MINNEAPOLIS — No. 14 Wisconsin’s bid for a Big Ten West title and a trip to the conference title game ended Saturday with a 23-13 loss to Minnesota at Huntington Bank Stadium.
Offense: WR Danny Davis
Wisconsin’s offense did not score a touchdown for the first time all year, so the pickings are slim here. But the senior wide receiver had the best day for his unit. He caught five passes for a team-high 60 yards. Four of his five catches went for first downs, including on the first play of the game to help the Badgers get out of being backed up deep in their own territory.
Defense: NT Keeanu Benton
We could have gone with safety Scott Nelson because of his pick-6, but there were struggles later in the game that overshadowed the big play. So, Benton gets the call here. He had his most impactful game of the season on the stat sheet, posting a pair of sacks and six tackles. He helped the defense limit the Gophers to a season-low 75 yards on the ground and just 2.0 yards per carry.
“This is honestly the worst feeling in the world. All the work past players have put into even up the (rivalry series) and put us in the lead, it just feels like a disgrace to the program for us to lose the axe.”
Wisconsin senior CB Caesar Williams on losing Paul Bunyan’s Axe. Wisconsin now leads the series 62-61-8 and is 17-2 in the last 19.
In Case You Missed It
— Wisconsin safety Collin Wilder was lost for the game on the first play from scrimmage when he was flagged for targeting on a hit of wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell. Backup John Torchio filled in for Wilder the rest of the game.
— The game turned on a Graham Mertz interception on the first drive of the third quarter. With the Badgers leading 10-6, the quarterback looked for Kendric Pryor on the sideline and threw a ball that turned into a 50-50 pass. Pryor and Justin Walley wrestled for it, and it was determined the Gophers defensive back came down with it.
The play went to review and was upheld. Pryor said afterwards that if it had been ruled a catch on the field, he feels it would have been upheld in his favor. It just so happened to be ruled an interception.
— Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen’s streak of 100-yard games ended at seven. He was limited to 47 yards on 17 carries. He had a long run of 14 yards and averaged just 2.8 yards per carry. His final carry came without about two minutes left in the third quarter.
Allen has been slow to get up after runs in recent weeks and admitted he has been dealing with some lower body injuries.
“I’ve been having trouble with both legs, different parts of both legs throughout the year,” he said. “I’m glad now I can get an opportunity to rest up, recover and get my body back to 100 percent.”
However, he did not think those ailments impacted his usage against the Gophers.
“No, I don’t think so,” Allen said. “Just really couldn’t get anything going. It was tough in there for sure.”
— Wisconsin trailed by 10 with 4:26 left in the game and faced fourth-and-1 at its own 21-yard line. Everyone was expecting the Badgers to go for it, but the punt team was sent out instead. After a penalty for a false start, the offense did return to the field, and they were able to pick up the first down.
“Never should have even been thinking of punting,” Chryst said when asked to explain his thinking. “Didn’t handle it well, flat out.”
— The Badgers would have gone to the Big Ten title game to face Michigan with a win. Instead, Iowa will represent the Big Ten West in Indianapolis next weekend. This is the first time Wisconsin has gone two straight years without making the conference title game since it was put in place in 2011.
Inside the Numbers
2 – That is how many three-and-outs Wisconsin’s defense forced on the day.
0-2 — That was Wisconsin’s red zone success when it came to finishing drives with touchdowns. Both times the Badgers got inside the Gophers 10-yard line but were unable to punch it in.
2003 – That was the last time Minnesota beat Wisconsin in the Twin Cities before Saturday.
4 – That is how many losses Wisconsin has this season. It is the third time in the last four years the Badgers have lost that many games in a season. That did not happen once in Paul Chryst’s first three seasons.
22 – That is how many rushes Wisconsin had in the game. It is the fewest in a game this year and produced just 62 yards. That is the fewest for the Badgers since rushing for 43 yards against Michigan on Oct. 2.
15 – That was the number of penalties the teams combined for.
Wisconsin (8-4) will wait until next Sunday to find out its bowl destination