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Grading Wisconsin’s loss to Minnesota

The Badgers relinquish the axe.

Minnesota v Wisconsin Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

It was a rout at Camp Randall, in the worst possible way.

For the first time since George W. Bush was in office, the Wisconsin Badgers lost to the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Saturday, falling 37–15 and relinquishing Paul Bunyan’s Axe to their rivals to the west.

Turnovers and sloppy play crushed Wisconsin. Redshirt junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook accounted for four giveaways and nearly had a few others.

Here are the unit grades.

Offense: F

Hornibrook returned to his starting role after missing all but one half of the past four games with concussion symptoms. He was sloppy and reckless in his return, going 22-of-33 for 189 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions, and a back-breaking fumble late in the fourth quarter that killed the last hopes of a Wisconsin rally.

The offense looked lost at wide stretches. Hornibrook was not helped by his wide receivers, as both A.J. Taylor and Danny Davis had crushing drops.

Sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor was Wisconsin’s best offensive weapon, running for 121 yards on 19 carries. It was not nearly enough.

Defense: C-

As has been the case much of the season, the defense kept Wisconsin close but the unit ultimately crumbled after being repeatedly put in quick-change situations by Hornibrook’s turnovers.

Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan threw for 124 yards. Running back Mohamed Ibrahim led a strong Gophers running game, rushing for 121 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. Bryce Williams scored two touchdowns on eight carries.

Linebacker T.J. Edwards led Wisconsin with 18 tackles.

Special Teams: D

Kicker Rafael Gaglianone missed his only field-goal try. Punter Connor Allen averaged 38.3 yards on three punts.

Wisconsin allowed a 69-yard Demetrius Douglas punt-return touchdown late in the first half to put the Gophers up 17–0. Punt returner Aron Cruickshank fumbled in the third quarter, but the Badgers recovered.

Coaching: D

Paul Chryst’s bold call to go for it with six seconds left in the first half paid off when Hornibrook connected with tight end Jake Ferguson for the touchdown.

Nothing else worked. Chryst went for it again on fourth down at the start of the second half only to see Hornibrook airmail a pass off of his back foot. The running game sputtered without help from the passing game.

Jim Leonhard’s defense gave the Badgers a chance to win, but the offense could not take advantage.

Overall: F

A blowout loss at home to a hated rival must be cause for reflection. After an exhilarating win last week against Purdue, Wisconsin reverted to flat undisciplined play, particularly by the offense and special teams. Endemic to the season, it may be time to reevaluate whether the right coaches are in the right seats.

Despite Hornibrook’s poor play, he is the frontrunner to start the bowl, but the next few weeks will be filled with debate on whether to burn Jack Coan’s redshirt (here are some arguments pro and con). The decision will have lasting effects on Wisconsin teams in 2019 and beyond.