Minneapolis — There was no mad dash for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, just a casual stroll over to the trophy. The Badgers knew where to find it.
There was no wild celebration, just a chopping down of the visitor’s goal post. The Badgers have done that so often they could pull that move off in their sleep.
Dare Ogunbowale rushed for a career-high 155 yards and a touchdown and Wisconsin beat Minnesota for the 12th straight time, 31-21, on Saturday.
Taiwan Deal rushed for 90 yards and two scores and Wisconsin (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) kept the Axe, which goes to the winner of the most-played rivalry game in college football.
“That’s just the expectation,” Wisconsin senior left tackle Tyler Marz said. “We hold ourselves to a high standard.”
Mitch Leidner was just 16-for-37 for 223 yards with a touchdown, three interceptions and a fumble for Minnesota (5-7, 2-6), which has beaten its border rival just twice in the last 21 years. The Golden Gophers turned the ball over five times.
The Badgers rushed for minus-26 yards in a loss to Northwestern last week that ended a five-game winning streak. They rushed for 199 of their 257 yards in the first half against Minnesota.
The Gophers have not won the Axe since 2003, the longest drought for either side in the history of a 125-year-old rivalry. A win also would have made them bowl eligible, and they were hoping to get a boost from the return of former coach Jerry Kill, who was forced to retire earlier this season after being unable to control the seizures caused by his epilepsy.
Kill led the Gophers out of the tunnel and waved a “Jerrysota” flag just before kickoff, receiving a roaring ovation.
Kill predicted before the game that the Gophers would control the line of scrimmage and bring the Axe back to Minnesota, but the Badgers’ top-ranked defense hardly allowed them to breathe for most of the game.
Tanner McEvoy had two interceptions, Darius Hillary recovered two fumbles, the Gophers had 8 total yards in the first quarter and Wisconsin won the time of possession, 40:35 to 19:25.
“Since Jerry’s been here, we haven’t been able to win the Axe,” Gophers receiver Drew Wolitarsky said. “So today, that was our goal, to get it for Jerry. Unfortunately we couldn’t do that. I’m sure he’s proud of the way we played.”
Alex Erickson had six catches for 66 yards on a day the Wisconsin passing game was hardly needed.
The Badgers’ first play of the game was an interception that Briean Boddy-Calhoun returned 16 yards for a touchdown, so coach Paul Chryst kept it on the ground after that.
“That is who we are,” Chryst said. “We do stuff to put ourselves behind the 8-ball and they don’t flinch.”
With four redshirt freshmen on the offensive line, the Badgers pulverized Minnesota’s banged-up front seven with 22 rushes in the next 24 plays to take a 14-7 lead, getting 1-yard plunges from Alec Ingold and Deal to take control.
Running back Corey Clement did not make the trip to Minnesota after receiving two citations on Tuesday for disorderly conduct, stemming from an altercation at his home on Nov. 8. But Ogunbowale and Deal did all the heavy lifting without any issues.
“There was just a point where things were just clicking and holes were opening and we were making guys miss,” Ogunbowale said. “Coach Chryst just kept calling run plays and we kept executing. There was no reason not to keep doing it.”
Chryst said he expected Clement to be available to play in a bowl game.
Rodney Smith scored on a 6-yard run to tie the game on the next possession for Minnesota, but Leidner’s fumble set up Jones’ second TD of the day and Ogunbowale scored on an 18-yard run around the left end just before halftime for a 28-14 lead.
Ogunbowale had not rushed for more than 56 yards in a game since Nebraska on Oct. 10 and the Badgers ranked an uncharacteristic 11th in the Big Ten in rushing offense with just 138.2 yards per game.
“As a running back group, we kind of challenged ourselves” after the Northwestern loss, Ogunbowale said. “There’s a reason we haven’t been able to run the ball well and we can’t put that on anybody else but us.”
Joel Stave was 9-for-17 for 79 yards, but still won his 30th game, tying him with Brooks Bollinger for most by a Badgers quarterback.