“That was an actual bomb proper there,” Minnesota defensive finish Boye Mafe recalled with snort final month. “Plus, it was a small locker room. It acquired actual stuffy. We couldn’t breathe for a second.”

When Minnesota beat Wisconsin to reclaim the Axe at Huntington Financial institution Stadium final weekend, the house locker room was stuffed with a distinct aroma as gamers puffed on cigars to have a good time profitable the rivalry trophy for the second time in 4 years.

The Gophers capped an up-and-down season on a excessive observe to get to 8-4 general and 6-3 within the Large Ten. On Sunday, Minnesota will study its bowl vacation spot and opponent. The three more than likely spots are the Music Metropolis Bowl in Nashville, the Assured Fee Bowl in Phoenix or the Las Vegas Bowl.

The Gophers’ two latest rivalry wins over Wisconsin even have include memorable pregame speeches from Fleck. In 2018, he screamed, “Don’t be afraid to be a legend!”

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Final Saturday, it began off calmly with Fleck saying, “Simply go be you,” a reference to the youngsters’s e book the pinnacle coach learn to the workforce of their lodge on Friday evening. That’s one other custom, approaching the heels of Fleck studying them “All people Poops” earlier than a sport in opposition to Illinois final 12 months.

“Be You!” the youngsters’s e book by Peter H. Reynolds begins off with, “My want for you — regardless of the place your journey leads — is so that you can all the time … be you.” And Reynolds’ themes embody: be adventurous, be linked, be completely different, be courageous and be persistent.

“Maintain going, by no means cease,” Reynolds wrote, repeating the phrase thrice on that web page. That’s what the Gophers have tried to do of their rivalry in opposition to Wisconsin.

Shedding to the Badgers 38-17 in 2019 and once more 20-17 in extra time in 2020 emphasised their deal with being “Axe Powerful.” They attempt to reinforce it with inside-run durations of follow.

In a video posted by this system, Fleck’s speech then began to warmth up: “We put together all 12 months to be Axe Powerful in each second. How do you create recollections? How do you create desires coming true, males? All you gotta do is BE YOU!”

The Gophers protection was particularly powerful, solidifying their repute as among the finest defenses within the nation. They held Badgers tailback Braelen Allen to 2.8 yards per carry, 4 yards fewer than his nation-leading common. The freshman phenom completed with 17 carries for 47 yards for Wisconsin.

Minnesota linebacker Jack Gibbens, who nonetheless had remnants of eye black on his face postgame, commented on how bodily the sport was in opposition to the Badgers. “My type of soccer,” the Gophers’ main tackler mentioned with a smile.

The Gophers held Wisconsin in examine within the first half till Badgers security Scott Nelson’s interception return for a landing put Minnesota in a 10-6 gap on the half.

“We had possibilities, we simply didn’t make the play,” Fleck mentioned. “Second half, it was simply ‘be you.’ Entire message this morning, halftime was ‘be you.’ ”

Quarterback Tanner Morgan mentioned, “That may be a frequent phrase that me and coach discuss lots, really. It’s to be your self, and to me the way in which I give it some thought is, be precisely who God created me to be. I’m very honored and blessed to be on this place that I’m in. To carry something again is pointless.”

Morgan opened up his sport within the second half, finishing all 4 of his passes for 110 yards, together with a 27-yard landing to Chris Autman-Bell to take the lead for good late within the third quarter.

Fleck mentioned on the eve of game-day that members of this system shared tales of who they’re. Then they went out and proved it.

Earlier than the cigar smoke stuffed the air, Fleck instructed his workforce: “That was the very best model of us.”