No. 6 Wisconsin 31, Gophers 17
The recap: The Badgers outscored the Gophers 24-0 after trailing 17-7 at halftime. Mitch Leidner completed only two of 14 second-half passes with four interceptions. Wisconsin turned two of those picks into touchdowns, claiming Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the 13th consecutive year.
What was learned: Gophers senior Drew Wolitarsky said he hopes the program can learn from this year’s second-half collapses. Not playing as well in the second half is “something we’ve had trouble with our whole careers here really,” he said.
YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED:
• The Badgers are 20-2 against the Gophers since 1994. But even with other things at stake — a Big Ten title, a possible berth in the College Football Playoff — Wisconsin’s players still made the Axe a priority.
“I had it in my hands [at halftime],” Badgers safety Leo Musso said. “We told the guys, just come out here and play for the Axe. Forget about everything else.”
Added Corey Clement: “Our seniors said, ‘Not on our watch. We aren’t going to lose this game and have them take the Axe.’ ”
• The Gophers rushed for 80 yards in the first quarter but only 48 the rest of the game. Their offensive line shuffling caught up to them. With Vincent Calhoun out because of an injury, Connor Mayes went to right guard, and Garrison Wright moved over to left guard. In the fourth quarter, with the line barely getting a push, the Gophers ran 17 plays for minus-7 yards.
“Their offensive line kind of got a little down on themselves,” Badgers linebacker T.J. Watt said. “You could kind of see it in their eyes. You could see it in their demeanor. That’s when we knew we had them beat.”
UP NEXT: Bowl game, TBD
The Gophers won’t know their bowl destination or opponent until next Sunday. Jerry Palm, from CBSSports.com, still projects them to play in the Holiday Bowl, Dec. 27 in San Diego, against Washington State. SBNation.com projects the Gophers will play in the Music City Bowl against Arkansas on Dec. 30 in Nashville. That would give the Gophers another chance to face former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, who is in his fourth year coaching the Razorbacks.
At 8-4 and 5-4 in the Big Ten, the Gophers should benefit from the conference having four teams – Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State – in New Year’s six bowls. Nebraska (9-3) is projected to head to the Outback Bowl, with Iowa (8-4) either in the Holiday Bowl or Music City Bowl. The Gophers would appear to be next in the Big Ten pecking order.