A windy and wet day at TCF Bank stadium saw the top two teams in the Big Ten West battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe and the division championship. It was Wisconsin who dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and pulled away in the 4th quarter for a 38-17 win.
The Badgers took the opening kickoff and were stopped for a quick three and out. Minnesota then took possession near midfield and on second down Tanner Morgan hit Rashod Bateman for a 51-yard touchdown to take a quick 7-0 lead. Another quick stop for the Gopher defense and the offense drove to the Badger 40. With 2nd down and 2 to go, the Gopher offense was unable to convert on two tries. Punting on 4th down rather than taking an early 2-score lead, may have been a critical early miscue. With the quick start and stopping the Badgers on their second possession, things were looking good for the Gophers.
The rest of the first half was Wisconsin ball control at it’s finest. Drives of 5, 11, 8 and 7 ate up 14 minutes and 28 seconds. Still leading 7-0 Minnesota’s defense made a big play, forcing the game’s first turnover when Winston DeLattibourdere hit Aron Cruickshank in the backfield causing a fumble recovered by Carter Coughlin. Seemingly a momentum stopping play. But three plays later, Tanner Morgan turned it back over to Wisconsin throwing a dangerous pass into coverage that was tipped and intercepted by Caesar Williams. It was returned it to the Gopher 27 and eventually resulted in a field goal for Wisconsin’s first points of the game.
Their next drive was an 82-yard touchdown drive. Jack Coan hit Jonathan Taylor for a 28-yard down the sideline with Coughlin defending. The touchdown gave Wisconsin a 10-7 lead.
After scoring on their second play of the game, Minnesota’s offense struggled in the second quarter gaining only 35 yards for zero points. It was 10-7 at half.
The 3rd quarter was an outburst of scoring for Wisconsin. The Badgers used the wind at their back to throw for nearly 100 yards in the quarter, scoring on a 47-yard pass to Quintez Cephus and a 26-yard sweep to Kendric Pryor. A Gopher field goal was sandwiched in between and the quarter ended with Minnesota driving and trailing 10-24.
To start the 4th quarter, Minnesota had 2nd and goal from the Badger 4-yard line. This series turned out to be pivotal. A rush for no gain on 2nd down, followed by two incomplete passes on 3rd and 4th turned the ball back to Wisconsin; still trailing by two touchdowns.
For the Gophers, scoring here makes this a 1-score game. But they were unable to convert, stopped by the Wisconsin defense and the rest of the 4th quarter was an avalanche with Bucky riding down the mountain.
The Badgers, on the subsequent drive, executed a great screen for 70 yards, converting a critical 3rd down play. Setting up a Taylor rushing touchdown and an insurmountable 21 point lead.
Minnesota took the ball and on the first play Tanner Morgan was sacked, fumbled and Wisconsin recovered. Another Taylor touchdown and in the span of just over 5 minutes a game that could have been a 7-point game, became a 28-point deficit.
A late and meaningless touchdown drive by the Gophers when Morgan hit Tyler Johnson for a 12-yard touchdown, making the final 38-17.
Missed opportunities throughout this game for Minnesota, but also one where Wisconsin owned the line of scrimmage and didn’t make mistakes. Wisconsin came to TCF Bank Stadium and beat the Gophers. They move on to play next weekend in the Big Ten Championship game against Ohio State.
Minnesota’s regular season is over and they will await their bowl game fate.