Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, November 29, 2014

You never saw Wisconsin sweat. Never. This is a championship program. And championship programs always keep their composure-especially in big games.

So, when the Badgers fell behind Minnesota, 17-3, in the second quarter of the biggest battle for Paul Bunyan?s Axe since 1962, they continued to do what makes them special: run the football.

"Wow, so proud of the kids when adversity strikes," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said.


It worked. Wisconsin finished with 233 yards on the ground led by-who else?-Melvin Gordon, who ran 29 times for 151 yards and a touchdown, while also catching a TD pass to lead the Badgers to a 34-24 win that claimed the Big Ten West title and trip to the league championship game.

Gordon has been the headline act all season in Madison, rushing for a Big Ten single-season record 2,260 yards. Against Nebraska earlier this month, Gordon ran for a FBS single-game record 408 yards-which subsequently was broken. Still, it has been a stunning season for the electric Gordon-and it?s not finished for him or his Badgers.

While Gordon gets the ovations, it?s the defense that is at the heart of this team. Entering today?s big game vs. Minnesota, the Badgers were No. 2 in the nation in total defense (259.3 ypg), No. 4 in rushing defense (97.1 ypg) and No. 4 in scoring defense (16.1 ppg).

And that defense excelled to help Wisconsin win Paul Bunyan?s Axe for the 11th time in a row vs. Minnesota, which hasn?t won in Madison since 1994.

Wisconsin allowed just 272 yards, with only 95 coming through the air. Gophers running back David Cobb-who set the school single-season rushing standard-did his part with 118 yards on 25 carries. But Minnesota had just five completions.

Players like safety Michael Caputo, linebackers Vince Biegel, Marcus Trotter and Derek Landisch are at the heart of coordinator Dave Aranda?s attacking 3-4 unit that can come at foes in a variety of ways.

This is exactly where Wisconsin was supposed to be. Back in the preseason, most felt the Badgers would win the West. There was a lot to like, beginning with a killer offense led by Gordon running behind another mammoth line. Plus, the schedule was as soft as a baby?s pillow.

But there were concerns, namely a defense that had to replace its front seven. Plus, who would be the go-to wideout with Jared Abbrederis gone for a passing game that was a question?

Most bizarre and vexing: Quarterback Joel Stave had to battle through a case of the ?yips? in which he seemingly couldn?t complete the easiest of passes because of some type of mental block that sidelined him for weeks.

Things didn?t start well for Wisconsin, which blew a chance to gain some national acclaim when it fell to LSU, 28-24, in the season opener at Houston, a game the Badgers led 24-7 in the third quarter.

But it all has come together for Wisconsin, which has won seven in a row since a confounding loss at Northwestern. The Badgers now head to Indianapolis to play in the Big Ten title game for the third time in four years.

It will be fun to watch his Wisconsin defense clash with Ohio State?s offense that came into Saturday ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring (44.3 ppg) and No. 2 in total offense (511.4 ypg). But the matchup loses some luster with Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett out with a broken ankle.

Interestingly enough, Aranda and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman are good buddies from their college days at California Lutheran.

Herman, who was an all-conference receiver in the mid-90?s, was Aranda?s recruiting host when Aranda was trying to select a school. Aranda?s career was cut short due to injuries, but he was as a graduate assistant for three years at Cal Lutheran. Now, the friends will face off in the key matchup that figures to decide who wins the Big Ten title game.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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