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Grading Wisconsin’s 38-17 win over Minnesota (and the return of the Axe!)

A win that tastes of savory justice

Wisconsin v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Rubric - Wisconsin Football Unit Grades

Grade Description - accounting for degree of difficulty
Grade Description - accounting for degree of difficulty
A Excellent: Top-5 level performance
B Very good: Top-tier Big Ten performance
C Acceptable: Average for the Big Ten
D Unacceptable: Below average for the Big Ten
F Failure: Rutgers level performance
N/A Insufficient evidence for a grade

I tuned into this game right before Zach Hintze’s second quarter field goal narrowed the score to a 7-3 deficit for the Wisconsin Badgers (I will explain why in the bonus grades). But in the final 40 minutes of play, Wisconsin thoroughly whooped up on the Minnesota Gophers 35-3 until Minnesota got a garbage time touchdown.

In the end, Paul Bunyan’s Axe is home because the No. 12 Badgers (10-2 overall, 7-2 B1G) capsized the No. 8 Gophers (10-2 overall, 7-2 B1G) by the thorough margin of 38-17.

This one feels really good, but it is different than when Wisconsin beats a team like Ohio State back in 2010. Those wins over blue bloods are sweet like french silk pie. If Wisconsin somehow beats Ohio State next week, it would be awesome yet probably unsustainable. And, like french silk pie, it probably is only meant to be enjoyed once every decade or so.

Hey, I won’t blame you if you want it every year. I know I do. I could go for some next weekend.

Instead, this one tasted savory like justice. The natural order has been restored. After being falsely imprisoned by a pretender of a program, Paul Bunyan’s Axe is back where it belongs. Minnesota may beat Wisconsin once every decade, but Wisconsin is structurally the better program.

The Badgers proved that Saturday afternoon.

Offense: A-

O-line: B+


When Wisconsin was down four with 6:27 to play in the second quarter, Jack Coan had completed 6 of 11 passes for 43 yards. Then, he started balling. He finished the game completing 9 of 11 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns.

It started with some confidence-building passes to fullback Mason Stokke, and then he hit a heckuva pass to Jonathan Taylor for a 28-yard TD to give the Badgers the lead.

Coan continued his success on the next drive, which I will call the Quintez Cephus drive. Wisconsin earned a two score lead on two huge passes to Cephus for a total of 78 receiving yards on the drive.

Coan’s last passing highlight was a screen on third and six to Garrett Groshek that went for 70 yards. This play was set up by a QB keeper on second and 15 that made the screen pass more of a dynamic option.

In the end, Coan out-dueled Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan and perhaps the most prolific passing attack in the B1G.

Defense: B

Pass rush: B+
Pass coverage: B-
Run defense: A+


Minnesota entered the game averaging 10.7 yards per passing attempt, but Wisconsin held the Gophers to 8.0 yards per passing attempt.

Badgers DB Caesar Williams had an excellent game. He broke up four passes and intercepted one. He was able to successfully ride the line between good coverage and pass interference/defensive holding.

I won’t name names, but some people continue to miss tackles in the Wisconsin secondary. However, tackling was a bit better than the last several weeks.

The pass rush was very good, and the run defense was excellent. Minnesota is known for its passing offense, but it is not a slouch when it comes to running the ball. However, Wisconsin shut them down at 2.5 yards per carry, which is about half the Gophers’ season average.

Special Teams: B+

Kicking: B
Punting: C-
Returning: A
Coverage: B+


Punting was okay, kicking was fine and Wisconsin got a huge return. This is the third week in a row Wisconsin’s special team made a significant positive impact on the outcome of the game.

This reverse kick return was brilliantly designed and executed.

Coaching: A

Strategy: B+
Adjustments: A
Play-calling: A+


This probably isn’t the best coaching staff in the B1G, but it’s certainly in the top of the conference. And, every once in a while, it will cook up a gameplan that totally confounds the opponent. That’s happened twice this year—first against Michigan and now against Minnesota.

The screen passes worked, the reverse on the kick return was timely and the Badgers seemed five steps ahead of PJ Fleck at every turn.

Finally, the jet sweep is BACK.

Overall grade: A-

Unit Grades: B+
Big plays: A
Game Control: A
Penalties & Discipline: A


Bonus grades

YouTube TV’s DVR: F

I’m a little sensitive about this. I know with 100% certainty that I have correctly configured YouTube TV’s DVR function to record every single FBS football game. It has recorded every single Badger game to this point in the season, and I have been able to use it to watch other games.

So when a family event kept me away from home today until about 3:30 p.m., I thought, “no problem!” I messaged Drew to tell him that I was going to be radio silent until I caught up to live TV.

I got comfortable on my couch, fired up the TV, and I clicked on the Badgers game. However, there was no “watch from beginning” option. I missed the whole first quarter and the first five minutes of the second quarter.

This is why I only watched the last 39 minutes of the game.

When I realized this, I fired my pen and notepad at the floor (I went low-tech to avoid spoilers). However, I knew this would make for an easy bonus grade I could pre-write during a commercial break.

Going for two: N/A

Up 37-10 in the middle of the fourth quarter, Wisconsin faced a critical choice. Kick the extra point or go for the two point conversion?

Unfortunately, Paul Chryst ignored the card I slipped into his pocket that said “go for two.”

Badgers twitter memes: A+

Here are a few of my favorites:

I never saw this movie, but I assume it ends with this friendly new captain steering the boat straight to Pasadena.

Someone should have warned them...

Imagine PJ Fleck with dreadlocks and a funny mustache. Anybody good at Photoshop?

Wait, how did this get in here??

They didn’t see it coming, but they should have.

When your flavor-of-the-month head coach finishes the season with two losses in three games.

(Author’s note: apologies to those viewing this on mobile. You may have more luck reading the table directly from the source.)

2019 Wisconsin Football Grade Book

Category Mich NW MSU @ Ill. @ OSU Iowa @ Neb Purdue @ Minn B1G Championship Rose Bowl
Category Mich NW MSU @ Ill. @ OSU Iowa @ Neb Purdue @ Minn B1G Championship Rose Bowl
Overall A- C+ A+ D- B- B- C B- A- B- C-
Unit Grade Composite A C+ A D B- B- C+ B B+ B- C+
Big Plays A- B A D C+ B- C B A C D
Game Control B D A+ F N/A C D- C A D D
Penalties & Discipline C- C+ A F C+ D C+ C- A B+ N/A
Offense A D A D+ C+ B B+ B+ A- B- C+
QB B D A D N/A C C- B- A B- C
OL A+ D+ A D- C+ B- A- B B+ B- C+
RB / FB A+ B B+ C N/A A A A B B+ B-
WR / TE B D A B N/A B+ B+ A A B C
Defense A A- A+ D- B C+ D+ C B B- B+
Pass rush A- A+ A+ D+ B C+ C+ C+ B+ B B+
Pass coverage B+ B+ A+ F B C- D+ D B- C+ A-
Run defense A+ B+ A+ F B B F B+ A+ B- B+
Special Teams C+ D B- C+ B C- B+ A+ B+ F A- & F
Kicking C- B+ B C B C- B A+ B D+ D+
Punting B C C B- B C- B- N/A C- F F
Returning C+ F B C+ B C- A N/A A D A+
Coverage C- B C C+ B N/A B N/A B+ D N/A
Coaching A C A F N/A B- C- C+ A B- N/A
Strategy A+ C A D N/A B- D+ C B+ B N/A
Adjustments B C N/A F N/A B C B A F N/A
Play Calling A C A F N/A B- C B- A+ B N/A