In a game that seemed all-but-destined for overtime, the Wisconsin Badgers (3-3), axed the Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-4) in overtime, 20-17, keeping Paul Bunyan’s Axe for another season.
Wisconsin, who has been fighting off injuries and unavailable players all season, was decimated once more on offense playing without RBs Nakia Watson and Jalen Berger. However, Wisconsin still got its best rushing performance of the season out of Garrett Groshek, who rushed for a career-high 154 yards on 24 carries, the first 100-yard rushing performance of his career.
Following a Tanner Morgan 16-yard touchdown pass to Cam Wiley to open the scoring in the game, Groshek capped off the following Wisconsin drive with a 39-yard rushing touchdown, his first of the season, which tied the game at seven a piece.
Coming into the game against the Gophers, Groshek had 30 carries for 105 yards in four games.
Immediately after the Groshek score, Minnesota looked poised to re-claim the lead but was unable to finish it’s 10-play 63-yard drive as Eric Burrell intercepted Morgan’s pass in the end zone, which was intended for Clay Geary. This was Burrell’s first interception on the season and the only turnover Wisconsin forced in the game.
Despite only forcing one turnover, the Wisconsin defense was stout once again, holding Minnesota to 326 total yards (180 passing, 146 rushing) and 4-of-11 on third down conversions.
Leading the charge in the game were Wisconsin linebackers Jack Sanborn, Nick Herbig, Noah Burks and Leo Chenal.
While Sanborn did not compile the tackle totals he usually does (five tackles in the game), he was still a force to be reckoned with on defense, with two quarterback hurries and there were countless times where he drew coverage away from his fellow defenders, so that they could make a play.
Benefiting most from Sanborn’s efforts was Leo Chenal, who finished with a game-high 13 tackles and had five for loss, culminating in 20 yards lost. Chenal also had two sacks in the game and a pass break up.
Basically, wherever the ball was, Chenal was not far away. Herbig recorded seven tackles, and Burks chipped in two, while breaking up a key pass in overtime.
One thing that did go right for Minnesota on offense was their star running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who rushed 26 times for 151 yards breaking a Minnesota school record of eight consecutive games with 100-plus rushing yards.
However, Ibrahim who finished the season with over 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns was not able to find the end zone against Wisconsin, who have only allowed one rushing touchdown this season, which leads the NCAA.
While Wisconsin’s defense was up to its usual ways, Wisconsin’s offense was still struggling to find its footing, finishing the game with 322 total yards of offense and 4-12 on third down conversions.
However, following a Minnesota field goal in the third quarter, Wisconsin seemed to have some momentum on offense with quarterback Graham Mertz connecting on a couple of deep passes to Jack Dunn and Jake Ferguson, moving Wisconsin down the field toward either the game-tying or go-ahead score.
However, whatever momentum Wisconsin seemed to have appeared to be gone as Mertz scrambled and took a hit to the helmet, diving to gain extra yardage. Following the hit, Mertz would leave the game, finishing 12-of-20 for 132 yards.
With Mertz in the medical tent, Chase Wolf entered the game at quarterback and wasted no time, picking up where Mertz left off, finding Jack Dunn in the end zone, on four-yard touchdown pass.
Dunn, who was Wisconsin’s most-tenured receiver in the game with Danny Davis III and Kendric Pryor out, recorded a career day with seven receptions for 76 yards to go along with his receiving touchdown.
Wisconsin would add a Collin Larsh 31-yard field goal on its following drive after forcing a three-and-out by Minnesota giving the Badgers a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter.
However that lead would quickly evaporate, as Tanner Morgan orchestrated a 12-play, 75 yard scoring drive that lasted nearly seven minutes. Morgan capped off the drive with a touchdown pass to Mike Brown-Stephens from nine yards out.
Following the game-tying score by the Gophers, Wisconsin would take over with 4:40 left in regulation with a chance to secure a victory.
Following an impressive start to the drive, Wisconsin seemed poised to score the go-ahead points, moving down the field with ease while running the ball and getting a little help from a defensive pass interference penalty.
Following back-to-back impressive runs by Groshek, going for nine and 10 yards, Wisconsin drew up a passing play which would prove costly. Wolf’s pass, intended for freshman Devin Chandler, was intercepted in the end zone giving Minnesota the ball back with just over a minute remaining in regulation.
Following the interception, Wisconsin’s defense kept Minnesota off the board, forcing overtime.
In overtime, Minnesota had the first crack at scoring, and nearly did so, had it not been for the effort of Burks, who leaped and nearly intercepted a Morgan pass on third and three.
Following the narrowly intercepted pass, Minnesota kicker Anders Gelencinskyj missed the go-ahead field, giving Wisconsin an opportunity to seal the game.
When Wisconsin got their chance in overtime, it was a steady diet of five consecutive Groshek runs, until Larsh eventually booted the 30-yard game-winner through the uprights.
The 20-17 overtime win, is the first overtime win in the series for Wisconsin since 1999 when Wisconsin also won 20-17 on the leg of Vitaly Pisetsky.