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Minnesota Football vs Wisconsin: The Elite, The Meh, and The Ugly

The Axe is back.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

I will forgo the traditional intro paragraph in favor of a simple: HELL YEAH.

The Elite

Paul Bunyan’s Axe is home. Just let those five words sink in for a moment.

That god forsaken losing streak is finally over, bringing 15 years of soul-crushing futility to a much-needed close. And the Gophers did it in spectacular fashion, marching into Camp Randall Stadium and imposing their will upon the Badgers.

Mohamed Ibrahim. Bryce Williams tacked on the exclamation points with a pair of rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but Minnesota does not win this game without the tough running of Ibrahim. The redshirt freshman finished with 121 rushing yards on 26 carries, and I’d be willing to bet that at least 75 percent of those yards came after contact. Ibrahim was fighting for extra yardage all game long and accounted for 31 of the Gophers’ 55 yards on the clock-consuming nine-minute drive in the fourth quarter that effectively wore down Wisconsin.

Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi. Head coach P.J. Fleck announced after the game that Rossi had earned a well-deserved promotion, removing the interim tag and naming him permanent defensive coordinator. It’s difficult to argue with the results, especially against Wisconsin. The Gophers’ defense held the Badgers to 170 rushing yards (well below their season average of 227.4 rushing yards per game), 189 passing yards, and 15 points. Prior to a 75-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes after Minnesota had built an insurmountable 37-7 lead, Wisconsin had been limited to a single touchdown and 284 total yards of offense.

In three Big Ten games under Rossi, the Gopher defense allowed an average of 117 rushing yards, 188 passing yards, and 16 points per game. In the six Big Ten games this season under previous defensive coordinator Robb Smith, the Gophers allowed an average of 246 rushing yards, 261 passing yards, and 43 points per game.

Turnovers. One week after losing the turnover battle against Northwestern, Minnesota was able to turn the tables, forcing four turnovers on defense. Coney Durr got the party started in the second quarter, intercepting Alex Hornibrook to set up the Gophers’ first touchdown drive of the game. Julian Huff, playing in place of an ejected Blake Cashman, recorded a diving interception off a tipped pass in the third quarter, capped by an Emmit Carpenter field goal on the ensuing drive.

The nightmare continued for Hornibrook in the fourth quarter, when Carter Coughlin and Gary Moore combined for a strip sack that Thomas Barber then recovered. On the Badgers’ next drive, Hornibrook threw his third interception of the game, with Chris Williamson the perpetrator. The Gophers were able to capitalize on both of those fourth quarter turnovers with touchdowns. When all was said and done, 24 of their 37 points were off turnovers.

Demetrius Douglas’ 69-yard punt return for a touchdown. Nice.

The Gophers are now bowl-eligible. Redbox Bowl, here we come!

The Meh

It was a quiet night for the passing game? I got nothing.

The Ugly

Officiating. The Big Ten did not send their best officiating crew to Madison, that much is certain. The two most egregious calls, in my opinion, were the fourth down spot on the Gophers’ first touchdown drive of the game and the kick catch interference and targeting call against Blake Cashman. That initial spot was at least a full yard short of where Seth Green landed at the end of the previous play. Then after further review the ball was moved closer to the correct spot and even then the refs failed to move the chains. The targeting call against Cashman is debatable — I didn’t agree with the call, personally — but that was definitely not kick catch interference.

Wisconsin’s preseason No. 4 ranking. Woof.