MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Gophers redshirt freshman tailback Thomas Tapeh will miss the rest of the season with a rare foot injury that will require surgery for the second time in less than seven months.
Tapeh sprained the Lis Franc joint in his right foot during practice last Wednesday. He had the same injury to his left foot in April. Injuries to the joint are unusual.
In Tapeh's case, both injuries occurred when he was planting his foot during a run. Tapeh will have a screw inserted into the joint to fuse bone and ligaments back together, as he did on his left foot in April.
"I never heard of a Lis Franc sprain until I came here," coach Glen Mason said.
Tapeh probably will be in a cast for six to eight weeks. Mason and his medical staff are optimistic he will return in 2001.
Tapeh was one of the state's most highly recruited football players in years. He signed with Minnesota to stay close to his family, but had to sit out his freshman year as a partial academic qualifier.
He missed the first game of this season and started only one of seven games, finishing with 344 yards and two touchdowns rushing on 81 carries and three receptions for 36 yards and a touchdown.
Minnesota could learn a thing or two from its next-door neighbor about trying to forget the past.
The Golden Gophers, still stinging from their colossal collapse in the fourth quarter of last week's 41-35 loss to Northwestern, are trying to refocus their thoughts on the future. Specifically, they're trying to secure a spot in a postseason bowl game.
The Badgers and Gophers will extend major college football's longest-running rivalry on Saturday in Madison, Wis., in the annual battle for the Paul Bunyan Axe. Minnesota has won 57 of the 110 meetings, and there have been eight ties.
If Minnesota thinks it's going through a tough time, the Gophers should ask the Badgers about dealing with distractions. Both teams are after their sixth win, the benchmark for bowl-game eligibility.
"You move on," coach Barry Alvarez said Tuesday about the NCAA-mandated suspensions of 26 players who received discounted shoes from a Madison-area store.
"But that never leaves you," Alvarez said. "We haven't been the same since. The fact that I'm talking about it now in the 10th week of the season shows that. I thought we had a nice team. I haven't had a chance to coach that team in a game yet."
The two-time defending Big Ten champions were 3-1 after all the suspensions had been served, but then a rash of injuries hit the Badgers. Only four players have started all nine games at their normal positions, and the team has used five different starting combinations on the offensive line this year.
Now, Wisconsin (5-4, 2-4 Big Ten) is hoping for a chance to play in a bowl game. Any bowl.
"I think we've responded just like anybody else would," Alvarez said. "You have to refocus. Going to a bowl game is still a tremendous accomplishment."
The same goes for Minnesota (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten), which had its Rose Bowl hopes dissolve after allowing 92 points in its last two losses to Indiana and Northwestern.
"We're still disappointed, but we've got to move on," said coach Glen Mason on Tuesday. "I think the question in everyone's mind is how will we respond? Well, we'll get up and go again, I promise you that."
One of the highlights of Saturday's game is sure to be the battle between Gophers wide receiver Ron Johnson and Badgers cornerback Jamar Fletcher.
Fletcher -- the leading candidate for the Jim Thorpe Award, given yearly to the nation's top defensive back -- has a conference-leading five interceptions in six games. Johnson leads the Big Ten with an average of 104.5 yards per game.
"We saw Johnson as a freshman. He caught a ton of passes against us a couple of years ago," Alvarez said. "It should be an excellent matchup. I enjoy watching guys like that going at one another.
Johnson couldn't tell if facing Fletcher would be his toughest test this season.
"I don't know, I'll see once I play him," Johnson said. "Who knows who's the best. But he's good."
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