Upon Further Review: Gophers’ stellar regular season ends with thud vs. Wisconsin
When looking back at Minnesota’s 2019 regular season, no doubt it will be thought of as a stellar on. After all, the Gophers did reach double-digit wins for the first time since 1905.
Unfortunately, however, being designated as a special season likely went down the tubes Saturday as Minnesota flopped at home in the finale, falling 38-17 to rival Wisconsin.
It didn’t start out that way, though. Minnesota held Wisconsin to a three-and-out on the opening possession and then scored on a 51-yard pass on its second play from scrimmage and held a 7-0 lead after one quarter.
But things went downhill – way downhill — after that.
The offense, which has been so dynamic all year, went stagnant. On Minnesota’s second possession, it had fourth-and-2 from the Wisconsin 37-yard line and P.J. Fleck elected to punt. The Gophers wouldn’t cross midfield again until the opening drive of the third quarter.
Minnesota could never get the run game going, gaining just 76 yards on 30 carries (which includes five sacks). Fleck said an injury to right tackle Daniel Faalele was partially to blame, but there was more to it than that – including Fleck’s conservative approach, including the above punt example and later running on third-and-10 to set up a field goal to cut the deficit to 17-10.
The loss of Faalele certainly can’t explain the performance of the defense, which got lit up for 453 yards, the second most allowed by Minnesota this season. At one point, the Badgers scored touchdowns on four straight drives, two of which went 90+ yards.
Minnesota might not have needed a special performance to win Saturday, but the Gophers needed more than what they offered up. One team played like this game mattered more than anything else; the other like it was a late September game against a nonconference opponent.
The former got Paul Bunyan’s Axe. The latter could only be left to wonder what if.
Here’s a recap of Saturday’s game:
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Minnesota just couldn’t get the ball to Rashod Bateman enough. But when the wide receiver could get his hands on it, big things, as usual, happened. It was Bateman who got behind the defense on the Gophers’ second play for a 51-yard touchdown. He had two other catches of 20+ yards – 20 and 27 – to account for Minnesota’s three longest passing plays in the game. Despite the outcome, Bateman continues to be a revelation this season.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME
You have to give Kamal Martin some credit. He came in hurting – and then had to leave this game due to an injury. But he returned and ended with nine tackles, tying for the team high.
As the third quarter came to an end, Minnesota was putting itself into position to make it a one-touchdown game. The Gophers drove down to the eight and after Mohamed Ibrahim ran to the six, the quarter ended. And soon, so did Minnesota’s chances. Rodney Smith was stuffed for no gain. Morgan then twice tried to his Tyler Johnson in the end zone and both times the pass was broken up (although on the fourth-down play, Johnson was just in front of the goal line and might not have scored regardless). Wisconsin then drove 96 yards – 70 coming on a third-and-6 screen – to push its lead to 21 and effectively putting the game away.
Minnesota did get one more touchdown, a 12-yard pass from Morgan to Johnson. While it was only noteworthy for providing the game’s final margin, for Johnson it meant much more. It was his 31st career receiving touchdown, tying Ron Johnson for the most in Gophers history.
When #Gophers Tyler Johnson scored his 31st TD the 1st person to jump on me and scream “31 BABY!!!” was his dad. I’ve watch Tyler since HS so to see him do what he has done the past 4 yrs I couldn’t be more proud of him. #Legend
— Ron Johnson (@3RonJohnson) December 1, 2019
THEY SAID IT
“We did not play our best football today, and that 100 percent falls on me. My message to them was how proud I am of them. We’re 10-2 in the regular season, first time to win 10 games since 1905. Nobody wants to hear that right now, but I made sure they understood that they are co-champions. We don’t get to go to Indy, but we’re co-Big Ten West Champions.” — head coach P.J. Fleck
“We lost Daniel (Faalele) early, and that was hard to overcome. A lot of the stuff we had talked about and planned for had six offensive linemen where we’d be able to have different personnel and different groupings with him and being able to add that sixth lineman would’ve been the best opportunity for us to be able to move the ball and score points. We lost him, and we have to give them credit for getting after Tanner all day and put pressure on him from all different areas.” – Fleck
“It’s gonna sting for a while. It does not feel good. But this team will respond.” — quarterback Tanner Morgan
“Our details on that play worked and we were having fun out there. After that, I felt like the offense lost control of our details.” – wide receiver Rashod Bateman on his touchdown and what happened after that
While Minnesota’s trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game was waylaid, the Gophers will still play in one more game. They’ll await their fate next week when bowl games are announced, but the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl is a possibility.