Joel Stave shakes off cold weather, gets hot in third quarter
NOV 23, 2013 9:55p ET
Before orchestrating a drive that virtually sealed the game, the Wisconsin quarterback simply told himself to stay the course.
"I'm always trying to stay positive, not get down on myself regardless of the situation," Stave said. "I wasn't sitting there telling myself 'you've got to have a big half,' or whatever. I was just saying 'stay focused, stay confident, just keep moving the ball and let the game kind of come to you.'"
He did just that on a 12-play, 83-yard, 7:05 possession on an otherwise dull, gray, freezing day for the sophomore signal caller. Stave completed all six of his passes on the drive, the last a 2-yard out to Jared Abbrederis in the back of the end zone that gave the Badgers a 20-7 lead with 7:55 left in the third quarter.
The TCF Bank Stadium video board showed that same score until the clock hit zeros and Wisconsin claimed Paul Bunyan's Axe for a 10th straight year.
Stave connected on 16 of his 26 attempts on the day for 127 yards. He was 6-for-16 for 44 yards in the first half, as the Gophers' stout front four pressured him often and forced him into an interception to Aaron Hill. The linebacker returned it 39 yards for Minnesota's only points on the day.
An 18-degree game-time temperature -- the fourth-coldest in Wisconsin history and coldest in TCF Bank Stadium history -- got to Stave, he admitted. But he was able to regroup enough to put together one clock-chewing drive that included two third-down conversions.
The Badgers defense did the rest.
"It was good to see Joel be able to get that done," coach Gary Andersen said. "I wouldn't say I was surprised. You make adjustments at halftime, and you try to take advantage of it."
Stave found Abbrederis seven times for 67 yards, including two 21-yarders on the marquee third-quarter jaunt. Abbrederis didn’t catch a pass last week against Indiana, primarily a product of Wisconsin's ground-focused approach.
He dropped a sure touchdown in the second quarter after beating Gophers cornerback Eric Murray on a deep post, but that was his only outstanding snafu on the day.
"On offense, you've got to take what the defense is giving you," said Abbrederis, who moved to second on Wisconsin's all-time receiving yardage and receiving touchdown (tie) lists. "Last week, we didn't have to throw it too much, so we didn't."
Borland's big game: Chris Borland gave Andersen yet another opportunity to herald his star linebacker as the best in the land.
The hard-hitting senior linebacker finished with a game-high 12 total tackles, forced and recovered one fumble, and pounced on another when Brendan Kelly stripped Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson. Borland ranked third in the Big Ten in total tackles coming in and, per usual, never strayed far from the football while it was in the Gophers' possession.
"I'm biased," Andersen said. "I think he's the best linebacker in the country."
Borland's biggest stop came in the fourth quarter, when Nelson found running back David Cobb on a five-yard out on fourth down. With plenty of open field surrounding him, the two-time first-team Big Ten selection swallowed up Cobb immediately and forced a turnover on downs with 4:52 to go.
Minnesota didn't regain possession.
"I don't really go in with a number (of tackles) in mind," Borland said. "They kind of called for a lot of tackles for inside linebackers today, because (the Gophers) run a lot of power, a lot of inside runs. We played well as a defense, and I just did my role."
Borland tore the ball away from Cobb and pounced on it himself in the third quarter for his 14th career fumble recovery. That tied a Big Ten record and would've set an all-time FBS mark if Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack's hadn't hit 15 earlier this week.
With Penn State on the docket next Saturday and a bowl game after that, there's still time for Borland to surpass Mack, but he's not too concerned about it.
"I don't think they're doing a flag ceremony for forced fumbles," Borland joked with reporters.
Seeing White: Badgers running back James White produced the bulk of Wisconsin's ground yardage Saturday, carrying 26 times for 125 yards and a 1-yard touchdown. Backfield counterpart Melvin Gordon rushed for 69 yards on 12 attempts -- a better per-rush average (5.8 to 4.8) but less of a workload.
Despite facing a loaded box and an aggressive Gophers front seven, White surpassed the century mark for the fifth time in the past six games. In each of the last five, he's carried at least 19 times.
No signs of wear yet, he said.
"I'm feeling fine," White said with a grin. "I'm just doing whatever I can to help my team win."
White's short scoring scamper capped a five-play, 49-yard drive that gave Wisconsin the lead for good with 3:14 left in the second quarter. The first time he touched the ball, he went 49 yards to set up Jack Russell's first-quarter field goal.
What the fake?: Andersen seemed a little embarrassed by the Badgers' failed fake field goal early in the fourth quarter.
After Wisconsin drove to Minnesota's 26-yard line, punter/holder Drew Meyer lined up behind center on fourth-and-2 and, instead of gathering the Badgers for a kick, took the snap and threw a lateral to tight end Sam Arneson in the left flat. Gophers defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman stuffed him for a 7-yard loss, and Minnesota drove to the Badgers' 32 before turning the ball over on downs.
"It's just a reactionary call by me," Andersen said. "We've carried it (in our playbook) for weeks and weeks and weeks. ... It sure didn't look good today, so that one will be scratched off the play list for quite a while."
It wasn't Wisconsin's only special-teams gaffe on the day. Russell made field goals of 31 and 20 yards -- the second with 3 seconds left in the second quarter -- but hooked a 38-yard attempt wide left.
Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter