3 things to watch during today’s Gophers Badgers game

MADISON, WI. – Hello from Camp Randall Stadium, where the Gophers take on Wisconsin in a fight for Paul Bunyan’s Ax at 2:30 p.m. (ESPN, 100.3-FM). The Gophers (7-4, 4-4 Big Ten) will look to end the regular season by retaining the ax they won 23-13 in Minneapolis last year. Wisconsin (6-5, 4-4) will try to improve to 5-2 under interim coach Jim Leonhard.

It’s a sunny, 49-degree day in Madison, although a stiff wind could come into play, especially at the kicking game.

With their 13-10 loss to Iowa last week, the Gophers fell out of contention for a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game, so they’ll be looking to close strong and improve their position for a bowl game. They will also aim to win the Ax in consecutive years for the first time since 1993 and ’94.

Here are some storylines to check out:

1. Can the Gophers start strong?

Four times in the Big Ten game, the opponents scored the first goal, and three of them – Purdue, Illinois and Iowa – won the game. With Minnesota’s run-heavy offense and passing problems, it’s becoming increasingly important to take the lead. The Gophers aren’t made for overcoming big deficits. They’ve done it just once this season, rallying from a 10-0 hole in Nebraska to go 20-13.

2nd Mos record clock

Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim rushed 39 times for a career-high 263 yards against Iowa last week, and he’s nearing two standout school records. He has 1,524 rushing yards this season and needs 103 more to break David Cobb’s all-season record of 1,626. Ibrahim has 4,527 career yards and needs 128 to break Darrell Thompson’s program record of 4,654. The sixth-grader from Baltimore has rushed for 100 yards in 19 straight seasons, the most in FBS since 2000.

3. Pressure on Mertz

Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz has 19 touchdown passes against nine interceptions this season and has thrown three picks in his last two games. If the Gophers defense can pressure Mertz, they might be able to get some turnovers. Minnesota has 17 sacks this season, which ranks 11th in the Big Ten.

TO UPDATE

Gophers safety Tyler Nubin has a cast on his right hand and wore sweatpants during the pregame warm-up, so he won’t be playing Wisconsin.

Badgers running back Braelon Allen, whose 1,121 rushing yards lead the team, is out with a leg injury. Outside linebacker Aaron Witt and kicker Vito Calvaruso are also out with leg injuries.

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