MADISON, Wis. - Brendan Kelly knows the Minnesota Golden Gophers better than most of the other players on his team. After all, he was almost one of them.
Kelly was verbally committed to the Gophers for a few months out of Holy Angels High School in Richfield, Minn., before eventually switching hit commitment to the Badgers in October of 2007. So it's no surprise that the Battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe means a little more to the sixth-year senior, who hasn't lost a game to the Gophers in his career.
"I had Minnesota circled since the beginning of the season," Kelly said after practice Wednesday. "As soon as the Indiana game ended I was there telling guys that we beat Indiana- that's great, but this is Axe Week. Minnesota's a game that's always meant a lot to me."
But after recording just three total tackles against the Gophers in two games against his home-state team, Kelly is looking to leave a little bit more of a mark on this year's edition, since it'll be his last chance to play for Paul Bunyan's Axe.
"It's always a big game for me, but knowing this is my last go-around this victory or this loss is going to carry with me for the rest of me life, and you definitely don't want it to be a loss," Kelly said.
Kelly echoed other Badgers players who said they didn't want to be the first team to lose the Axe to Gophers and break their nine-game winning streak, but Kelly also said that he's expecting a more challenging atmosphere this time around at TCF Bank Stadium, with the Gophers sitting at 8-2 on the season and currently ranked No. 25 in the latest BCS Standings.
"I think that's going to be a much more demanding environment to walk into TCF Bank Stadium and have those fans roaring and ready to go," Kelly said.
So if the Badgers beat the Gophers for a record 10th-straight time and retain Paul Bunyan's Axe in the process, don't be surprised if Kelly and fellow Minnesota native Beau Allen are some of the first to get a swing at chopping down the goalposts after the game.
"You can guarantee [I'll get a turn]," Kelly said. "You'll see Beau and I out there."
Minnesota plays the numbers game
Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is new to the Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry, but playing the numbers game isn't lost on him. Aranda was asked about Minnesota's offense after practice on Wednesday, and said that based on the Gophers tendencies he and his players know they'll be seeing a lot of the same kinds of plays when Saturday rolls around.
"There's going to be a lot more power [plays] in this game than we've seen in this last half of the season," Aranda said. "Minnesota is very heavy power-based. As many ways as you can run power, they do it."
But more than just sticking to a few successful plays, like Iowa has done for most of the season, Aranda said the Gophers try to dress up their bread and butter plays to distract defenses from what's really about to happen.
"It's an intellectual attack- a lot of misdirection, a lot of shifts and motions, a lot of ways to pull your eyes," Aranda said. "They're plus-one in everything they do, so if they run power it's power-extra. They bring an extra tackle, like our offense does.
"If they run with just a traditional run, the quarterback is running it so they're plus one, and if it's a fly sweep they'll go unbalanced, so they're plus one. Everything they do is a numbers game, so you have to try and match numbers."
That means that while the Badgers probably won't roll out many different sub packages like they have against spread-based teams, they will have to shift players around to make sure the Gophers don't out-match them on one side of the field or the other.
"You see defenses that go in and kind of [use a] chalkboard, whiteboard defense and they just get cut up because [Minnesota has] got one more guy than they've got," Aranda said.
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