Wisconsin Dominates Minnesota 38-17 to Advance to Big Ten Title Game
November 30, 2019

ESPN’s College GameDay made its first appearance in Minnesota, with thousands of students and supporters turning out early on Northrup Mall. Many of those continued their day as part of a sellout crowd at TCF Bank Stadium for the biggest Minnesota Gophers game, perhaps since 1960. The day ended in disappointment as the Wisconsin Badgers rolled over Minnesota 38-17. Both teams finished their regular seasons with 10-2 overall records, 7-2 in the conference. By virtue of winning the head-to-head matchup, the Badgers will go to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game, against undefeated Ohio State.

The Rose Bowl or even a berth in the national championship series were possibilities for the Gophers, whose only loss came two weeks earlier at Iowa. The Badgers, in addition to a 38-7 loss at Ohio State, had been upset by Illinois. But success was still possible for Wisconsin, along with the return of Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the traveling trophy that Minnesota had won last year for the first time since 2004.

“The goal is to maximize your season,” said Badgers coach Paul Chryst after the game. “Live in that moment and that moment is each week.”

The first “moment” of the game belonged to Minnesota. On the Gophers’ second play from scrimmage, Tanner Morgan hung in during a blitz and fired a pass into the hands of Rashod Bateman, who had beaten cornerback Semar Melvin for a 51-yard touchdown.

The Minnesota defense stopped Wisconsin and star running-back Jonathan Taylor on the Badgers’ opening possessions. The junior was coming off three straight games of rushing for more than 200 yards, and the forecast was for a grueling ground game in as a wintry mix turned to rain, sleet, and then snow.

Taylor was held to 76 yards in the game as Chryst got creative, mixing end-arounds with an air attack that was effective. Jack Coan didn’t let the snow and wind bother him as he went from screen passes to mid-range completions to a variety of receivers, most notably Quintez Cephus. However, when Aron Cruickshank came in to take a snap early in the second quarter, he was hit by Minnesota defensive end Winston DeLottiboudere, with his counterpart at the other end of the line, Carter Coughlin, recovering on the Minnesota 32.

The Gophers quickly gave the ball back. On third and 11, Morgan’s overthrown pass was intercepted at the 41 by Caesar Williams, who returned it 14 yards to the 27. Wisconsin converted the turnover into points as Zach Hintz kicked a 39-yard field goal.

The Badgers drove 82 yards on their next possession to take the lead. On a third-and-six from the Wisconsin 35, Stokke hit tight-end Jake Ferguson, who dragged tacklers into Minnesota territory. Taylor showed his skills as a receiver, taking a short pass and juking tacklers for another 10 yards. After Taylor carried to the 29, Coan looked for him out of the backfield again, hitting Taylor on the 5, with Taylor then backing Coughlin into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown and a 10-7 lead that the Badgers took into halftime.

The Gophers had only 20 net yards on the ground in the first half, to 65 for Wisconsin, which had an overall 184-128 edge in yards from scrimmage.

The Gophers got the ball to start the second half but stalled at midfield. Jacob Herbers’ punt was downed at the Wisconsin 9, and it took the Badgers only four plays to cover the 91 yards, Cephus beating Thomas Barber and making an over-the-shoulder catch for a 47-yard touchdown.

The Gophers cut the lead to 17-10 on a Michael Lantz 38-yard field goal, but the Badgers more than nullified that after a lengthy kickoff return. Cruickshank took the kick at the 5 and ran upfield before handing off to Isaac Guerendo on a reverse. Guerendo went another 49 yards on the play, to the Minnesota 39. Coan connected with fullback Mason Stokke for 13 yards. He then faked a handoff to Taylor and instead gave it to Kendrick Pryor on an end-around. Pryor ran untouched down the left sideline for a 26-yard touchdown run to make the score 24-10.

Hopes for a comeback ended for Minnesota early in the fourth quarter. The Gophers reached the Wisconsin 4, but Williams broke up third- and fourth-down pass attempts to Tyler Johnson, and the Badgers got the ball back. On a third-and-six at the 19, a screen pass to Garrett Groshek turned into a 70-yard gain, to the Minnesota 11. Taylor then dashed up the middle for a touchdown and a 21-point lead for Wisconsin.

The Badgers got the ball back right away. On Minnesota’s first play, from its 20, Garrett Rand sacked Morgan, who fumbled. Wisconsin’s Tyler Johnson recovered on the 18. Taylor carried the ball three out of the four times, and finished it with a 1-yard touchdowm.

Down by 28 points, Minnesota finally mounted a sustained drive, finishing with a 12-yard pass from Morgan to Johnson for a touchdown with 5:51 left. When an onside kick failed, Wisconsin was able to stay on the ground and control the clock on a couple of possessions to finish off its win.

Coan, who came into the game third in the country in completion percentage, completed 15 of 22 passes for 280 yards. A strong offensive line, led by center Tyler Biadsz, kept him protected, and the Gophers registered no sacks.

Wisconsin sacked Morgan 5 times and pressured him many other times. Linebacker Zach Baun had two of the sacks. He also had 2.5 tackles for losses as part of 9 overall tackles. Morgan was 20-for-37 for 296 yards and 1 interception.

Cephus led all receivers with 114 yards on five catches.

As the Badgers head to the conference title game, the Gophers will await news of their bowl destination.

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