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3 things we learned from the Badgers 28-14 win over Minnesota

The Badgers pulled together a key victory in the final game of the regular season.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Minnesota Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

The Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Minnesota Golden Gophers 28-14 on Saturday, bringing the Axe Trophy back home for the first time in three years.

It was a vital victory for the Badgers, who had endured a stretch of losses prior to their comeback win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers last week, providing Wisconsin with a strong end to the year.

With the win, the Badgers end the regular season at 7-5 in Luke Fickell’s first season as the head coach, and face a crucial offseason ahead of them.

Here are three things we learned from the Badgers 28-14 win over Minnesota.

Badgers have toughness

After a deflating 24-10 loss to the Northwestern Wildcats, the Badgers were at a low point in their season, prompting players to call out their teammates for the lack of effort and energy.

One day later, the Badgers held a team meeting where players were able to voice their frustrations, both with the whole team and in their position groups.

The messaging seemed to work, as the Badgers showed true toughness against Nebraska last week, finding a way to win, despite several key players facing injuries.

Then, the Badgers pulled everything together and bounced back from a slow defensive start to comfortably beat Minnesota 28-14.

After the game, while relishing the victory, head coach Luke Fickell acknowledged that players did question the team’s toughness, which came out over the past two weeks.

“I don’t think they ever questioned who was on board,” Fickell said of his team. “I think they questioned the toughness. Maybe some of those guys said the heart. I mean, that’s the difference, right? I mean, there’s a difference to say who’s on board. There’s a difference when all of a sudden you get punched in the mouth and things are down to see what else you’re made of. And I think that since I’ve been here, it’s never been a question of what kind of locker room you got and how those guys care about each other.”

However, the team’s care and trust for each other ultimately allowed them to address the issues at hand and prevail from the struggles.

“I think at some point in time, like brothers, like, I got twins at home, and they’re going to fight, and they’re going to put each other’s head through a wall every now and then, and then they’re going to love each other when they get done,” Fickell said. “And sometimes in a locker room, you’ve got to keep and hold guys accountable and be honest with them. And I think that that, in my mind, maybe was a step to say, okay, someone is speaking out about what we need to do better as a team.”

“And at some point in time, like, I do it in team, you address it, you call people out, and you make sure that we recognize the things we got to do to move forward. But you can do that because there is such a brotherhood and such a connection in that locker room that those guys truly, deeply care about each other.”

Short-distance situations

Short-distance situations have plagued the Badgers all year, as they’ve struggled to convert with an approach primarily centered out of the shotgun.

Those struggles continued against Minnesota, as they failed to convert the following third-down situations: 3rd & 4, 3rd & 2, 3rd & 1, and 3rd & 4.

While execution can be chalked up to some of those issues, offensive coordinator Phil Longo will need to evaluate the issues and find ways to better convert in these short-distance situations.

Dating back to the full year, the Badgers have punted on several occasions in opponent territory due to those short-distance struggles, tempering their aggressiveness overall.

The ideal move would be to incorporate more under-center options, but Longo has been a staunch proponent of the shotgun formation throughout his career.

We’ll see if the Badgers are able to improve in the area next season.

Back to Nashville?

With the win, the Badgers improved their chances of earning a slightly better bowl opportunity, and there seems to be two primary options: The Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee, and the ReliaQuest Bowl, formerly known as the Outback Bowl, in Tampa, Florida.

The Badgers have been to the Music City Bowl once before in 2003, while participating in the Outback Bowl four times, with 2015 being the most recent appearance.

Looking at the Big Ten, Michigan seems like a lock for the College Football Playoff, while Ohio State seems unlikely to make it at the moment, which means they’ll be slotted for the Orange Bowl.

Penn State likely makes a New Years Six Bowl of their own after a 10-2 finish, ending the regular season as No. 10 in the AP Top 25.

Iowa, a significant underdog in the Big Ten Championship, seems primed for the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl on January 1st, should it lose to Michigan.

Maryland and Northwestern are the lone other 7-5 teams, with the latter sharing a 5-4 conference record with Wisconsin, while the former has a 4-5 record in the Big Ten.

The Badgers are a big draw, so it makes sense that they and Northwestern would be the two teams set for the Music City and ReliaQuest Bowls.

With championship week upon us, we’ll see where the Badgers ultimately end up bowling soon.