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Minnesota Football vs. Wisconsin: The Elite, The Meh & The Ugly

Better dead than red

Gopher Sports

Sunday mornings are better when Paul Bunyan’s Axe is back in the Twin Cities.

The Elite

Paul Bunyan’s Axe is back where it belongs. The Gophers snapped a two-game losing streak to their border rival, beating the Badgers at home for the first time since 2003 and recording their first win over Wisconsin at Huntington Bank Stadium.

The Gophers’ run 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. The Minnesota defense also kept the Badgers out of the end zone and forced them to settle for a pair of field goals, with Wisconsin’s only touchdown of the game coming courtesy of a pick six.

Justin Walley. It was a challenging game for the Gophers’ defensive backs, as there were mistakes made in coverage and an officiating crew that never seemed to have a firm grasp of what constitutes defensive pass interference. They may have been down at times, but they were never out. Walley delivered one of the biggest plays of the game, wrestling a pass away from Wisconsin wide receiver Kendric Pryor for an interception on the Badgers’ opening drive of the second half. Minnesota was able to capitalize on the turnover, taking a 13-10 lead two plays later.

The block by Ky Thomas on Chris Autman-Bell’s 27-yard touchdown catch. Watch the clip below and keep your eye on Ky Thomas. Wisconsin linebacker Jack Sanborn blitzes and Thomas stops him dead in his tracks, allowing Tanner Morgan to set his feet and make an accurate throw to Autman-Bell. That touchdown pass likely doesn’t happen if Thomas doesn’t make that block.

Big plays in the passing game by Brevyn Spann-Ford. The Gopher tight end hauled in a 26-yard reception after Walley’s interception to set up Minnesota at the two-yard line, where Ky Thomas would punch in the go-ahead touchdown on the very next play. In the fourth quarter, Spann-Ford sparked the Gophers’ offense with a 30-yard reception down the sideline, taking Minnesota into Wisconsin territory. The Gophers would cap the drive with a 36-yard field goal to extend their lead to 23-13 with six minutes left in the game.

The formation on Ky Thomas’s touchdown run. Brings a tear to your eye.

“Jump Around” playing over the PA during the post-game celebration. Troll game strong.

Wisconsin was denied a trip to Indianapolis. Sad!

The Meh

The Gophers’ passing game. Minnesota generally had a quiet game, offensively. They only rushed for 75 yards as a team, and Tanner Morgan only made 16 pass attempts, one of which ended up in the open arms of Wisconsin safety Scott Nelson for a pick six. But the Gophers made enough plays through the air. Morgan finished 11-of-16 for 199 passing yards and one touchdown. I’ve already touched on Brevyn Spann-Ford, but Mar’Keise Irving had a 36-yard reception in the second quarter to extend a scoring drive and Dylan Wright made an impressive 27-yard catch on 3rd & 10 in the third quarter to help set up Autman-Bell’s touchdown catch.

The Ugly

Officiating. I don’t want to dwell too much on this, but the first half officiating was some of the worst I’ve ever seen. I generally roll my eyes at people who believe games are “fixed,” but you could have convinced me at halftime that the refs had money on Wisconsin. I’m glad there was less laundry in the second half and the officiating didn’t affect the outcome of the game.