MADISON, WIS. - The second half used to be Minnesota's friend. That relationship changed Saturday.
The Gophers held Iowa and Northwestern to fewer than 80 yards apiece in their first two Big Ten games. Had they managed that feat again in Camp Randall Stadium, they might be marching around Dinkytown with a giant wooden axe right now.
Instead, Wisconsin ballooned its 14-6 halftime lead to a 38-13 rout, the most points the Gophers have allowed this season, but the 13th straight game the Badgers have eclipsed 31 against Minnesota. They did it by keeping the ball on the ground, exposing the Gophers' most obvious weakness: run defense.
Wisconsin threw for only 14 yards after halftime but picked up 230 on the ground in the final two quarters, more in one half than they had allowed in any game this year.
"The first half we battled in there pretty good, and we were in good position at halftime," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said. "Then we got a stop, and I thought we were going to hang in there. They keep coming at you with those good backs and offensive line."
An inkling for Nelson
Philip Nelson suspected his chance was coming this week, especially when MarQueis Gray, limping with an ankle injury, and Max Shortell, with a neck and arm so sore he needed an MRI to make sure nothing was seriously wrong, couldn't practice. But he didn't get the final word until Friday night in Madison.
"I definitely had dreams to play some D-I football," said Nelson, who grew up in a Madison suburb until his family moved to Mankato when he was 12. "I'm really thankful to be here, and to have such great teammates and be able to share the opportunity and experience with these guys."
He might not have been so thankful when Badgers linebacker Chris Borland welcomed him to D-I in the third quarter. Just after Nelson released a pass to A.J. Barker, which the receiver caught for the Gophers' second touchdown, Borland zeroed in on Nelson's knees. The impact drew a flag for roughing the passer.
Borland, who was flagged for hitting a quarterback in the head against Purdue, wasn't happy with the call.
"You've got to go low to avoid a penalty. But I guess you've got to look for his flag to pull or something," Borland said sarcastically. "I was in the air and he still had the ball in his hands. I don't know how to go after him."
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said he wasn't surprised that the Gophers have switched quarterbacks. He tried to persuade Nelson to attend Wisconsin, after all. "He was a good athlete. We recruited him. His dad played here, obviously, and Coach [Paul] Chryst, he was a pretty spot-on guy when we got after quarterbacks," Bielema said of his former offensive coordinator, now head coach at Pitt. "I had heard about him for a number of years ... [but he] obviously didn't go in that direction. But [he's] a very good football player."
Gophers tailback Donnell Kirkwood sprained an ankle early last week and was unable to practice for a day. The injury still affected him Saturday, Kill said, which is why he rushed only five times, picking up 8 yards.
The Gophers played without starting left tackle Ed Olson and wide receivers Devin Crawford-Tufts and Isaac Fruechte, all out because of leg injuries.
The Gophers were plagued by poor field position, starting their average drive at their own 22. Wisconsin's average drive began at its own 38.
Gophers kicker Jordan Wettstein missed an extra point in the first quarter and a 52-yard field goal to end the first half. He also tried an onside kick in the fourth quarter, but the Badgers recovered.