Wilson, Ball Lead Badgers Past Gophers 42-13
November 12, 2011

Senior quarterback Russell Wilson completed 16 of 17 passes and 4 touchdown, and Wisconsin rushed for more than 300 yards as the 16th-ranked Badgers defeated Minnesota 42-13. Montee Ball led the ground game with 166 yards, scoring twice on runs and once on a pass, while backup James White rushed for 87. Nick Toon had 8 catches for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns.

“We’re in the construction phase of getting back to where we want to be,” said Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema. The Badgers’ only two losses came in back-to-back road games, a loss at Michigan State on a game-ending pass and the other at Ohio State on a touchdown with 20 seconds left. “We prepped well all week. Anytime you’re on the road, obviously we’ve learned first-hand the past couple opportunities, you have to play a four-quarter game.”

The losses left Wisconsin tied for second place at 3-2 with Ohio State in the Big Ten Leaders Division, with Penn State on top coming into Saturday’s games. Penn State culminated a week dominated by the news of child abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, which resulted in the firing of Joe Paterno. The Nittany Lions, in their final home game of the season, lost to Nebraska for its first loss at about the same time that Ohio State was beaten in overtime by Purdue. Wisconsin will play Penn State in two weeks, and now has control of its destiny in the division.

Although the Penn State and Ohio State games finished before the start of the Wisconsin-Minnesota game, Bielema said he wasn’t aware of the outcomes until halftime. He still held the news from his team, wanting them to focus on Minnesota.

Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in most offensive categories, and Wilson leads the nation in several areas, coming into the game with 11.1 yards per passing attempts, 15.5 yards per completion, and 33 games with at least one touchdown pass. Wilson’s only incompletion came on his last pass, in the third quarter, when he appeared to connect on a long pass downfield to Toon, who couldn’t hang on to the ball as he hit the ground.

To this point, Wilson had been perfect, covering 178 yards in the air. Minnesota coach Jerry Kill called Wilson a “difference maker.” Wilson read the Minnesota defense well, combating early blitzes by the Gophers with play-action calls and a mix of runs and passes.

Wisconsin culminated an opening 81-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Ball, who ran for a 14-yard touchdown on the next drive for a 14-0 lead.

The Badgers then took advantage of a 4-yard punt, one that took a Wisconsin bounce, by Dan Orseske to get the ball at their own 44. Wilson connected with Toon for a 9-yard touchdown, on the first play of the second quarter.

The Gophers, who had had only eight offensive plays (including punts), then mounted their only sustained drive of the game at got to the Wisconsin 5. On fourth down, with Minnesota lined up for a field goal, holder Adam Lueck took the snap and shoveled a pass back to kicker Jordan Wettstein, who stiff-armed Antonio Fenelus and followed a block by Collin McGarry into the end zone. However, Wettstein was wide to the left with his point-after attempt, leaving the Gophers down 21-6.

Later in the quarter, Fenelus intercepted a MarQueis Gray pass at the Wisconsin 22. Gray had John Rabe wide open, but his pass hung long enough for Fenelus to pick it off. It took the Badgers only five plays to reach the end zone as Wilson, with the Gophers blitzing, hooked up with Toon for a 17-yard score in the final minute of the half for a 28-6 lead.

The Gophers opened the second half with a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Duane Bennett, but the Badgers answered again, scoring on a 3-yard play-action pass from Wilson to tight-end Jacob Pedersen, who was alone in the end zone.

The Badgers’ final scoring drive, in the fourth quarter, was all on the ground with White carrying once, for 17 yards, and Ball covering the other 33 yards, finishing with a 3-yard touchdown run.

The Gophers came into the game with a sense of optimism, having beaten Iowa two weeks before and then losing by only a touchdown on the road to a tough Michigan State team. Kill said that they never got into a rhythm on offense. Gray was bothered by a back injury suffered at Michigan State and also became the father of twins the night before. “We did not execute, and they did,” said Kill.

Gopher Holes: Minnesota leads its series with Wisconsin 58-54-8, but the Badgers have won the last eight games in the 121-game rivalry, the most-played games between two teams in college football.

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