Wisconsin Offense and Defense Too Much for Gophers; Badgers Win 48-12
Saturday, October 14, 2006

The story of the Minnesota Gophers’ 48-12 loss at Wisconsin was established on their first possession: an encouraging start quickly wiped out by disaster. Bryan Cupito hit Matt Spaeth with an opening-play 16-yard gain. Amir Pinnix carried twice for another first down. Pinnix took the ball again, was corralled after three yards by linebacker Mark Zalewski, then blindsided by lineman Jason Chapman, causing a fumble that was scooped up by Jack Ikegwuonu and returned 50 yards for a Wisconsin touchdown.

“The football is precious,” said Minnesota coach Glen Mason. “You’ve got to protect it.” Mason also spoke of the momentum the Badgers got from the fumble return.

Minnesota got another two first downs on its next drive but then stalled and had to punt. “We never seem to get that momentum,” said Mason of what happened after Wisconsin’s fumble return. “Once they got it, we had a hard time slowing it down let alone getting it back.”

P. J. Hill of Wisconsin running against MinnesotaOne of the reasons for Wisconsin keeping the momentum was the running if its redshirt-freshman sensation from Brooklyn, P. J. Hill, who had rushed for 245 yards the preceding week in the Badgers’ 41-9 win over Northwestern. Against the Gophers, the Badgers gave the ball on their first five plays to Hill, who covered 41 yards. Dywon Rowan then came in to give Hill a breather on the next series and was pulled down for a two-yard loss by Willie Van De Steeg. After an incomplete pass, Wisconsin faced third-and-12 when John Stocco, a native of Richfield, Minnesota, connected with Luke Swan, who came within inches of a first down. Hill returned for the fourth-down play and ran around right end for a 28-yard gain down to the Minnesota 5. On the next play, Hill started left, then cut back through the line and into the end zone. The Badgers had a 14-0 lead with Hill covering 78 yards on the 87-yard drive.

Pinnix had started Minnesota’s next drive with a 27-yard run and, after an incomplete pass, went up the middle for 22 yards, being stopped only after running into teammate Logan Payne. However, the Gophers could come away only with a 37-yard field goal by Jason Giannini.

Pinnix ended the first quarter with 77 yards, only four short of what Hill had, but the Gophers trailed 14-3.

Minnesota did a better job against the run in the second quarter, but, by pulling its safeties up, allowed Wisconsin to open up its passing game. Hill was held to eight yards on four carries on the Badgers’ first drive of the quarter, but Stocco was able to complete passes of 13 yards to Jarvis Minton and Travis Beckum for 24. On a third-and-7 from the Minnesota 8, Luke Swan hauled in a Stocco pass in the right corner of the end zone, a scoring play that held up after a review to make sure that Swan had come down in bounds.

Hill was the primary weapon for Wisconsin’s final touchdown of the half. His runs weren’t long but were steady as he covered 27 yards on seven carries before Stocco found Andy Crooks alone in the end zone for a two-yard touchdown with just under two minutes to play. The Badgers got the ball back in time for another drive and almost scored again. However, Stocco barely overthrew Paul Hubbard in the end zone on a fourth-and-9 from the Gophers’ 34. Still, the Badgers went into the locker room with a 28-3 lead.

Rather than come out conservatively in the second half, the Badgers took to the air. Stocco hit Beckum over the middle for a 41-yard gain. Beckum would have scored if not for a touchdown-saving tackle by Trumaine Banks, who broke his arm on the play. The tackle by Banks, a senior who ended his collegiate career on the play, was not only costly, it was essentially in vain; on the next play, Beckum hauled in a 40-yard pass for a touchdown, beating Banks’s replacement, Desi Steib.

A pair of Wisconsin sacks, by Chapman and Matt Shaughnessy, flanked an incomplete pass by Cupito, and the Gophers quickly had to punt the ball back to Wisconsin. Hill had runs of 11 and 19 yards on the next drive and then two the ball into the end zone from two yards out, putting him one yard short of 1,000 for the season and giving Wisconsin another touchdown.

This score, however, turned out to be only a 4-point net gain for the Badgers. The snap on the point-after attempt was low and squibbed away from holder Ken DeBauche. Kicker Taylor Mehlhaff scooted to his left and DeBauche, after picking up the ball, tried to throw to him. The end-over-end pass floated in the air, and Minnesota’s Mario Reese stepped in front of Mehlhaff, grabbed the ball, and took off for 90 yards down the right sideline for a defensive point-after worth two points to the Gophers. Reese completed his run with a somersault into the end zone, a celebratory move hardly worth the effort as the Gophers still trailed by 36 points.

Hill hit the 1,000 mark on his next carry, then added 11 more before coming out of the game with a total of 164 yards on the ground. The teams exchanged punts, and the Gophers finally got a break when Swan, after catching a pass at his own 27, dropped the ball while trying to twist away from Keith Massey, who recovered and returned the fumble five yards. Minnesota turned it into a score after a pass-interference penalty on the Badgers on a fourth-down play from the 3. On the next play, Pinnix ran the ball in for the offense’s only touchdown of the game. It was Pinnix’s final run of the game, and it gave him 100 yards for the afternoon.

Wisconsin completed the scoring on its next driving, capping an 87-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown pass from Stocco to Beckum.

Wisconsin improved its overall record to 6-1, 2-1 in the Big Ten, in front of a homecoming crowd of 82,010. Minnesota remained winless in conference play, dropping to 0-4 with a 2-5 overall record.

Mason said he told the players that the loss was on “my shoulders. I just feel like we should be playing better than that. That’s my responsibility.” The coach said he was also disappointed by the defense’s inability to stop Wisconsin on third-down plays. “That’s been a focus of ours, and we didn’t get it done.”

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