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Wisconsin Football: Rollercoaster Ride of a Season Ends on Reclaiming the Axe

It was a rocky season for the Wisconsin Football program, but the Badgers went out on top, bringing the Axe back to Madison.



Wisconsin Badgers Football
Nov 25, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Tanner Mordecai (8) hoists Paul BunyanÕs Axe after defeating the Minnesota Golden Gophers to claim the rivalry trophy at Huntington Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Bunyan’s Axe is back home in Madison with the Wisconsin football program and I couldn’t be happier about it. A hearty “eat it!” to all of my friends and neighbors here in Minnesota. Let’s hope that the only time the Axe is ever close to my house again is when the Badgers bring it to Minneapolis to taunt the Gophers during another multi-touchdown beating.

Wisconsin Badgers Football (Overall: 7-5; B1G: 5-4)

SP+ rank: Overall 27th, Offense 89th, Defense 6th, Special Teams 20th

Previous week’s result: (W) at Minnesota, 28-14

Minnesota Thoughts: Does this team think that the first drives of games don’t count? Who told them that??? Because it’s wrong…the first drives DO count and Wisconsin has been extremely bad at stopping them! Minnesota marched right down the field to open the game thanks to Jordan Nubin, Daniel Jackson, and Nyzier Fourqurean’s inability to turn his head around while covering a receiver.

The Gophers were up 7-0 and then had the ball back five plays later after Wisconsin punted and I was ready to walk right into a lake. Thankfully the Badgers pulled their collective heads out of their collective asses and went into halftime with the score tied at 14 and, quite frankly, looking not terrible. That’s as positive as I’m willing to be.

However, the second half? The second half was a different story entirely. Wisconsin looked great, especially on defense, in the final 30 minutes. Here is Minnesota’s drive chart for the third and fourth quarters: punt (four plays), punt (seven plays), turnover on downs (13 plays), fumble (one play), interception (one play). Now THAT is the Wisconsin defense we’ve come to know and love over the past decade. UW scored two touchdowns in the third quarter, thanks largely to Braelon Allen (who may have played his last game in cardinal and white???), and Minnesota’s ineptitude on both sides of the ball really shone in the second half.

Hell, things were so bad that PJ Fleck put his starting QB on blast after the game, calling him “inconsistent” multiple times and saying that it was “to be expected, but maybe not at that rate,” and now Athan Kaliakmanis is in the transfer portal lmao. Damn, I just remembered how to spell his last name without looking it up too!

Things around the Wisconsin football program were rather negative just over two weeks ago and it is a credit to Luke Fickell and his coaching staff (and players like Hunter Wohler and Tanner Mordecai) that they were able to turn the boat around and row the correct way for the last two games. I wrote this last week about the Nebraska game:

“I’d argue that the prevailing sentiment heading into this game was: if the Badgers “have it” they’ll show fire early and often and jump all over the Huskers OR they won’t do any of those things and the game will be over after the first drive. Instead, Wisconsin played the first quarter like a listless middle school outfit and then the rest of the game like a desperate team that needed to win or they’d die.”

This same thing happened in the Minnesota game, it just didn’t take them the full first quarter to kick it into gear. It’s a really frustrating thing to watch, but the fact that they can dig themselves out of these (self-created) holes is another testament to the coaching staff and the players. They were staring down the barrel of one of the worst seasons (if not the worst) of Wisconsin football this century and they didn’t flinch. Instead, they beat two of their rivals in trophy games, earned a bowl bid, and will now have positive momentum heading into the offseason.


While I’m sure these last two weeks didn’t go exactly as planned for Fickell and co., they were exactly what this team needed. There is a renewed confidence surrounding the team and they’ll need every last bit of that confidence before the 2024 season because, hoo baby, does the schedule get TOUGH. There is the very real possibility that next year’s team is considerably “better” than this year’s team but only wins six games. Alas, rebuilding a program isn’t a linear process as much as I (and, I’m assuming, you) would like it to be.

Up next: A bowl game for the 22nd consecutive season

Season Thoughts: Look, this season didn’t go how anyone wanted it to go. The Badgers had the most talented team in the worst division in college football and finished behind half a team (Iowa) and a team that fired its coach right before the season due to a massive hazing scandal that ended up enveloping the entire athletic department (Northwestern) while, don’t forget this, also losing to the worst team in the conference (Indiana) who fired their coach after the season. They also lost to a bad Washington State team that lost seven of their final eight games and won’t be bowling this year. The other loss was Ohio State, who stinks, but Wisconsin just can’t beat them ever so…you know…who cares?

The new-look offense did not live up to expectations and offensive coordinator Phil Longo did not tailor his gameplan to the talent he had on the roster, causing many hiccups throughout the year. I mean, Wisconsin didn’t score more than 14 points in their four conference losses. That is Hawkeye-levels of impotence on offense. The defense, while frustrating at times, was much better than we (well, at least I) thought once you look at the statistics.

The defense ranked 20th in the nation in points per game (18.9), 32nd in yards per game (331.4), allowed under 200 passing yards per game, and picked off a dozen passes throughout the year. SP+ had them as the 6th best defense in the country! That’s really good! Mike Tressel has some work to do with this unit, but their baseline level of play was much higher than the offense’s this season.

Outside of a wild amount of kickoffs that they sent out of bounds, I thought special teams were mostly on the positive side this year. They weren’t a game-changing unit like Iowa’s, but they were definitely above average and hopefully they continue to improve next year.


I highly doubt I’ll remember this season fondly, but I think it will still be one of my more memorable seasons as a Badger fan. The team went through myriad changes in under 12 months and came out the other side better for it. While it could’ve been better…it also could’ve been WAY worse and can any season where you beat Minnesota and have Gophers fans publicly wondering if they should fire Fleck really be that bad?

Fun Tweet of the Week I Wanted To Include Just Because

Too real.

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Drew Hamm is a seasoned sports journalist with an extensive background in covering the Wisconsin Badgers. He has previously held positions as the site manager at Bucky's 5th Quarter and founder of Badgers Ball Knower. Currently, he contributes as a staff writer for