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Gophers hope to 'Axe' out bowl eligibility

For Minnesota, things were looking up following a blowout victory over Nebraska.

But, following season-long pattern of ups and downs, the Gophers weren't able to build on that momentum. An embarrassing 39-0 loss at Northwestern was a big step back for the program.

But then again, first-year coach P.J. Fleck didn't promise miracles or a quick turnaround.

Let's start with the ugly. The Gophers have been outscored 66-0 in their last two games at Northwestern. Last Saturday, Minnesota was 1-for-11 on third-down conversions. Quarterback Demry Croft tossed three interceptions, and the offensive line allowed six sacks. Northwestern racked up 277 yards rushing, led by Justin Jackson's 166 yards on 31 carries. In all, the Gophers turned the ball over five times.

"That game got out of hand pretty quick," Fleck said. "

The news becomes even more bleak for the Gophers. They host unbeaten Wisconsin (11-0, 8-0) on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. An upset or even a close game would be a good sign for a program with a plethora of talented recruits set to join Fleck's team next year.

The Gophers (5-6, 2-6) still have an outside shot at a bowl game. First, they must upset the Big Ten West champions.

The Badgers have dominated the series in recent years, beating Minnesota 13 straight times. The last time Minnesota to beat Wisconsin was Nov. 8, 2003, when Gophers' kicker Rhys Lloyd nailed a 35-yard field goal as time expired for a 37-34 win at the Metrodome.

Wisconsin plays Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game on Dec. 2, but Minnesota does have homefield advantage and a solid running game to make things interesting against the Badgers. Minnesota led 17-7 at halftime against Wisconsin last year before the Badgers stormed back to win 31-17. The winner of the game receives the Paul Bunyan Axe.

Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor enters the contest with 1,657 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.

"If you look back at the history of it, both schools have had their runs," Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. "The great thing about sports is what are you doing today? This group knows that, and it's all about this year, two teams. You've got to go play the game to earn the right to either keep the axe or get the axe."





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