Minnesota’s five turnovers help Wisconsin Badgers keep the Axe
MINNEAPOLIS -- Retired Minnesota Gophers coach Jerry Kill spent part of Saturday's third quarter slowly pacing a few yards outside the coaches' box at TCF Bank Stadium.Kill's gloved hands were clasped behind his back. There was little he or his s...
MINNEAPOLIS - Retired Minnesota Gophers coach Jerry Kill spent part of Saturday’s third quarter slowly pacing a few yards outside the coaches’ box at TCF Bank Stadium.
Kill’s gloved hands were clasped behind his back. There was little he or his successor Tracy Claeys could do as five Gophers turnovers led to 17 Wisconsin points in Minnesota’s 31-21 loss to the Badgers.
Wisconsin’s streak of retaining Paul Bunyan’s Axe has reached a dozen years, adding to the longest stretch of one-sided play in the 125 years of the rivalry.
The Gophers (5-7, 2-6) finish one win short of bowl eligibility. As of Saturday, 75 teams had claimed the 80 available spots in a record-high 40 bowl games.
As many as five teams with 5-7 records could make bowl games and as few as two, with three teams having the chance to reach six wins next week. The Gophers and 11 other teams sit at five wins, including Nebraska, Illinois and Missouri.
“I don’t know,” Claeys said about a possible bowl game. “If there is, they can send me a message. Right now, we’ve got a senior banquet (Sunday). That’s the very next priority for me.”
Wisconsin (9-3, 6-2) came into Saturday’s game with the worst rushing attack in Big Ten play at 109 yards per game. The Badgers finished with 255 rushing yards, including 199 yards and four rushing touchdowns in the first half.
“It just came down to more counter, a little bit more pullers than we were expecting,” Claeys said. “We weren’t playing quite downhill enough.”
The Gophers were plus-four in turnover margin in the four games since Claeys took over for Kill on Oct. 28.
Quarterback Mitch Leidner threw three interceptions and lost a fumble. With KJ Maye also losing a fumble, the Gophers were minus-4 in turnover margin.
With the game tied 14-14 in the second quarter, Leidner was stripped by Joe Schobert, and Darius Hillary recovered.
“I had the ball up high and tight like you’re coached to do,” Leidner said. “Just ended up when I was going down, it got a little away from my arm and (Schobert) was able to rip it out. It was just a good play by him.”
The Badgers started at Minnesota’s 34-yard line and scored four plays later when running back Taiwan Deal ran in from 13 yards out.
On the next possession, Maye fumbled, giving Wisconsin the ball at Minnesota’s 48.
Six plays later, Badgers running back Dare Ogunbowale scored from 18 yards out. Ogunbowale had 155 yards on 33 carries.
“In the second quarter, with the turnovers and not stopping them on the short field, we just got too much separation in there against a good football team and couldn’t get back in the game,” Claeys said.
Two first-half fumbles by the Gophers led to 14 Badgers points and a 28-14 Wisconsin lead at the half.
The Gophers’ offense struggled against the Badgers’ defense that ranked first in the nation in points allowed. They allowed only 12.3 points per game heading into Saturday, and they allowed 14 to the Gophers’ offense on Saturday.
The Gophers took a 7-0 lead after the Badgers’ first offensive play. Minnesota cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun jumped in front of a Joel Stave pass for an interception and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown.
The Badgers answered with touchdowns on their next two possessions. Wisconsin had 101 rushing yards on 21 rushes on those scoring drives. After the interception, Stave threw two passes on those drives.
This run-pass balance was a disparity from what the Badgers had done this season.
The Gophers had eight yards on their first three possessions and trailed 14-7 before putting together a seven-play, 71-yard drive. Rodney Smith’s 6-yard run tied it 14-14.
The tie game fueled the optimistic Gophers. Wisconsin was a slim two-point favorite, and Kill was in The Bank for the first time since stepping down.
During player introductions on Senior Day, Kill hugged seniors before they ran onto the field. Kill then waved a “JerrySota” flag in front of the student section right before kickoff.
“At times, you’re in the middle of the game and you look over and see (Kill) standing there,” Leidner said. “It brings you back to old times.”