The No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers (10-2 overall, 7-2 B1G) reclaimed Paul Bunyan’s Axe and capsized the No. 8 Minnesota’s (10-2 overall, 7-2 B1G) chances of its first B1G Championship Game berth, 38-17.
With the win, Wisconsin becomes B1G West Champs for the fourth time and will compete in the B1G Championship game for a sixth time, which leads the conference.
Wisconsin got off to a slow start in the game, punting on its first two drives and fumbling on its third and the Gophers were quick to capitalize.
Following a Wisconsin three-and-out on its opening drive, Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan exploited the fact that Wisconsin was without one of its starting cornerbacks and starting a true freshman in Semar Melvin.
Morgan connected with Rashod Bateman on a 51-yard touchdown pass on Minnesota’s second offensive play of the game. Bateman was being covered by Melvin.
Despite the opening drive, Melvin rebounded well in the game, breaking up a pass and keeping Gophers receivers off the board, for the remainder of the game.
Bateman and Tyler Johnson are 1,000-yard receivers for Minnesota this season. Bateman finished the game with six receptions for 147 yards and Johnson finished with eight receptions for 89 yards.
Even with the higher receiving outputs in the game, Wisconsin held the two in check, minimizing their impact. In doing so, Wisconsin broke up nine Morgan passes, a number of which were intended for Batemand and Johnson.
Following Minnesota’s opening score, Wisconsin went on a 10-0 run to end the first half, with a Zach Hintze field goal and then later a Jonathan Taylor 28-yard touchdown reception.
This was Taylor’s 23rd touchdown of the season and by far his most-impressive receiving score, as he turned back to make the reception and then backed the defender into the end zone.
Taylor finished the game with 18 carries for 76 yards and joined Herschel Walker as the only two running backs in FBS history, to rush for 1,700 yards in three consecutive seasons.
Wisconsin picked up where it left off in the second half, with a 4-play, 91 yard drive, as the snow began to fall harder.
With the snow falling down, one would think that Wisconsin would queue up rushing play after rushing play, but Jack Coan was throwing dimes, as he connected on a 31-yard completion to Cephus to begin the drive and then two three plays later, a 47-yard touchdown pass.
Coan finished the game 15-22 for 280 yards and two touchdown passes, which Cephus recorded five receptions for 114 yards.
On Minnesota’s following drive, they ended its scoring draught of five drives, following its opening score. Michael Lantz connected on a 38-yard field goal, to cap off a 7-play, 61-yard drive.
Wisconsin kept Minnesota in check most of the game, holding the Gophers to 5-for-14 on third down and 1-for-3 on fourth down.
However, Wisconsin was not to be outdone, as Aron Cruickshank returned the Minnesota kick off seven yards and then flipped the ball to freshman running back Isaac Guerendo on a reverse, who took it 49 yards, into Minnesota territory.
This was the first time that Guerendo had touched the ball in a game, this season.
Wisconsin then needed just two plays to score, when Kendric Pryor took a sweep, 26 yards in for the score.
Minnesota rebounded following the Pryor score and was able to get into a goal-to-go situation, but was unable to capitalize. Morgan tested Caesar Williams on back-to-back plays, as Williams was on coverage of Johnson.
Williams broke up passes on third and fourth down, putting the ball back in the hands of the Wisconsin offense, following a turnover on downs.
Williams broke up four passes in the game, and recorded his first interception of the season. Williams also leads the team in pass breaks up on the season, with nine.
Wisconsin did not waste the opportunity either, going on a 6-play, 96-yard drive, which was capped off by an 11-yard Taylor rushing score.
Garrett Groshek paced the drive, with a 70-yard reception, coming off a screen pass.
Wisconsin’s first four drives of the second half, all ended in touchdowns and took a total of 16 plays and covered 244 total yards.
Following a Morgan fumble, which was forced by Garrett Rand, Wisconsin scored a touchdown on it’s fifth consecutive drive of the game. Taylor scored his third touchdown of the game, to cap off the 18-yard drive.
Rand’s strip sack, was one of five sacks for Wisconsin, led by Zack Baun, who recorded two. With his two sacks, Baun joined Chris Orr with double-digit sacks on the season - this is the first time since 1996 that Wisconsin has had two players with double-digit sacks in a single season.
Minnesota would score one final touchdown in the game, as Morgan connected with Johnson in the end zone, on a 12-yard pass.
Wisconsin will face No. 1 Ohio State (12-0 overall, 9-0 B1G) in the B1G Championship Game next weekend in a rematch of the Oct. 26 game, that OSU won 38-7.