Momentum is a fickle thing. Wisconsin has it. Minnesota does not.

Regardless, you can throw out the recency, as Saturday’s battle for the Paul Bunyan Axe in Madison looks to be a physical affair. Two grind-it-out teams will tangle Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. A B1G West title is not on the line, but pride and a better-tier bowl are.

The Badgers enter at 6-5. Interim head coach Jim Leonhard is likely to become the permanent head coach following their 15-14 come-from-behind win at Nebraska.

Minnesota is reeling a bit. Another chance to snag the Floyd of Rosedale trophy slipped by in a crushing 13-10 loss at home to Iowa. Regrouping quickly will be key.

Though the Gophers enter as 9.5-point underdogs, they have a fighting chance. Here are 3 reasons why Minnesota can keep the axe for a 2nd straight year.

Ibrahim’s physical running

Mohamed Ibrahim has exerted himself as one of the best backs in the land. Ibrahim gouged the Iowa defense for 263 yards on 39 carries. He put the Gophers offense on his back and gave Minnesota a chance at victory.

Minnesota will need Ibrahim at his best Saturday. Leaning on its physical senior back will be key. Running against the Badgers defense isn’t easy. But Ibrahim is an anomaly. No one has slowed him down. His ongoing streak of 19 straight 100-yard games is best such run in the FBS since 2000. Even Iowa’s rugged defense couldn’t slow him down. In fact, Ibrahim punished the Hawkeyes defense. The Badgers, without standout Nick Herbig for the 1st half, best buckle up. The Gophers will be sending Ibrahim downhill, challenging the Wisconsin front.

Ibrahim is built for games like this. Cold, November, hard-hitting affairs are right up his alley. If Minnesota can control the clock and run the ball with Ibrahim, it’ll enhance it chances considerably.

Run-stopping defense

The Gophers have been stout on defense. Minnesota ranks No. 7 nationally, giving up just 274 yards per game. They surrendered just 59 rushing yards against Iowa on Saturday.

Minnesota must prepare for a run-heavy Wisconsin attack. Braelon Allen has been slowed by a nagging shoulder injury, but Chez Mellusi filled in admirable with 98 yards on 21 carries at Nebraska. The Gophers know they’ll have to bring the fight to the Badgers in order to slow a downhill rushing attack.

The Gophers rank No. 10 nationally in rushing defense, giving up just 102.5 yards per game. Wisconsin, with Graham Mertz at QB, struggles to move the ball through the air. It’s a good matchup for Minnesota.

Not you typical Wisconsin team

It’s no secret this isn’t a vintage Badgers team. Wisconsin needed a 4th-quarter rally against a dreadful Nebraska team to get to bowl eligibility last week. Paul Chryst was fired earlier in the season and Leonhard and his team have faced their share of adversity.

The Gophers also have the confidence and belief they can beat Wisconsin. They did it last year. They also won in Madison in 2018. Going to Camp Randall with a winning mindset will be key.

It’s a matchup that could come down to which QB makes the most winning plays. Minnesota quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis — subbing in for injured 6th-year senior Tanner Morgan — has had his moments, but still shows his inexperience. The Gophers will need him to make a few key throws downfield to loosen up the Badgers’ defense.

Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz has had his share of head-scratching plays as well. His under-thrown deep ball last Saturday was picked off by Nebraska’s Malcolm Hartzog, leading to the Huskers’ 1st TD of the day.

Expect Badgers OC Bobby Engram to stick with shorter, safer routes to allow Mertz to gain confidence and get in a rhythm.

What to expect

Without a B1G West title on the line, the stakes are minimized somewhat this year. However, the competitive juices will still be flowing and each team will want to walk away with Bunyan’s axe.

Bowl-tier positioning is on the line as well as pride. And you know PJ Fleck and Leonhard both want to add a tally to the win column.

The Badgers had won 14 straight in the series until Minnesota won in Madison in 2018. Fleck would love nothing more than to start a streak of his own by winning for the 2nd straight year.

Expect your typical grind-it-out, smash-mouth, 4-quarter battle. With both teams probing the defenses with their run games, special teams and turnovers could tell the tale.i