The Minnesota Golden Gophers fought hard but came up short against the Wisconsin Badgers, falling to their border rival in overtime, 20-17, and failing to re-claim Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
Wisconsin drove down to the Minnesota 28-yard line on their opening drive but missed wide right on a 46-yard field goal attempt. Minnesota was able to strike first when Tanner Morgan connected with running back Cam Wiley on a wheel route for a 16-yard touchdown pass, giving the Gophers a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter. The lead did not last long into the second quarter however, as Badger running back Garrett Groshek burst up the middle untouched for a 39-yard touchdown run to even it up on the next drive. Safeties Jordan Howden and Tyler Nubin were in the box but out of position as Groshek blew right past them on his way to the end zone.
The Gophers had a chance to re-take the lead on their next possession, but a holding penalty on 2nd & Goal from the two-yard line negated a Mohamed Ibrahim touchdown run for the go-ahead score. Morgan threw an interception to Wisconsin safety Eric Burrell on the next play.
The teams went into the locker room tied at halftime. Minnesota’s much-maligned defense was not perfect but played well enough against a Badger offense missing their top two running backs, top two wide receivers, and starting left tackle. The Gophers held them to 1-for-6 on third down in the first half and limited the Wisconsin rushing defense to 92 rushing yards at the break, with 39 of those yards coming on the aforementioned Groshek touchdown burst.
Minnesota regained the lead in the third quarter on a 38-yard field goal by Anders Gelecinskyj. But Wisconsin wasted no time responding, marching down the for a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive, capped by a four-yard touchdown pass from second-string quarterback Chase Wolf to walk-on senior wide receiver Jack Dunn. The go-ahead score gave the Badgers their first lead of the game, 14-10. Mertz did most of the work, picking apart the Gophers’ zone coverage, but was knocked out of the game on 2nd & Goal after taking a shot from Boye Mafe while scrambling for yards.
The Gophers went three-and-out on their next possession, allowing Wisconsin to tack on a 31-yard field goal to extend their lead to 17-10 early in the fourth quarter. Perhaps sensing the game slipping away from them, Minnesota’s offense came to life on a drive that saw them convert two third downs and a fourth down, ending in a nine-yard touchdown pass from Morgan to wide receiver Mike Brown-Stephens, the first touchdown reception of his career.
With less than five minutes left on the clock, the Badgers seemed to be driving for what would be the game-winning score. But Wolf took a shot to the end zone and underthrew his receiver, allowing the ball to drop into the waiting arms of Coney Durr for the interception. It was a particularly bizarre play-call for Wisconsin, considering they had been able to move the ball at will on the ground prior to that play. Unfortunately, the Gophers were not able to capitalize on the turnover with a minute left in regulation, sending the game into overtime.
In overtime, Minnesota failed to record a first down, and Morgan was nearly intercepted on a pass to Bryce Witham on third down. Then Gelecinskyj missed the 36-yard field attempt, with the ball slicing just outside the left upright. Wisconsin made a 30-yard field goal on their overtime possession to win and promptly celebrated with the Axe.
Minnesota drops to 3-4 after what could be their last game of the 2020 season.