It has become an annual tradition at Big Ten Media Days — the Minnesota Gophers fielding questions about the losing streak to their bitter rivals across the border in the Wisconsin Badgers.
The tradition also includes the usual answer of “we can’t wait to win and bring the axe home.”
That was partially the case during the 2016 version of Big Ten Media Days, with linebacker Jack Lynn stating his desire to bring home Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
“It’s great to be a part of history, and bringing the axe back is one of our main goals this season,” said Lynn.
After a decade-plus long losing streak, the questions may be getting old, but the players continue to hunger for that one trophy none of them have seen grace the trophy case. That hunger has led to an incremental increase in the competitive level of play between the two teams, it hasn’t however led to the Gophers storming the other sideline for the Axe.
So, what was different this time around at Big Ten Media Days? It was the fact that the Gophers players and coaches seem to have figured out the answer to getting the Axe back to TCF Bank Stadium.
The answer was resounding and simple — consistency.
“We haven’t been able to put together four quarters against them,” said Claeys. “We will play a good half, or when we got here, I don’t know if we played a good quarter.”
“The day that we show up and we play four good quarters against them, we’ll have a chance and we’ll bring home the Axe back. It’s a burr in the saddle, it really is. We’ve been here five years now and that’s the one trophy game we haven’t been able to win.”
Throw away the bitterness, the similarities between the programs and everything else. According to Gophers coaches and players, the now 12-game losing streak to Wisconsin simply comes down to the team that has been more consistent on game day.
Senior linebacker Jack Lynn echoed some of the same sentiments as his head coach did, even though the two sat on opposite ends of the podium room during Big Ten Media Days this past Tuesday.
“Just consistency,” said linebacker Jack Lynn. “Kind of like what coach was saying. You know, last year was…the first half we couldn’t stop a nosebleed and the second half we held them to three points. It’s just like, that consistent nature we need throughout the whole game and we’ll have a chance.”
Playing consistent football is one thing, doing it on the road in Camp Randall is a completely different scenario and it is one that Minnesota is well aware of.
“I do think we’re getting closer,” Claeys said. “But you know, it’s always a tough year to try to turn that rivalry on a road game. But, at the same time a couple of years ago we played well there. We just couldn’t hold on to the lead.”
“I remind people all the time, we win that game up there and go on and get the axe..we get to go on to Indianapolis and play Ohio State for the Big Ten championship.”
Just don’t mistake understanding the challenge for setting up for failure. This team and this coaching staff clearly want nothing more than to break their losing streak inside the rival stadium.
“It would be awesome, ” said safety Damarius Travis. “We haven’t beaten those guys in like ten-plus years. So just bringing the Axe home were it belongs would be great. It would be great for the state of Minnesota too, because they haven’t even seen the Axe or taken a picture with it.”
“You always see fans coming in and taking pictures with the jug, the pig, the governor’s bell and all that, but they haven’t seen a picture with the Axe yet. So it would be great for the fans too.”