The Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-4) upset the No. 14-ranked Wisconsin Badgers (8-4) to reclaim Paul Bunyan’s Axe and deny the Badgers a trip to the Big Ten Championship.
The Gophers broke a 13-13 tie in the closing minutes of the third quarter thanks to a 27-yard touchdown pass from Tanner Morgan to Chris Autman-Bell, allowing Minnesota to take a 20-13 lead into the fourth quarter. Matthew Trickett made a 36-yard field goal to extend their lead to 23-13 and the Gopher defense pitched a shutout in the fourth quarter to secure the team’s first win over Wisconsin at home since 2003 and their ever first at Huntington Bank Stadium.
Minnesota and Wisconsin traded field goals on their opening drives, before a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage was intercepted by Wisconsin safety Scott Nelson and returned 25 yards for a touchdown to give the Badgers a 10-3 lead. The Gophers were able to cut it to 10-6 with a 31-yard field goal from Trickett, taking a four-point deficit into the locker room at halftime.
On the Badgers’ opening drive of the second half, cornerback Justin Walley wrestled a third down pass away from Wisconsin wide receiver Kendric Pryor for an interception. Two plays later, Minnesota running back Ky Thomas scored from two yards out to give the Gophers a 13-10 lead. On their next possession, Wisconsin marched down to the Minnesota 14-yard line but failed to convert on 3rd & 7 at the 11-yard line, settling for a 28-yard field goal to knot the score at 13-13.
The Gophers responded with a seven-play, 74-yard touchdown drive capped by Autman-Bell’s go-ahead score. The teams then traded punts before the Badgers drove down to the Minnesota 30-yard line but missed a 48-yard field goal that bounced off the cross bar. The Gophers’ 36-yard field goal with six minutes left in the game gave Minnesota a 23-13 lead. The Minnesota defense forced a turnover on downs on each of the Badgers’ next two possessions to ice the game.
The story of the game was the Gophers’ defense. Wisconsin entered the game with the 10th-ranked rushing offense in the country, averaging 229.4 yards on the ground, and running back Braelon Allen was averaging 7.6 yards per carry. Joe Rossi’s defense brought the Badgers’ ground game to a halt, holding Wisconsin to 62 rushing yards and limiting Allen to 2.8 yards per carry.
Minnesota finishes the regular season in a three-way tie with Wisconsin and Purdue for second place in the Big Ten West. The Badgers’ loss opened the door for Iowa to punch their ticket to Indianapolis, where they’ll face Michigan in the Big Ten Championship.