Upon Further Review: Badgers headed to Indy after inspired win over rival Minnesota
There’s no mistaking it: Wisconsin came to Minnesota to reclaim Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
After a slow start, the Badgers played with the urgency of an important game while Minnesota … didn’t. Wisconsin pulled out all the stops in its 38-17 victory over the Gophers, going for it on fourth downs, throwing downfield, pulling out a reverse on a kickoff and more.
Minnesota, meanwhile, decided to punt on a fourth-and-2 while at the Wisconsin 37 on its second possession (the Gophers wouldn’t cross midfield again until the third quarter) and later ran on third-and-10 to set up a field goal to cut UW’s lead to 17-10.
No surprise who emerged the victor, although it was a bit of a shock as how easily it turned out to be. Minnesota entered 10-1, was playing at home and still had hopes alive for making the College Football Playoff.
The Badgers had less to play for, but beating their rival and heading to Indianapolis as Big Ten West champions was enough.
Wisconsin, though, started out slowly. After opening with a three-and-out, the Gophers hit on a 51-yard touchdown pass on their second play. The Badgers trailed 7-0 after the first quarter and then lost a fumble early in the second.
But the Badgers picked up their aggressiveness and, tasking away a one-play drive to close the first half, scored on six consecutive possessions, with the last five touchdowns.
While the Gophers plugged up Jonathan Taylor early, but couldn’t contain him fully. Taylor finished with 76 yards rushing and 39 yards receiving while scoring three times. But Minnesota accounted so much for Taylor, it opened up the passing game – Jack Coan had a big day and Quintez Cephus had 114 yards receiving – as well as jet sweeps (Kendric Pryor had two for 32 yards including a 26-yard TD) and plays to the fullback (Mason Stokke finished with 44 total yards – 13 more than Gophers star running back Rodney Smith had — on three catches and two rushes.
Meanwhile, after allowing that early touchdown, Wisconsin’s defense clamped down. The Badgers recorded five sacks and limited Minnesota to 76 yards rushing on 30 carries. The Gophers wouldn’t get into the end zone again until the fourth quarter, when the game was out of hand.
This game was important to Wisconsin. And it showed.
Here’s a recap of Saturday’s game:
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Minnesota stacked the box and dared Jack Coan to beat him. The Wisconsin quarterback did just that. Coan completed 15 of 22 passes for 280 yards (the most for a Badgers QB in a win in Minnesota since 1995) with two touchdowns and also picked up 20 yards on the ground on three carries, including a first down on a fourth-and-2 sneak. While the Badgers had only three rushing chunk plays (10+ yards), Coan delivered on seven passing (15+ yards), including his two TDs, both great throws – one a 28-yarder down the right sideline to Taylor and the other a 47=yard strike to Cephus, who had two defenders beat by steps. Of Coan’s last eight passes, seven were complete (the lone incompletion was a drop by Taylor) and all went for 11+ yards. Coan finished with a career-best 205.1 passer rating, which also happened to be the highest rating for any Badgers QB in a win over a Big Ten team since Russell Wilson put up a 259.7 in 2011 … at Minnesota.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME
Wisconsin’s defense did a commendable job in holding down Minnesota. The Gophers, which had scored 30+ points in 10 of their 11 games, had a season-low 17 points. It was a group effort, but a pat on the back certainly goes to cornerback Caesar Williams. The junior intercepted a tipped pass in the second quarter with Wisconsin getting its first points of the game, a field goal, off the turnover. But his real kudos comes for the job he did on Tyler Johnson, who entered as the Gophers leader in catches and receiving yards. At the half, Johnson had only two receptions and after three quarters five for just 59 yards. Williams also had four passes broken up (more on a couple of those below). The five passes defensed tied for the second most for a Badgers player in a game and the most since his defensive coordinator, Jim Leonhard, had vie against Penn State on Sept. 25, 2004.
Wisconsin held a two-touchdown lead but as the third quarter wound down Minnesota had driven to the Badgers’ six-yard line. On Minnesota’s first play of the fourth quarter, on second-and-goal, Chris Orr stuffed Rodney Smith for no gain. The Gophers then tried to find Johnson in the end zone on back-to-back plays, but Williams broke up both (and on the fourth-down play, Johnson was just in front of the goal line and might not have made it into the end zone regardless). The Badgers were still in a precarious spot, buried deep in their own territory and soon facing a third-and-6. The Gophers blitzed and Wisconsin smartly called a screen to Garrett Groshek, who ran 70 yards to the Minnesota 11 – the longest pass play for the Badgers since 2014 – where Jonathan Taylor ran it in a play later to put UW up 21 and all but salt away the game.
Jonathan Taylor might have been held in check for much of the game but he did find the end zone three times – his 28-yard reception was a thing of beauty and put Wisconsin up for good 10-7. He later was the hammer, scoring two late rushing touchdowns to turn the game into a rout. The two rushing TDs propelled Taylor to sixth on Wisconsin’s all-time single-season list. With his receiving touchdowns, he now has 25 total TDs, which moved him past Brian Calhoun (2005) for third place on UW’s single-season total TDs list.
THEY SAID IT
“We came up here with one purpose and that was to win this game and bring the Axe back home. It took a lot of people, and I thought all three phases had a big hand in it.” — head coach Paul Chryst
“I thought Jack was really good. He saw the field well, and didn’t let the wind or the conditions affect how he was going to approach it, and obviously (his pass to Quintez Cephus) was big, kind of had that look right from the beginning that he was going to go attack this one. I thought he did a good job of giving guys chances, and the guys came through with it. He gave (Jonathan Taylor) a heck of a chance, and T made a heck of a catch on that one, had a couple of screens that ended up being big plays for us. We had a lot of guys contribute, but I thought Jack was really good.” – Chryst
“You look at the weather today, perfect Wisconsin football weather, able to go grind it down the field. And yet, he was able to throw dimes down the field in these conditions. He has something special.” — running back Jonathan Taylor on Coan
“I seen P.J. Fleck crouching on the sideline, he was looking at me and his No. 1 receiver. So that just gave me another sense to lock in (and) keep my eyes on my man. He’s not going to catch a ball on me.” — cornerback Caesar Williams on his two PBUs on Tyler Johnson in the end zone
“We just felt like they disrespected the Axe by renting it out to people, having anyone and everybody can touch it. It means more than that. … It’s not a little commodity or something that you can rent out for money or whatever the case is, trying to make profit out of it. I feel like that was disrespectful (that) they didn’t honor the players that came before. They also lied and said only the seniors can touch it – no, only the seniors chop – so we felt it was disrespectful for them to do that. So just a little disrespect back.” — linebacker Chris Orr on why UW simulated rowing a boat with Paul Bunyan’s Axe
The reward for beating Minnesota and representing the Big Ten West? A rematch with Ohio State, which trounced the Badgers 38-7 in Columbus earlier this year. The Buckeyes have visions of the College Football Playoff in their eyes and the Badgers are standing in their way. Led by quarterback Justin Fields, running back J.K. Dobbins and defensive end Chase Young, Ohio State has topped 40 points in nine of 12 games. The Buckeyes did allow a season-high 27 points in Saturday’s win over Michigan. Of course, they also scored 56. This will be no easy task for Wisconsin.