Gophers pin their hopes on QB Nelson

MADISON, Wis. — In what turned into a lopsided 38-13 loss for the University of Minnesota football team, the Gophers struggled in almost all facets of the game against Wisconsin. With the loss, Minnesota now falls to 4-3 on the season and 0-3 in the Big Ten. Here is the report card from Saturday’s game at Camp Randall Stadium.

Running offense: D-plus
Outside of quarterback Philip Nelson, there was really no running game to speak of for Minnesota. Nelson accounted for 67 of the Gophers’ 96 rushing yards. Freshman running back Rodrick Williams had 20 yards on just six carries, while dinged up running back Donnell Kirkwood gained eight yards on five carries. Williams’ longest run of the game went for eight yards. K.J. Maye and Derrick Engel each registered one carry. As Minnesota fell behind in the second half, the running game became even more of a non-factor.

Passing offense: C-plus
True freshman Philip Nelson was thrown into the fire Saturday, as he made his first career start in place of the dinged up MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell. Nelson and the Gophers offense got off to a slow start, going 3-and-out on their first two drives. But Nelson found a rhythm when he hit Brandon Green for a 16-yard score that capped a 65-yard drive. Nelson finished 13-for-24 for 149 yards and two touchdowns, but the freshman was also intercepted twice. He completed passes to six different receivers Saturday, with Green, A.J. Barker and Gray each hauling in three catches.

Running defense: D-minus
This had been an area of concern for the Gophers through two Big Ten games, and the Badgers only added to Minnesota’s troubles against the run. Wisconsin compiled 337 rushing yards on 54 carries. Junior running back James White had the game of the day for the Badgers, gaining 175 yards on just 15 carries — an average of 11.7 yards per carry. His three touchdowns came from 14, 34 and 48 yards out. Meanwhile, former Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball finished with 166 rushing yards despite a slow start (35 yards at halftime). He also scored twice on runs of 14 and 44 yards.

Passing defense: A-minus
With Wisconsin committing to the run for most of the game, Badgers freshman quarterback Joel Stave wasn’t forced to throw much. He had just 15 attempts, connecting on seven passes for 106 yards. Minnesota’s defensive line came up with two big sacks on one drive that took the Badgers out of field goal range, as D.L. Wilhite and Ra’Shede Hageman each had a sack. Cornerback Michael Carter had perhaps his best game of the year, playing tight coverage all day. He was credited with two pass breakups. The only hiccup for the Gophers’ pass defense was a 42-yard completion from Stave to wide receiver Jared Abbrederis that set up Wisconsin’s first touchdown.

Special teams: C
Kicker Jordan Wettstein was a perfect 17-for-17 in extra point attempts this season before missing one after the Gophers’ first touchdown of the day. With his miss, Minnesota trailed 7-6 in the first quarter. Wettstein also missed a 51-yard field goal at the end of the first half that appeared to go over the upright but was ruled no good. Punter Christian Eldred did not have his best day, as he averaged just 36 yards per punt on seven punts. He failed to pin the Badgers inside their own 20 on any of his seven kicks. Despite forcing five Wisconsin punts, the Gophers only returned two of them for a total of 20 yards.

Overall: C-minus
Minnesota came into the game as the underdog, but went into halftime down just 14-6. Once the third quarter began, though, it was all Wisconsin as the Badgers offense wore down Minnesota’s defense. It was a learning experience for Nelson in his first career start at quarterback, and he’ll continue to grow the rest of the season. Minnesota now looks to stop its three-game losing streak when it hosts Purdue next Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

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