The Gophers defense had a plan against Wisconsin on Saturday: Stop Badgers freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, the Heisman Trophy candidate, and dare quarterback Alex Hornibrook to beat them.
The first part of the plan worked for a while. The second part didn’t work as well as the fifth-ranked Badgers rolled 31-0.
Minnesota had eight, sometimes nine players near the line of scrimmage and kept Taylor in check in the first half, holding him to 41 yards on 12 carries. Hornibrook, however, completed 13 of 17 first-half passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns as the Badgers build a 17-0 lead.
Hornibrook was especially efficient on the Badgers’ first touchdown drive, when he went 6-for-7 for 62 yards, hitting four different receivers during the 12-play, 73-yard march that ended with tight end Troy Fumagalli’s 1-yard TD catch.
“We were stacking the box, trying to stop the run,” Gophers linebacker Thomas Barber said. “We just weren’t being very disciplined on defense. We’ve gotta keep our eyes on our man.”
Hornibrook led a 65-yard drive for a field goal for a 10-0 lead, then basically put the game away with his 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Penniston with 50 seconds left in the first half for a 17-0 lead. He finished 15-for-19 for 151 yards and three TDs.
Taylor got it going in the third quarter, carrying seven times for 56 yards. Then, on the first play of the fourth quarter, he popped loose for a 53-yard touchdown.
“That’s the hard part about defense is that you need everybody doing their job to be able to stop their offense,’’ Barber said. “We’d have little missteps from different people, myself included, where we just missed alignments. We need all 11 guys to do their job.”
Afterward, Barber, who led the Gophers with 115 tackles this season, felt for his senior teammates.
“It hurt, it really does, especially for the seniors and all they’ve been through,’’ he said. “It’s just one of those things where you trust in the process and know we’re going in the right direction.”
Absence and injuries
Junior wide receiver Rashad Still, who started last week’s game at Northwestern, did not dress for Saturday’s contest. Afterward, Fleck said he would re-evaluate Still’s status this week.
With Still and sophomore Tyler Johnson (broken hand) out, the Gophers started redshirt freshman Phillip Howard, senior Eric Carter and sophomore Matt Morse.
• Center Conner Olson, who suffered a lower left leg injury last week, started.
• Right guard Vincent Calhoun left in the fourth quarter because of a leg injury.
• Linebacker Kamal Martin was helped off the field late in the fourth quarter after making a tackle.
Attendance up from 2016
Saturday’s announced attendance was 47,327, giving the Gophers a total of 310,503 for seven games. That’s an average 44,358, the second-lowest average in the nine years of TCF Bank Stadium. Last year, the average announced attendance was 43,814.
• Former Gophers tight end Matt Spaeth gave the speech at Saturday morning’s captains’ breakfast. Spaeth, the 2006 Mackey Award winner as the nation’s top tight end, played for the Gophers from 2003-06. He spent nine seasons in the NFL, seven for Pittsburgh and two for Chicago. His last NFL season was in 2015.