Mariano Sori-Marin, the Gophers senior linebacker and team leader, dissected his team's gut-wrenching 13-10 loss against Iowa last weekend and offered a philosophical approach.
"That's life and that's the game of football,'' he said Tuesday.
Rather than wallow in self-pity, the Gophers say they've turned their focus to Saturday's regular-season finale at Wisconsin. They'll have a chance to retain Paul Bunyan's Axe, improve their bowl positioning and instill a sense of self-pride in beating a bitter rival. The Gophers (7-4, 4-4 Big Ten) want to close an up-and-down season on a high note, and Sori-Marin believes they'll have ample motivation.
"We have Wisconsin for the Axe, last game of the regular season,'' he said. "There's nothing else that needs to motivate this football team or nothing else that we need to talk about because we know what's at stake and we know how much this game means to all of us, what it means to the state of Minnesota.''
Whether that results in the Gophers claiming the Axe for the third time in coach P.J. Fleck's six years in Minnesota will play out at Camp Randall Stadium, where Wisconsin (6-5, 4-4) will seek its fifth victory in seven games under interim coach Jim Leonhard. The Gophers have enjoyed recent success in Madison, ending their 14-game losing streak against the Badgers with a 37-15 win in 2018. Two years later, Minnesota lost 20-17 in overtime at Camp Randall.
Sori-Marin and fellow linebacker Cody Lindenberg will face a challenge from a Wisconsin run game that features a two-back attack. The Badgers have 6-2, 238-pound sophomore Braelon Allen, who has back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons, and senior Chez Mellusi, a speedster who missed five weeks because of injury but returned to rush for 98 yards in a 15-14 win at Nebraska last week.
"He's extremely fast, and they play off each other,'' Sori-Marin said of Mellussi. "They don't do a whole lot [in terms of complicated plays], but they're good at what they do.''
Herbig's appeal denied
Wisconsin linebacker Nick Herbig, who leads the Big Ten and ranks third nationally with 11 sacks, will miss the first half of Saturday's game because the NCAA denied his appeal of a targeting ejection on Saturday against Nebraska.