It’s axe week in Madison this year and with the Minnesota Gophers coming to town, the Badgers, whose offense has taken off in the last two games, will face a stiffer challenge than they have in those games.
“Everyone’s kind of more intense at practice and you know every week is like that but there’s just a little something extra this week that’s driving people,” said Alex Hornibrook.
Minnesota has been relatively good this year, cruising to an 8-3 record, losing close games to Penn State, Iowa and Nebraska. One of the shining stars of this Minnesota team is their defensive line.
With the help of defensive end Hendrick Ekpe and defensive tackle Steven Richardson, the front line for the Gophers will be working to give the Badgers running game a good run for their money.
“I think this week is going to be a really big challenge for us. I think a lot of the people are looking past Minnesota, but Minnesota’s got a really good team, they got a really good defense up front. This week is our most important week obviously in keeping the Axe,”said starting offensive lineman Beau Benzschawel.
Richardson leads the way for the Gophers with 7.0 sacks and 11.0 tackles for loss. Ekpe also tacks on with 3.5 sacks and 7.0 tackles for loss.
After two games of a successful run game for Wisconsin, they’ll be facing a Minnesota defense that has only allowed 3.3 yards per carry to opposing offenses. Corey Clement, Dare Ogunbowale and Bradrick Shaw will face a stern test as they come out of the tunnel on Saturday.
“They got two really big stout guys out front, so they’re going to be doing a really good job at plugging,” Benzschawel said. “So it’s going to be up to us, on the line, to really push those guys and they got a really good secondary that comes up and makes good plays.”
In the pass game, starting quarterback Hornibrook and rotational quarterback Bart Houston will look to continue their success. Hornibrook has looked to limit his mistakes, continuing to limit interceptions, while Houston will try and provide the spark for the offense coming off of the bench.
On the other side of the ball cornerback Jalen Myrick and the Gopher secondary will be flying around and trying to make plays, stopping the two quarterbacks.
Myrick leads the way with nine pass breakups on 10 passes defended. Safety Damarius Travis also adds another dimension to Minnesota’s defense as he is second on the team in tackles with 70 and also has 5.0 tackles for loss.
But one overlooked advantage Wisconsin has is in preparation.
“I think our game plans have really helped us out a lot and that’s a thing that a lot of people really overlook,” Benzschawel said. “And then, I think just guys knowing the plays better, knowing where the plays are going to hit or what the backs looking for, making a cut off of, stuff like that is what we’ve been keying in on.”
“It’s almost like a chess game. I’m trying to figure out what you’re going to do next. I feel like our coaches do a good job preparing us during the week and like get us ready for these games,” George Rushing said. “We go out there, we don’t really see anything that we haven’t seen before. And if we do most times you’ll be able to pick it up early in the game and it’s not too bad.”
And the Badger players are ready to use their coaches game plans to work, as they themselves are ready for the challenge and hard work that comes with it.
“It feels good, but I feel like as an offensive line that our team, our offense, are only going to be as good as we are. So we take that into work everyday and bring our hard hats, lunch pails in and get to work as best as we can,” Benzschawel said.