No. 5 Wisconsin Finishes Perfect Regular Season with 31-0 Win over Minnesota
November 25, 2017

Wisconsin beat Minnesota 31-0 to finish its regular season 12-0. It will play Ohio State next week in the Big Ten title game and, if victorious, will hope to be among the top four teams in the country with a chance to play for the national championship.

Minnesota, in its first year under coach P. J. Fleck, ended a 5-7 season, with only two of those wins in the conference. Fleck praised the Badgers, rated fifth in the polls, as “disciplined, deep, and talented,” while saying, “We ran out of people. We’re not deep enough.”

The Badgers built a 17-0 lead in the first half without relying too heavily on freshman sensation Jonathan Taylor, who leads the Big Ten and is third nationally with 150.6 rushing yards per game. Taylor carried up the middle for 13 yards on the first play from scrimmage and followed with a 6-yard run. However, he picked up only 22 more net yards on 10 carries the rest of the half.

Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst relied on a bevy of running backs, including fullback Austin Ramesh, who had the biggest play of the half, a third-down, 41-yard run that led to the Badgers’ first touchdown that set up a field goal for a 10-0 lead.

Quarterback Alex Hornibrook completed 15 of 19 passes for 151 yards in the game, including five completions on a 73-yard drive for the Badgers first touchdown. The final pass was a one-yard toss on play-action to tight-end Troy Fumagalli with 24 seconds left in the first quarter.

Midway through the second quarter, Taylor fumbled at midfield, and Kamal Martin recovered for the Gophers. The dominant Wisconsin defense came through as linebacker Ryan Connelly sacked Demry Croft for a loss of 12 yards on the next play.

With under a minute left in the half, Hornibrook hit another of his tight ends, Kyle Penniston for a five-yard touchdown.

To this point, Minnesota was without a first down, but Rodney Smith ran for 25 yards on the Gophers subsequent possession. Minnesota moved to the Wisconsin 28 and called time out with 3 seconds left, only to have Emmit Carpenter miss a 46-yard field goal.

Croft completed only one pass in the half, which came on a pitch to Smith on an option on which the running back was slightly in front of the quarterback.

On Minnesota’s first possession of the second half, Croft passed to Will Reger, who made his first career college reception and ran down the first sideline for a 26-yard gain to the Wisconsin 33. The Badgers—who lead the country in rushing defense (79.4 yards per game) and are second in total defense (246.4)—responded by stuffing Kobe McCrary for a two-yard loss and having Connelly sack Croft for a loss of 12 for the second time.

Wisconsin got the ball back after a punt, and Taylor took the load on an 80-yard drive with five rushes for 38 yards. Hornibrook finished it off with his third touchdown pass, this one for five yards to Danny Davis.

It was all Taylor on the Badgers’ next drive. He carried twice for 17 yards as the third quarter ended. On the first play of the fourth quarter, burst through a hole off right-tackle and raced down the sideline for a 53-yard touchdown run and a 31-0 lead.

The 3-play, 70-yard drive finished the scoring and also Taylor’s day with 149 yards on 20 carries.

Even with Wisconsin reserves in on defense, Minnesota couldn’t score, although the Gophers advanced into Wisconsin territory for only the second time, only to have Carpenter miss a 48-yard field-goal attempt.

Wisconsin gained 456 yards from scrimmage to 133 for Minnesota.

“The outcome wasn’t what we wanted, and that again falls 100 percent on me,” said Fleck as, in usual fashion, he took responsibility for the team’s shortcomings without being specific.

“The one thing I love about games,” Fleck went on, “we are exactly where we are. We got exactly what our work deserves.”

Fleck said the upcoming off-season will be “incredibly important to us” with practice, drills, and strength and conditioning. “The guys who stay are going to be champions.”

Gopher Holes: After scoring 54 points against Nebraska two weeks ago, Minnesota was shut out in its final two games (the Gophers lost 39-0 at Northwestern last week).

Wisconsin has won its last 14 games against Minnesota and 21 of the last 23. The win put the Badgers ahead in the series, 60 to 59 with 8 ties, for the first time ever.

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