Well, that was predictable.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers’ extended their humiliating losing streak to the Wisconsin Badgers to 14 games with a 31-0 loss at home to close out their first season under new head coach P.J. Fleck. The Gophers were a never a serious threat to re-claim Paul Bunyan’s Axe, a “rivalry” trophy that Glen Mason, Tim Brewster, Jerry Kill, Tracy Claeys, and now Fleck have all failed to obtain in the last 14 years. Minnesota unrolled the welcome mat for the Badgers en route to their first 12-0 regular season in program history, allowing Wisconsin to gash their defense for 287 rushing yards. Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook barely broke a sweat and was 15-of-19 for 151 passing yards and three touchdowns.
But the Gopher defense was set up to fail by their teammates on offense.
The Gophers’ vaunted wide receiver corps, complete with two starters who didn’t record a single reception all season, dropped multiple passes and failed to get open. Senior walk-on Will Reger was the only wide receiver to catch a pass against the Badgers.
Quarterback Demry Croft, lacking any pocket awareness whatsoever, seemed to have no idea what to do with the football when his receivers failed to find separation or when the Badgers brought pressure. He finished 3-of-9 for 40 passing yards and was sacked twice.
Rodney Smith, the saving grace of the Gopher offense all season, fought for 82 rushing yards on 16 carries, which is incredible considering Wisconsin linebackers were pinning their ears back to stop the run with no threat of a passing game to defend.
The offense only crossed the 50-yard line three times all game and never entered the red zone. The Gophers’ last desperate attempt to put points on the board was a 48-yard field goal attempt by Emmit Carpenter that was nowhere near the uprights.
After dropping 54 points on the Cornhuskers two weeks ago, the Gophers failed to score a single point in eight consecutive quarters against Northwestern and Wisconsin.
Fleck and co. also took the opportunity to make their own unique mark on the rivalry series, contributing the Gophers’ first shutout loss in the 14-game losing streak. The 31-0 deficit was also the Badgers’ second largest margin of victory during that stretch.
I appreciate Fleck’s culture of “serving and giving,” but I hope next season that includes giving Gopher fans a reason to watch on Saturdays. Because three of the last four games of his debut season here at Minnesota were unwatchable.
#Gophers HC Fleck: "This was unacceptable tonight. Period. There's no way we're going to look like that next year."— Ryan Burns (@RyanBurnsMN) November 25, 2017
Let’s hope so.