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Clay wears down Gophers as UW keeps Axe for sixth straight year

MINNEAPOLIS -- Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema was so excited after Wisconsin's 31-28 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers Saturday that he wanted to stay and talk to the media a little longer than usual.

"We can go a little bit [longer]. Wanna go a little bit?," he said to Director of Athletic Communications Brian Lucas when the allotted time was up.

That's new. But can you blame him?

The Badgers -- who have been plagued by letting their opponents back into games this season -- survived another late comeback, but this time from their bitter rivals who were hosting their first conference game at brand new TCF Bank Stadium. John Clay ran for a career-high 184 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries, and once again took over a game that had been opened back up by a key Wisconsin fumble.

With Wisconsin settling for a field goal by running on 3rd and 10 with an 11-point lead and just under seven minutes to go, it looked like the Badgers would take a very comfortable 14-point lead. Zach Brown gained eight yards on the carry but coughed the ball up as he fell to the ground and Minnesota cornerback Marcus Sherels returned it 84 yards for a touchdown. A successful two-point conversion sealed an 11-point swing and cut UW's lead to three.

Clay and Tolzien picked up their teammate, however, and drove 74 yards in 3:50 to put Wisconsin back up 10 on Clay's third touchdown run of the game. The sophomore running back ran for 17 yards on the drive, but his 176 yards up to that point helped set up a 47-yard naked bootleg run for quarterback Scott Tolzien.

"We're like a family, man. We're here for each other," Clay said. "One of us messes up and then we're always there to pick each other up."

That includes the defense, which picked itself up after allowing 78 yards on two pass plays after Clay's touchdown. Duane Bennett's one yard touchdown run made it a three point game again, but the defense got redemption when O'Brien Schofield forced a fumble and Chris Borland fell on it to preserve the UW win with 30 seconds to go.

New stadium or not, it was another crazy finish to the longest standing rivalry in the football bowl subdivision.

"I thought it was supposed to be only in the Metrodome," Bielema said. "Every time we come up here it seems to be one of these types of games."

Early stops count late

Twice in the first half the Badgers defense held Minnesota to a field goal in situations where a touchdown appeared imminent.

The Gophers' first drive of the game took up 6:10 on the clock and encompassed 12 plays, but it stalled on 3rd and 7 from the 11 yard line when Adam Weber's pass to Nick Tow-Arnett fell incomplete.

Then on a similar 12-play drive in the second quarter, Minnesota drove 76 yards to the UW 4-yard line before settling for a field goal.

"That was critical. To be put in those situations and hold them to a field goal, there's a big difference between this year and last year in that department," Bielema said.

Secondary does enough on Decker

On paper, Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker -- the Big Ten's leading receiver -- had another typical big day, catching eight passes for 140 yards and a touchdown.

Almost all of his catches came in 1-on-1 coverage and UW was forced to bring double-coverage in an interesting scheme that used safety Jay Valai like a cornerback, with the actual cornerback stacked five yards behind Valai.

"We had some calls to basically try and put two people on him," Bielema said. "Beat him up at the line of scrimmage. I don't know, as long as I've been in this league, if I've ever seen a guy that can make the plays that he can make ... Anytime we were able to get two on him we were able to get success."

Decker got his yards, but he only scored once and that was good enough for Wisconsin to win.

Turnover battle determines game

Turnovers decide almost any close game and Saturday was no different. In the end, both teams turned the ball over three times and scored 14 points off turnovers, but Minnesota's final turnover was a fumble by Adam Weber in the closing seconds that sealed the game for Wisconsin.

"I don't know who forced it, but I saw the ball on the ground and I was contemplating picking it up but I knew all we needed was the possession so I just dove on it," Borland said. "It was a great play by whoever knocked it loose. It was a great rush."

O'Brien Schofield forced the fumble, his second forced fumble of the season.

Borland enjoying every second

Wisconsin's 5-0 start can be attributed to a number of new faces filling the voids of last year's 7-6 team and Borland, the true freshman linebacker who was only a two-star recruit, has been among those key new contributors in all five games.

On top of his fumble recovery to seal Wisconsin's win, Borland was also credited with half of a sack and had another great game on special teams.

"I really didn't anticipate it," Borland said in regards to his playing time on defense. "I thought I would be doing some things on special teams but I didn't anticipate making such a splash on defense. It's been a thrill to play on base and defense."

Extra points.

Wisconsin did not appear to have any major injuries, although wide receiver Nick Toon came off limping after blocking on a long-run by John Clay in the second half but returned and appeared to be fine... The Badgers dominated third-down again, converting 8-of-13 conversions while the Gophers only converted 6-of-14... UW won the time of possession 34:41 to 25:19, holding the ball for over 21 minutes in the second half... Wisconsin has now won six straight games against Minnesota and 12 of the last 14 meetings.