Run game struggles
The Gophers’ two losses this season had one thing in common — a sputtering running game. Minnesota rushed for a season-low 63 yards at Iowa two weeks ago and just 76 against Wisconsin.
Rodney Smith handled most of the load Saturday but managed just 31 yards on 11 carries. Shannon Brooks added 22 yards on seven carries, and Mohamed Ibrahim had five attempts for 39 yards.
Smith had a 23-yard run toward the end of a frustrating first half, and Ibrahim popped a 36-yard run while the game was still within reach in the third quarter. But the rest were a struggle. It was clearly a focal point of Wisconsin’s defensive game plan.
“If you can do a good job against the run, and if you can affect the [quarterback’s] rhythm and timing — there were certainly moments we were able to, and those were big,” Badgers coach Paul Chryst said. “… Those are always really big in winning football games.”
The game-time temperature was 33 degrees, and it dropped to 28 during the game, with wind steady at 15 mph.
There was constant precipitation — rain, sleet and snow, sometimes all mixed together. But after the 38-17 loss, Gophers coach P.J. Fleck refused to blame the conditions for his team’s lowest scoring output of the season. The previous low came in the 23-19 loss at Iowa two weeks earlier.
The Gophers practiced in the elements at TCF Bank Stadium on Wednesday after an overnight storm had dropped almost 9 inches of snow. So they felt as prepared as could be.
“We just have to execute and do our jobs,” quarterback Tanner Morgan said. “Obviously the weather’s the weather, you’ve just got to play in it, whether it’s 100 degrees or snowy rain, whatever.”
Gophers fans have been through Saturday’s pain before, when a strong early start in this border rivalry led to a big fizzle.
In 2013, Minnesota played host to Wisconsin in the second-to-last game of the regular season. The Gophers controlled their own destiny, as wins over the Badgers and Michigan State would have given them the Big Ten West title. The Gophers took a 7-3 lead in the second quarter on Aaron Hill’s pick-six, but Wisconsin didn’t let Minnesota score again in a 20-7 victory.
In 2014, in a winner-takes-all game for the West Division title, the Gophers built a 17-3 lead in the second quarter. But walk-on receiver Alex Erickson turned unstoppable, and the Badgers defense squeezed the life from Minnesota again, winning 34-24.
This time, the Gophers led 7-3 until Jonathan Taylor’s touchdown reception with 2 minutes, 49 seconds remaining in the first half. And it was all downhill from there.