You truly do love to see the joy on the faces of the players after a big win. Even though Minnesota and Wisconsin have both had difficult seasons, winning a rivalry game is always a big deal. The Badgers lost to Iowa and that freaking sucked. Losing to Minnesota somehow would’ve been worse.
In a season with as many obstacles as this one contained, seeing the Wisconsin Badgers players so happy after this game made you feel good about the world, if only for a little bit. Here is what Owen, Neal, Ryan and Belz thought about the game:
In your mind, what play was the most pivotal to get the Badgers the win over the Gophers?
Ryan: Eric Burrell’s interception was huge. Following Groshek’s score, Minnesota mounted an impressive 10-play drive and was poised to take the lead. Burrell getting the turnover there, was a real momentum killer for the Gophers.
Owen: Chase Wolf’s touchdown pass to Jack Dunn to go up 14-10 was so huge. Obviously it gave Wisconsin the lead, but not settling for a field goal when the offense has been SO bad over the past month was massive. When Graham Mertz was finally getting some momentum going and then went down with the head injury, that could have taken all of the wind out of the sails. Every program in the country preaches the next man up mentality but for Chase Wolf to come in and make that play was incredible.
Belz: I think Eric Burrell’s interception in the second quarter was an absolutely crucial moment in the game. Minnesota was marching the ball on the Badgers that drive, and went from taking a 14-7 lead, to allowing Wisconsin to flip the field. In a game that was low scoring and every score counted, for Burrell to step up and take points off the board for Minnesota was huge.
Neal: I agree with Owen. Chase Wolf coming in cold on third and goal and delivering a dime to Jack Dunn was huge. The Badgers finally put together a scoring drive. Coming away with only three points, combined with Mertz injury, that entire sequence could have deflated all positive vibes Wisconsin had fought and clawed for all game. Instead, the touchdown gave them their first lead since playing Michigan.
I feel like Garrett Groshek is the obvious choice for a game ball on offense, so let’s talk about Groshek overall. What did he bring to the table on Saturday that was so impressive?
Ryan: Groshek brought grit on Saturday. He ran hard and fought for every inch. His 39-yard run was a perfect example of that. He hit the hole hard and never looked back with a Jonathan Taylor-esque touchdown run. The performance was something Wisconsin’s been missing all season. He definitely closed out his tenure at Camp Randall in style, with the first 100-yard game of his career.
Owen: “Those who stay will be champions” is a term thrown around at a lot of football programs, but for a fifth year former walk-on from in-state to play like that in his final game at Camp Randall, where he also won his final high school game, had to be an amazing feeling for Groshek. He was everything the Badgers needed on Saturday. Paul Chryst says it after almost every win but the Badgers “needed everyone” yesterday.
Belz: Groshek really ran hard. The long touchdown run he had was beautifully blocked and he took advantage, but most of his other runs were between the tackles and he was not only quick in and out of his cuts, but also strong to move the pile. You have to really be happy for him to finish off his career at Camp Randall that way.
Neal: Groshek does a lot of good things and has been a key part to Badgers offensive success over the past few seasons. Yesterday was the first game in which he was called upon to be the lead back. It is impossible to overstate how difficult it is to make the transition to primary ball carrier from third down back. Going from 10-15 touches combined rushing and receiving when the defense isn’t stacked against the run to grinding out 24 rush attempts against a loaded box is not something all players could handle.
What did the Wisconsin defense do to make things tough on Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan?
Ryan: They brought the pressure. Wisconsin’s linebackers brought the noise too, especially Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal. Sanborn had a couple of QB hurries and paved the way for Leo Chenal, who was an absolute force, tallying 13 tackles, five for loss and two sacks.
Owen: They forced Minnesota to be one dimensional as about the only pass game the Gophers could get going was glances off of RPOs. The defensive line did a great job muddying up the front and allowing Sanborn and Chenal to clean up, exactly as the scheme is designed.
Belz: LEO CHENAL! That kid was an absolute force. He made Morgan and that entire offense uncomfortable all game long. Chenal tallied 13 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble, and he nearly had an interception when he dropped in coverage. He was all over the field and Morgan had to account for him at all times.
Neal: Jimmy Leonard’s game plan was sound as always, but credit definitely goes to the players, specifically the defensive line for executing. Chenal and Sanborn understandably get a lot of the attention with tackles for loss and general distribution. But Garret Rand, Isaiah Loudermilk, Keeanu Benton and company were fantastic in eating up blocks to allow the linebackers clear lanes to fill.
Which win during Saturday’s Trifecta of Wisconsin wins was your favorite?
Ryan: While the basketball team played its best basketball of the year and crushed Louisville, I have to say the Badger football team’s win. For this team to go out and play the way they did after dropping three straight, it really showed their grit in winning a hard-fought rivalry game to end a tumultuous season.
Owen: As I’ve gotten older (certainly not matured), I’ve attempted to remove fandom from my sports experiences just in an attempt to see things objectively, but Wisconsin football is something I can’t kick. I don’t understand how adults can have their days ruined if the Packers lose, for example, but I definitely had a smile on my face watching the players celebrate after the game. College football is special.
Belz: I loved seeing how excited and happy the football team was after getting a much needed win, but the way the basketball team played is my answer. The Badgers put together their best all-around performance of the season. The offense was crisp and the ball movement led to some great shooting from three. The defense was very active and forced a bunch of turnovers. That was the basketball team that folks hoped they would see entering the season.
Neal: It is tempting to go with the basketball win, but Louisville not having Carlik Jones takes away slightly from their performance. The football team got a much needed feel-good win to finish the regular season. Whether injury or Covid, the Badgers were often forced into playing younger players(who missed out on spring football and a complete fall training camp) and the growing pains were real. A win in a rivalry game is a nice reward for a trying season. Not too mention retaining the Axe is always noteworthy.
Do you want to see the Badgers play in a bowl game this year? (FYI, this question was asked before the bowl game announcement.)
Ryan: I love seeing Badger football on my television and I would love for these players to get another opportunity to play, after missing out on so many chances to play this season. If the team decides they want to play, then I am all for it.
Owen: Absolutely. As long as the players want to, it’s their career not ours.
Belz: Selfishly, sure. The more football the better. I’ll defer to the team to make that decision though. After all it’s their health and well being that is most important, and I will support their choice either way.
Neal: I’ll echo everyone else’s thoughts here, if the players want to play they absolutely should. Despite all the unfortunate circumstances we have endured this year, the joy on the field after the game was a good reminder of the positive impact sports can bring.