Minnesota, Wisconsin set to battle for ‘Paul Bunyan’s Axe’
Rushing for 1,000 yards is the mark of a top running back.
That Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim is in position to do it in 2020, when the Golden Gophers will play just their seventh game of the year Saturday at Wisconsin, speaks to how brilliant he’s been week after week.
The Big Ten Conference Running Back of the Year enters needing only 75 yards to reach four figures. He leads the league in rushing attempts (175), yards (925), touchdowns (15), rushing yards per game (154.2) and all-purpose yards (1,028).
What’s more, Ibrahim is the focus of every defense with the departure of wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who opted out of the season’s remainder before last week’s 24-17 win at Nebraska to prepare for his NFL future.
But the Cornhuskers couldn’t keep Ibrahim from rattling off 108 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, including key runs down the stretch to salt away an unlikely win. Minnesota (3-3) was without a whopping 33 players because of injuries or COVID-19 protocol.
Little wonder that coach P.J. Fleck’s first comments after the victory were to thank his university’s medical team.
“We had a lot of challenges on our football team this week,” he said. “We haven’t played in 22 days, everyone. It’s a very difficult thing to do in 2020 with the ghost in the room. I don’t think people realize how truly hard this is.”
While the Gophers returned from a lengthy break with a win, a long layoff appears to have hampered the Badgers’ season. Coronavirus hammered the roster after a season-opening 45-7 rout of Illinois, sidelining quarterback Graham Mertz and coach Paul Chryst, among others.
Wisconsin returned three weeks later with a blowout win at Michigan, but hasn’t won since. In fact, the Badgers fell to 2-3 last week with a 28-7 defeat at Iowa, their third straight game in which they failed to crack double figures offensively.
“We had our chances, but you have to be opportunistic when you get those chances, and we weren’t,” Chryst said. “Every time you compete, there’s lessons to be learned. We have to get better and finish this thing out the right way.”
The teams were scheduled to play on Nov. 28 but had to postpone because COVID-19 was ripping through Minnesota’s program. This will be the 130th game in a series that dates back to 1890. Wisconsin holds a 61-60-8 edge, winning last year 38-17 in snowy Minneapolis to capture the Big Ten West title.
–Field Level Media