Minnesota 23, Wisconsin 16: 2-minute drill

MADISON — The trophy case inside the Wisconsin locker room for Paul Bunyan’s Axe will sit empty for another year after the Badgers fell 23-16 to Minnesota on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.

Game Balls


RB Chez Mellusi

With no Braelon Allen, it was Mellusi’s turn to be the featured back. He ran hard, finishing with 75 yards on 19 carries. He didn’t have any huge runs – his long was 14 yards – but he got what he could against a stout Minnesota front and actually made something out of nothing several times. The senior did miss some time in the second quarter with an injury but returned and didn’t look any worse for wear.

WR Chimere Dike

Dike led the way in the passing game for the Badgers (five catches, 52 yards), but also delivered the play of the game on offense on the ground. The junior caught a toss from Mellusi on a reverse and went in for a 9-yard touchdown to give Wisconsin a 16-13 lead in the third quarter.


LB Maema Njongmeta

The inside linebacker was everywhere for the Badgers, recording a team-high 12 tackles, including nine solo stops. That included 2.5 tackles for loss, a .5 sack and a quarterback hurry. Njongmeta led a unit that held the leading rusher in the nation – Mo Ibrahim – to just 70 yards on 27 carries. It was the first time in 19 games that he didn’t run for at least 100 yards.

NT Keeanu Benton

Benton left everything he had out on the field in his final game at Camp Randall Stadium and likely his final game in a Wisconsin uniform. He had five tackles, two for loss and shared a sack with Njongmeta. The Badgers needed a big effort from Benton against that potent Minnesota rushing attack and they got it.

What Went Wrong

Passing defense

While the Badgers were great against the run, they allowed redshirt freshman Athan Kaliakmanis to rip them up through the air to the tune of 319 yards. Time after time the quarterback was able to take advantage of man-to-man coverage on the outside to run slants, including on what proved to be the game-winning touchdown to Lemeke Brockington in the fourth quarter. The Gophers receivers also made some great plays down the field for Kaliakmanis, most notably this ridiculous grab by Daniel Jackson.

Defensive mistakes

Two big plays that eventually led to Minnesota points were helped by Wisconsin mistakes. Near the end of the first half, facing third-and-12 deep in their own territory, the Gophers seemed to be just trying to run the clock but ended up picking up 14 yards as the Badgers failed to get Ibrahim on the ground. Then, on the first drive of the second half, it appeared Wisconsin had gotten off the field with a third-down stop but outside linebacker CJ Goetz got called for roughing the passer. Both drives ended with Minnesota points on a pair of field goals.

Finishing drives

Wisconsin had been one of the better teams in the country at finishing drives with touchdowns for the first half of the season, but it has become a major issue the last month. The biggest killer Saturday was quarterback Graham Mertz missing a wide-open Jack Eschenbach for what would have been a touchdown in the third quarter. Despite being able to move the ball between the 30s, the Badgers had to settle for field goals from Nate Van Zelst three times.

Speaking of finishing drives…

It appeared the Badgers were going to have a chance to send the game to overtime, getting the ball to the Minnesota 5-yard line with about 30 seconds left. What transpired next will go down as one of the more embarrassing and confusing moments in program history. In what can only be described as guys forgetting how to play football, the offensive line was called for four penalties in five plays. It started with a hold by Riley Mahlman and was followed by a false start by Tanor Bortolini. After an incompletion, Tyler Beach and Mahlman were called for false starts back-to-back. Instead of having first-and-goal from the 5-yard line, the final plays took place from 30 yards out and the Badgers couldn’t tie it up.

The offense after taking the lead

Wisconsin scored to go up 16-13 just before the start of the fourth quarter. The rest of the Badgers drives were three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out, interception and the shit show listed above. That’s not going to get it done.

In Case You Missed It

— Wisconsin’s honorary captain was former Badgers running back Anthony Davis. He ran for 301 yards and five touchdowns in a win over Minnesota in 2002.

— Starting running back Braelon Allen did not play in the game due to a leg injury. It was the first game he’s missed since September 2021 when he didn’t play against Notre Dame due to a concussion.

— Prior to the game, the Badgers honored former wide receiver Devin Chandler with a moment of silence. Chandler, along with two other Virginia football players, was shot and killed two weeks ago in Charlottesville.


— Quarterback Graham Mertz was forced to come out of the game on the final drive due to a leg injury. Chase Wolf took his place and nearly led the Badgers to the game-tying score.

— After being forced to sit out the first half due to a targeting penalty from the Nebraska game, outside linebacker Nick Herbig finished with four tackles.

Inside the Numbers

3-3 – That is Wisconsin’s record against PJ Fleck since he came to Minnesota. The coach has as many wins in the last five seasons against the Badgers as the Gophers had in the previous 23 seasons combined.

6 – That’s how many losses Wisconsin is guaranteed to have this year, matching its most in a season since losing seven in 2001.

0 – That’s how many sacks Wisconsin gave up, just the second time this season that has happened.

1 – That’s how many rivalry trophies Wisconsin has in its locker room. It’s the first time the Badgers have ever been without Paul Bunyan’s Axe and the Heartland Trophy (Iowa) in the same season.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (6-6, 4-5) will await its bowl assignment with the likely destinations being the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit or the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix.