After a 38-17 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday, the Gophers football team is not going to the Rose Bowl in January. However, the Gophers are 10-2 and will be going to one of the top bowl games they have played in since Murray Warmath coached the team.
Wisconsin played a tougher schedule the Gophers this season, and it showed in Saturday’s game. No doubt, Badgers players have been waiting for the chance to reclaim Paul Bunyan’s Axe back after losing it at home a year ago, and they played like it.
“Everybody was disappointed in the locker room,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. “We did not play our best football today, and that 100 percent falls on me.”
The biggest difference was that the Gophers could not run the ball. The Badgers, who went into the game giving up only 98.5 yards rushing per game, limited the Gophers to 76 yards. Mohamed Ibrahim led the Gophers with just 39 yards rushing. Rodney Smith was held to 31 yards and Shannon Brooks 22.
“When you look at the total yards, 453-372, and that wasn’t necessarily so lopsided,” Fleck said. “But you look at the rushing yards and what Jonathan Taylor did, they really did a great job of mixing things up.”
Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan threw an early 51-yard touchdown to Rashod Bateman, but it was tough going from there. Morgan passed for 296 yards and two touchdowns, but he completed only 20 of 37 passes and was sacked five times and intercepted once. Badgers quarterback Jack Coan passed for 280 yards, the most he has thrown for in a Big Ten game.
“They are extremely talented,” Morgan said of the Badgers. “Defensively they are very good. Up front, they are incredibly talented getting off the ball. They give you a lot of different looks. Hats off to them.”
After the Gophers pulled within 17-10 in the third quarter, it looked like the home team had a chance to catch up if it could get a stop on defense, but the Badgers used a reverse on the ensuing kickoff to get great field position at the Gophers 39-yard line and then scored two plays later to restore its lead to two touchdowns.
It’s amazing to note that going into Saturday’s game, the all-time series between the Gophers and Badgers — the most played rivalry in FBS — was tied 60-60-8.
Throughout the series, which dates to 1890, the two teams have played big roles in defeating the other team when they had a chance at terrific seasons.
On Saturday, the Badgers avenged their 37-15 loss in Madison last year. That might have been the most unexpected Gophers victory in this rivalry. The Gophers completely dominated a game that no one expected them to win.
That got the Gophers bowl-eligible and also started an 11-game winning streak that stretched into this season. It also ended the Badgers 14-game winning streak in the series and ended Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst’s perfect record (3-0) vs. the Gophers.
The Gophers also had an unexpected victory in 1993. The Badgers came here undefeated and ranked No. 15 in the country. They were facing a Jim Wacker-coached Gophers team that was 3-4 overall. But Minnesota upset Wisconsin 28-21 in front of an announced 68,798 fans at the Metrodome.
It was the only game Wisconsin lost that season as they went on to win the Rose Bowl.
For all the success Warmath had, the Badgers handed him some tough losses over the years, and he went 8-9-1 against Wisconsin in his 18-year career as Gophers coach.
In 1961 the Gophers were 7-1 and ranked No. 3 when they lost 23-21 to Wisconsin at home in the final regular season finale. It cost them a national championship even though they beat UCLA 21-3 in the Rose Bowl.
The Gophers’ 14-9 loss at Wisconsin in ’62 was maybe the most controversial game in the long history of the two clubs as the Badgers rallied to win after two late Minnesota penalties. Because of the loss, the Gophers finished second in the Big Ten and missed out on another potential national title.
Grant recommended Wilson
Former Vikings coach Bud Grant will tell you that Seattle coach Pete Carroll had no intention of drafting Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson in the 2012 NFL draft until Carroll talked to Grant.
Carroll’s scouts were advising him that Wilson was too short at 5-11 to play quarterback in the NFL.
Grant convinced Carroll by telling him that Fran Tarkenton was only 5-11 and still had plenty of pro success. And Wilson’s height would not handicap him as a pro.
I verified that story with Carroll when the Seahawks were last in town, and he mentioned it when I asked him about Wilson.
The 31-year-old quarterback — drafted in the third round, 75th overall, in 2012 — is one of the frontrunners for NFL MVP. Wilson has a passer rating of 112.1 which ranks second in the league — behind only the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins at 114.8.
• Vikings coach Mike Zimmer on what makes Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson so hard to cover: “First of all, he’s really accurate. They’ve got the quick passing game. They’ve got the RPOs, They’ve got all the shots down the field. When he starts to scramble, he throws such a great deep ball that a lot of bad things can happen.”
• One area where the Vikings could really have a big day Monday is on the defensive line. Wilson has been sacked 33 times this season, the third-highest total in the NFL.
• The Vikings’ remaining opponents have a 29-25-1 record (.536 winning percentage). The Packers’ remaining opponents: 20-34-1 (.372).
• Usually the bye week is a big plus, but this year 18 of 28 NFL teams coming off the bye have lost.
• Everybody close to Vikings former GM Roger Headrick thought that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, when he was an assistant Vikings coach, was going to get the head coaching job instead of Dennis Green in 1992. However, there was a lot of pressure to hire black head coaches in the NFL and Stanford’s Green won out.
• Kirk Cousins has faced the Seahawks three times. He is 1-2 but has completed 62 of 100 passes for 738 yards, three scores and no interceptions.
• Pro Football Focus ranks Eric Kendricks as the second-best linebacker in the NFL and says he is the Vikings’ most underrated player. “Kendricks has also allowed the second-lowest catch rate and produced the most pass breakups among linebackers while in coverage,” PFF wrote.
• The Seahawks offense gets a lot of credit, but the defense forced four fumbles in their 17-9 victory over the Eagles and their 24 takeaways this season rank third in the NFL behind the Patriots and Steelers.
• Vikings greats Carl Eller, Alan Page and John Randle are among the 16 finalists for the NFL’s picks for best defensive ends all-time.