Wisconsin wins 20-7 as Minnesota offense stalls
The Sports Xchange
MINNEAPOLIS -- For much of one half, Minnesota made the game competitive, despite its offense being stuck in neutral.
But then Minnesota mistakes coupled with Wisconsin's might turned the game into a familiar result in front of a record 53,090 fans at chilly TCF Bank Stadium.
Down 7-3 early in the second quarter, the Badgers (9-2 overall, 6-1 Big Ten) scored the game's next 17 points in a 20-7 victory, one that ended Minnesota's four-game conference winning streak.
The Badgers beat the Gophers (8-3, 4-3) -- maintaining possession of the Paul Bunyan Axe trophy -- for the 10th straight time.
Quarterback Joel Stave completed 16 of 26 passes for 127 yards and a score for the Badgers. Running back James White carried 26 times for 125 of Wisconsin's 197 rushing yards.
Down 7-3 after Minnesota linebacker Aaron Hill's 39-yard interception for a touchdown less than two minutes into the second quarter, the Badgers hit another gear. They turned Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson's fumble into a touchdown, his intentional grounding into great field position, a field goal and a 13-7 halftime lead.
And then Stave completed all six of his passes for 68 yards in a 12-play, 83-yard drive to start the third quarter that gave the Badgers a 20-7 lead on White's 2-yard touchdown run.
Nelson completed 7 of 23 passes for just 83 passing yards and had one of the Gophers' three fumbles, two of which were recovered by Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland. The Gophers finish their regular season next week at Michigan State.
The way the game started it looked like it might be all Badgers. The Gophers' first possession ended with a punt, and Wisconsin's first play was a 49-yard run by White to the Gophers' 12-yard line.
But then the Gophers decided to make it a game. The defense held, forcing a field goal, and a very tightly contested first half was under way.
The teams traded punts until, from first down on the Wisconsin 41, Nelson's 9-yard pass to Maxx Williams ended with Williams' fumble on the 32.
But three players later, Gophers defensive end Michael Amaefula hit Stave as he threw, and his pass wound up in the hands of Hill, who returned the interception 39 yards for a touchdown and a 7-3 Gophers lead.
The Gophers had the momentum. After forcing a Wisconsin punt, Nelson led the Gophers from their 24 to the Wisconsin 36 where, on third down, he was hit by Brendan Kelly and fumbled. It was recovered at the Minnesota 49, and the Badgers moved crisply for a score, going up 10-3 on White's 1-yard run with 3:14 left in the half.
Nelson's intentional grounding penalty forced a punt from the end zone, and the Badgers took over at the Minnesota 23 and moved to a first-and-goal at the 3 as the clocked ticked down. But again the Gophers held, with Cedrick Thompson tipping Stave's pass to Derek Watt. Jack Russell's second field goal of the day made it 13-7 at the half