The longest played rivalry in college football ended with Wisconsin beating Minnesota for the 10th straight time. Both teams entered the day 8-2, ranked and there was some significant hype leading up to the frigid kick-off. The Gophers, playing their best football in years, were poised to potentially take back Paul Bunyan's Axe and notch another signature victory on the 2013 season. But too many offensive mistakes gave a very good Wisconsin team too many opportunities and the Badgers kept the Axe with a 20-7 loss.
Three fumbles lost, some misses by Philip Nelson and too many dropped passes stunted the Gopher offense and put the defense in to many holes. The first play of the 2nd quarter was a 9-yard pass to Maxx Williams on first down taht was fumbled and recovered by the Badgers. The Gopher defense made up for this first miscue by interception Joel Stave and Aaron Hill returned it 39-yards for a Gopher touchdown and a 3-7 lead. The Gopher defense forced a punt on Wisconsin's next possession. The offense took over and started to control the line of scrimmage with consecutive runs of 8, 4, 13, 8, 0 and 8. Then the miscues returned and a false start penalty pushed them back and on 3rd and long Philip Nelson was stripped and Wisconsin recovered. This time the Badgers punched in a touchdown on the free possession, taking a 10-7 lead.
Wisconsin scored a field goal on the final possession before halftime and punched in a touchdown to open the third quarter to open up a 20-7 lead. This is how the game would end. The Gopher offense fumbled on their first play of the second half and then struggled to move the ball the rest of the game.
As maddening as the offensive mistakes were, the Gopher defense actually played a very good game against what is a very good offense. Note that coming into today the Badger offense was averaging 38.5 points (39.2 in Big Ten games) and was averaging 506 yards per game! The Gopher defense held them to 20 points and 324 yards. They put a lot of pressure on Joel Stave, scored the team's only points and did everything to put the Gophers in position to win back The Axe.
Philip Nelson was not his sharpest today. Maybe it was the cold. Maybe it was the stout, Badger defense. Maybe it was emotions facing what was once his hometown team. Irregardless of excuses, he missed a wide open Maxx Williams on 4th down, completed just 7 of 23 pass attempts, took 3 sacks, the one time he tried to throw it away he took a grounding penalty and he had a key fumble.
For the Badgers, they were led by a great game out of Chris Borland who dominated. The senior linebacker has 12 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 forced fumble and 2 fumble recoveries. I won't miss him next year.
Today was the final home game for Gopher seniors who I will actually miss. Ra'Shede Hageman had 2 TFLs today. Brock Vereen finished with 3 tackles. Ed Olson is done on the TCF Bank field. Aaron Hill went out of the stadium on a high note with his pick-6 in the 1st quarter. James Manuel had a couple big plays and a pass breakcup. And Roland Johnson had an ice game with 2 TFLs as well. Derrick Engel would have been a nice addition to the passing game today, but it likely would not have been enough.
It was a good effort by the Gophers today against what is possibly going to be a BCS bound team. No such thing as a moral victory and The Axe is heading back to Madison. This game is nothing to pat ourselves on the back over, but there is no reason to bang your head against a wall either. Improvement is there, we just are not at this level yet. Getting closer, but still not there.