MADISON — It had been 12 years since Minnesota claimed the coveted Paul Bunyan’s Axe. Despite a less than stellar performance by Wisconsin today, the Badgers claimed the 31-17 victory — and the Axe — in the historic Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalry.
With a Big Ten Championship berth confirmed before kickoff even began, the Wisconsin Badgers appeared lackluster in the first half on all sides of the ball. Though the Minnesota Gophers only put up three points in the first quarter, they tripled Wisconsin’s total yardage, 133 to 29.
Prior to having to leave the game with an injury in the second quarter, starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook was unable to get the Wisconsin offense rolling. He went 4-8 and only was able to get 28 yards through the air.
Houston was once again, seemingly the only spark for the offense. On his first drive in Houston lead an 80 yard drive ending with a rushing touchdown for Alec Ingold. He would finish the game going 9 for 14 on 123 yards passing.
“Anything can work when guys are about helping their team rather than helping themselves,” Houston said of his and the whole team’s performance.
Head coach Paul Chryst also praised the senior quarterback saying he was performing well even before Hornibrook went out.
“He takes a lot of pride in helping this team, and I thought he did today,” Chryst said.
Wisconsin’s defense also struggled in the first half, not finding any big plays other than a sack by Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt late in the first quarter. Otherwise it was all Minnesota.
On Minnesota’s first touchdown drive of the game the Gophers turned a 69 yard kickoff return into a 13 yard touchdown pass in five seconds flat.
Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner was extremely effective, at least in the first half. He would finish the game going 9 for 26 on 158 yards passing adding one touchdown to his four interceptions. Receiver Drew Wolitarsky would have a day on the Badger’s secondary pulling in 4 catches for 76 yards and a touchdown.
With Minnesota threatening right away in the third quarter, Wisconsin’s defense was on it’s heels once again. But Leo Musso picked off Leidner in the endzone, giving the defense life for the Badgers.
“I think we were able to get some pressures on them. I thought we did a better job of fitting the runs,” Chryst said of the second half adjustments on the defense.
And the Badgers were finally able to get things moving on offense. The offense converted an interception and run to the Minnesota 19-yard line by Sojourn Shelton into a Corey Clement touchdown to tie the game up in the fourth quarter. Clement would finish the game averaging 3.8 yards per carry on 100 total yards, adding two touchdowns.
With Wisconsin needing another score to go ahead, Jazz Peavy put the game on his shoulders, breaking off a 71 yard sweep that set up another rushing touchdown. That would be the last time the lead changed hands. Another interception in the fourth by Leon Jacobs followed by a 8-yard Ogunbowale touchdown would put the Badgers up 31-17.
Wisconsin would have four interceptions, three by Badgers seniors, on Saturday.
Saturday’s win was not the cleanest for the 10-2 Badgers, but they accomplished what they needed to on the field.
“I felt like we were playing 2 teams. We were trying to beat Minnesota and we were also trying to stop beating ourselves,” Chryst said.
The Wisconsin Badgers will represent the West in the Big Ten Championship Saturday Dec. 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. With Penn State up against Michigan State late in the fourth quarter, the Badgers are expected to play the Nittany Lions next week. The game is at 7:00 p.m. CT.