A chilly afternoon set up well for what was built up to be a big matchup in one of the oldest rivalries in college football. Wisconsin started slow—a sustained problem all season—and Minnesota clawed to a 3–0 lead. The second quarter provided some of the same, as Minnesota scored touchdowns on offense and on a punt return to extend the lead to 17–0 heading into Wisconsin’s last offensive possession of the half.
For the first time all day, Wisconsin’s offense exhibited some signs of life and marched down the field, resulting in a Alex Hornibrook-to-Jake Ferguson touchdown pass to pull the score to 17–7, the same deficit the Badgers faced vs. the Gophers in 2016 in Camp Randall.
Unfortunately, the Badgers’ defense hasn’t possessed the same bite as prior units, and it showed on Saturday afternoon. Minnesota utilized a strong running game to consistently move the chains. There weren’t many long chunks; rather, 4 and 5-yard plays that time and time again delivered body blows to the Wisconsin defense.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Wisconsin trailed 23–7 and in need of any type of momentum.
That developed when Minnesota’s Emmit Carpenter missed a field goal and the defense finally was able to get the Gophers’ offense off of the field. The bad part? It took 9:02 off of the clock.
With 5:37 remaining, the Badgers’ offense took the field looking to score quickly to attempt to get back into the football game. Unfortunately, Alex Hornibrook, who threw two interceptions on the day in his return from a concussion, was strip-sacked on second down, resulting in a Minnesota recovery.
The ensuing play was a 23-yard touchdown run by Bryce Williams to push the score to 30–7, putting the final nail in the coffin of the Badgers, who were never really able to get into any rhythm offensively, sans the last drive of the first half.
Wisconsin was better than Minnesota for most of the game despite the missteps, outgaining the Gophers for much of it and out-passing the Gophers. However, four turnovers were too much to overcome for the Badgers.
Here’s what we learned.
1. That was humbling.
The Badgers not only fell to the Gophers for the first time in 15 years, but they fell by the largest margin in Madison to Minnesota since 1938.
Minnesota largely dictated the game, and was better than the Badgers on Saturday. Wisconsin, boasting the best running back in the country, was held to 170 rushing yards. Defensively, the Badgers struggled to get off of the field, as Minnesota led the time-of-possession battle with over 35 minutes.
Typically stout against the run, Wisconsin allowed 201 rushing yards, including three touchdowns. Simply put, Minnesota out-Wisconsined Wisconsin.
2. This was a tough way to go out for this group of seniors.
A group of players that has played in a staggering amount of football games, this senior class has acheived a heckuva lot during its time in Madison.
While this obviously isn’t the outcome they wanted or expected, you’d be remiss if you didn’t acknowledge the seniors in their final game in Camp Randall.
Mark Saari, Chris James, Taiwan Deal, Alec Ingold, Zander Neuville, Michael Deiter, Beau Benzschawel, Micah Kapoi, Olive Sagapolu, Andrew Van Ginkel, T.J. Edwards, Ryan Connelly, Evan Bondoc, D’Cota Dixon, P.J. Rosowski, and Rafael Gaglianone have been a major part of this program for four and five years, and their contributions won’t soon be forgotten.
3. Nothing is ever as good as it seems, and it’s never as bad as it seems.
While this definitely is a stunning and stinging loss for UW, the sky is far from falling. The Badgers fell to 7–5 on the season with the loss. That stinks. However, if 7–5 is your down year, considering the attrition due to injuries and turnover, and the youth associated with said attrition and turnover, you’re doing OK.
Spoiled fans can say until they’re blue in the face how unacceptable it is that Wisconsin lost to Minnesota, or lament the five losses, or whatever, but in all honestly, outside of the Alabamas and Clemsons of the world, every team in the country has its down seasons—Auburn just lost to Alabama to fall to 7–5.
Is this a low moment during the tenure of Paul Chryst? Yes. Does it mean that the Badgers are headed in the wrong direction as a program? No.
Seniors express regret following home finale loss
Following the game, multiple seniors spoke about the loss they had just suffered.
T.J. Edwards, the unquestioned leader of this Wisconsin defense, spoke pointedly about himself.
“At times, there have been mental errors and mental mistakes, which you can’t do when you’re at this level of football, and personally I felt like I did that a lot this year and let a lot of people down that way.”
Fifth-year senior safety D’Cota Dixon spoke about those who were ahead of him at the position: Warren Herring, Michael Caputo, and Leo Musso specifically, as though he felt he had let them down with the loss.
While this loss stings, there is certainly no lack of gravity or lack of accountability among the players. I’ve mentioned this before, and I will again: Nobody wants to win more than these players, who have invested years of their lives into this. If they can accept and get over this loss after everything they’ve put into it, you can too.
The Badgers will learn who they draw in the bowl game, and they will prepare to play them. As always: On Wisconsin.