His eyes red from tears and his voice cracking, Cody Lindenberg sat behind a table and offered his thoughts, as difficult as it was to do.

The Gophers an hour earlier had lost 28-14 to Wisconsin on Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium, seeing the Badgers parade off with Paul Bunyan's Axe for the first time since 2020 and watching Minnesota's regular season finish with a fourth consecutive loss and a 5-7 record.

Lindenberg, a fourth-year sophomore linebacker who was limited to three games this season because of injuries, was hurting for his senior teammates. Those players — who'd been part of the 11-2 breakthrough in 2019 and back-to-back nine-win campaigns the past two years — played their final home game in front of an announced 48,119 and left not with a third consecutive win over Wisconsin, but with disappointment.

"They've meant so much to the program," said Lindenberg, who followed seniors Tyler Nubin and Brevyn Spann-Ford in the interview session. "There's some historic moments those guys have built, and I just wish we could have sent them out a little bit better."

Turns out, Lindenberg will get another chance.

Early Sunday morning, the Gophers found out that there would be one spot available for a 5-7 team to play in a bowl game, and because of their work in the classroom they will be that team.

The Gophers didn't win six games needed for traditional bowl eligibility, but their Academic Progress Rate score was best among the nation's five-win teams.

Because there were only 79 teams to fill the 82 spots for the 41 bowl games, the Gophers got in. The first two open spots will be filled by James Madison (11-1) and Jacksonville State (8-4), former FCS teams still in their transitionary period in moving to FBS. That left one spot for a 5-7 team, and the Gophers will get it when bowl assignments are announced next Sunday. Coach P.J. Fleck said the Gophers would accept a bowl invitation.

It might be a small consolation for the Gophers, who saw Wisconsin score 14 second-half points and give up none to improve to 7-5.

Badgers running back Braelon Allen, who missed last year's Axe game and was limited in the 2021 contest, made up for lost time by rushing 26 times for 165 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-2, 245-pound junior's 50-yard run in the third-quarter set up his 4-yard TD run that gave the Badgers the lead for good.

Badgers quarterback Tanner Mordecai, the transfer from Southern Methodist, kept the Gophers off-balance by rushing for 69 yards and completing 14 of 22 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns.

Gophers quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis completed 16 of 28 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown with an interception. Daniel Jackson caught nine passes for 121 yards and a TD. Jordan Nubin rushed 24 times for 93 yards and a TD.

"I said at the beginning of the game, our best players are going to have to play their best,'' Fleck said. "We weren't able to do that. I wasn't able to get them to do that. And again, that is my responsibility.''

The Gophers started quickly Saturday, taking a 7-0 lead 2:39 into the game on Jordan Nubin's 1-yard TD run that capped a 72-yard drive. "We were very, very efficient on our first drive,'' Spann-Ford said. "You would have liked every drive to be like that."

Behind the running of Mordecai and Allen, the Badgers drove 86 yards in 11 plays to even the score 7-7 with 13:04 left in the second quarter on Allen's 5-yard TD run.

The Gophers took a 14-7 lead on Kaliakmanis' 7-yard touchdown pass to Jackson with 4:30 left in the second quarter.

Wisconsin, though, needed only four plays to tie the score 14-14 with 2:38 left in the first half. Mordecai extended a play and found Chimere Dike for a 35-yard gain to the Minnesota 40. He then hit Allen for 24 yards to the Minnesota 16. Two plays later, Mordecai found Will Pauling for an 11-yard TD pass.

"We knew that if he got out of the pocket, he was going to be dangerous," Tyler Nubin said.

Dangerous would describe Allen, too. His 50-yard run was part of a third quarter in which the Badgers outgained the Gophers 152-61. Mordecai's 5-yard TD pass to tight end Riley Nowakowski with 10 seconds left in the third made it 28-14.

"Gotta give Wisconsin a lot of credit," Fleck said. "They earned it. They made way more plays than we did."