors didn't want to be the ones that let Paul Bunyan's Axe leave Madison on their watch.
On Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, they took it into their own hands to ensure the Axe would return for a 10th-straight season, leading the 16th-ranked Badgers to a 20-7 win over the Gophers.
A quartet of Badgers seniors -- RB James White, WR Jared Abbrederis and LBs Chris Borland and Brendan Kelly -- each played starring roles in Wisconsin's win and, with their performances, ensured that the Class of 2013 left the legacy it wanted on the Border Battle rivalry.
"Ten is a solid number," Borland said. "It has been a good decade for us."
"Tradition means a lot to us," he added. "After a decade with the Axe you don't want to be the team that's standing there when they run across the field and take it from you. We're proud to continue the tradition and hopefully it continues next year."
Borland led the way on defense with a game-high 12 tackles, including one for loss, and a forced fumble. Kelly set a career high with three tackles for loss and equaled his career best with two sacks as well as forcing a fumble.
They helped the Badgers' defense hold Minnesota's offense without a touchdown -- the third straight Big Ten opponent to be held out of the end zone.
"It's hard to put into words, but it means a lot to me," Kelly said of winning the Axe for the sixth time in his career. "It means a lot to have carried that tradition for six years. It's a blessing."
On offense, White and Abbrederis scored Wisconsin's two touchdowns on the afternoon, White on a 1-yard run in the second quarter and Abbrederis on a 2-yard catch in the third.
White led all rushers with 125 yards, his eighth 100-yard game of the season and 17th of his career, and the 45th rushing TD of his career moved him into ninth place all-time in the Big Ten and third all-time at UW.
Wisconsin also moved to 17-0 all-time when White rushes for 100 yards or more.
Abbrederis' seven catches and 67 yards led all pass catchers and moved him into second on Wisconsin's career receiving yards list. His touchdown catch tied him for second all-time in that category.
"There was some extra juice and some extra fire that they played with," UW head coach Gary Andersen said of his seniors. "It was important for those kids to win this football game and we were fortunate enough to get it done."
DEFENSE STOPS GOPHERS COLD
On a cold day in Minneapolis -- the temperature at kickoff was 18 degrees -- the Wisconsin defense shut down Minnesota, freezing the Gophers out of the end zone and limiting them to just 185 yards of total offense, the sixth time the Badgers have held an opponent under 250 total yards this season.
That success on defense is something Andersen credits to the strong senior presence on the unit.
"There is a strong group of seniors (on our defense)," Andersen said. "It means a lot to them to play. Those seniors play a lot of snaps on defense and this season meant a lot to them. My hat goes off to those kids.
"They did a nice job getting out of drives, being physical and taking care of their business."
Borland added that not giving up an offensive touchdown to a team like the Gophers, whose offense had reached the end zone at least once in every game this season, is something that Wisconsin took great pride in.
"We are proud," Borland said. "I have a lot of respect for Minnesota's offense; they're very physical. To not give up any points to a team that has been moving the ball well against good defenses is a performance to be proud of."
Part of the Badgers' success against the Gophers came because they forced three turnovers against a team that came into the game tied for the third-fewest giveaways in the country.
Wisconsin forced and recovered three fumbles and, in a game in which every possession proved to be important, that helped turn the tide in the Badgers' favor.
"We stressed (forcing turnovers) all week in practice," said Kelly, who forced one of those fumbles. "Coach (Dave) Aranda does a great job of putting us into position to make plays and we went out there today, ran to the ball and were able to get that ball out."
With both defenses playing stingy, points proved to be valuable in the 123rd meeting between Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the Badgers' touchdown-scoring drive to start the second half ended up giving them all they needed to retain the Axe.
After leading 13-7 at the half, Wisconsin came out on its first drive of the third quarter and marched 83 yards on a 12-play drive capped by Abbrederis' touchdown catch and keyed by QB Joel Stave, who rebounded from a tough first half and went 6-for-6 for 68 yards on the drive.
Andersen said Stave's ability to shake off his first-half mistakes on that drive allowed Wisconsin to open up and effectively execute the play-action pass game against a Gophers defense that made it tough sledding to run the ball.
"It was good to see Joel get that done," Andersen said. "There were 10 guys stacked (against the run). We knew we had to try and mix it up a bit with the play-action pass to try to create softness in that defense."