The regular season ended with a thud for the No. 8-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers, as head coach P.J. Fleck and co. lost 38-17 to the No. 12-ranked Wisconsin Badgers.
Rashod Bateman. The Gophers’ most dangerous weapon offense did what he could, finishing with six receptions for 147 receiving yards and one touchdown.
Tyler Johnson. In his final game at TCF Bank Stadium, the senior wide receiver recorded eight receptions for 89 receiving yards and one touchdown. His lone score from the game tied Ron Johnson’s school record for most career receiving touchdowns.
College GameDay was on campus. Which was nice.
The Gophers accomplished none of their goals. Minnesota was in the driver’s seat after the victory over Penn State and ended up veering off the road and into a ditch. All they had to do was beat Iowa or Wisconsin and couldn’t get it done against either of them. The Floyd of Rosedale remains a captive in Iowa City and Paul Bunyan’s Axe is headed back to Madison, taking it with it the Big Ten West division crown. The loss also all but cost the Gophers a trip to Pasadena. It is difficult to argue that a 10-2 season is a disappointment, but Minnesota had a chance at a truly special season and squandered it. That is tough to swallow.
Minnesota was the less aggressive team. It all started when P.J. Fleck opted to punt on 4th & 2 from the Wisconsin 35 in the first quarter. Instead of trying to build on their 7-0 lead, Fleck decided instead to play for field position. Badgers head coach Paul Chryst did not share his conservative mentality, converting two fourth downs on their next two possessions. Wisconsin also wasn’t afraid to get creative on offense when the Gophers bottled up Jonathan Taylor, whereas Minnesota never seemed to stray from their offensive game plan, despite their struggles.
The Gophers’ ground game (or lack thereof). One of my fears coming into the game was that Minnesota would not be able to establish the run against a formidable Wisconsin defensive front, reducing their high-scoring offense to one dimension. Guess what happened? When you subtract the lost yards from Tanner Morgan’s sacks, Minnesota only mustered 96 rushing yards, which meant the Gophers were frequently behind the chains. As a result, the Badgers’ linebackers were able to pin their ears back and focus on making life difficult for Morgan.
The Gophers’ pass protection (or lack thereof). Tanner Morgan spent most of the game on his heels (or on his back), as Wisconsin badgered him virtually the entire game en route to notching five sacks and forcing one interception. It was the most uncomfortable Morgan has looked in the pocket all season, and his accuracy was frequently off the mark as a result.
The Gopher defense (or lack thereof). Minnesota played well enough on defense in the first half, allowing only one touchdown drive and even limiting the Badgers to a field goal after an interception set up their offense at the Minnesota 27. But then the second half started and the wheels came off. Wisconsin scored on each of their first four offensive possessions in the second half, effectively putting the game out of reach for the Gophers. I’ll give them credit for limiting Jonathan Taylor to 76 rushing yards — and the Gopher offense certainly did them no favors — but they simply gave up too many big plays in the final half of play.
The best Minnesota team in 50+ years was blown out by their most hated rival in the final game of the regular season. Which is unfortunate.