Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave scanned for his receiver in the left flat and delivered a screen pass that was promptly intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Minnesota defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun. After only one offensive play, the Badgers already trailed by seven points Saturday and could not have asked for a worse start to a football game.
What followed was considerably more encouraging for Wisconsin, which all but abandoned its passing game for long stretches and decimated Minnesota's defense with an impressive rushing attack. By the end of the game, Wisconsin had worn down Minnesota in a 31-21 victory at TCF Bank Stadium, capturing Paul Bunyan's Axe for a 12th consecutive game. The victory continued the longest winning streak by either team in the history of the rivalry series, which began in 1890.
Just last week during a loss to Northwestern, Wisconsin ran the ball 26 times for minus-26 yards, and the Badgers entered the final week of the regular season ranked 11th in the Big Ten in rushing offense. But the Badgers were determined to show they still had some old-school power left in them despite starting four freshmen on the offensive line. During one 14-play touchdown drive, Wisconsin ran the ball 13 times. The Badgers finished the game with 62 carries for 257 yards and four touchdowns. They passed the ball 17 times.
What the win means for Wisconsin: Anything short of a Big Ten West championship this season was going to be considered a disappointment. So in that regard, the 2015 campaign has not lived up to expectations for the Badgers. Iowa ran away with the West and clinched a berth in the league title game last week. Still, there are few better feelings than retaining possession of the Axe for another year and keeping bragging rights in the state. Now, Wisconsin (9-3) has an opportunity to win double-digit games for the fourth time in the past six seasons with a bowl victory. Big Ten West title or not, that would be an incredibly impressive feat.
What the loss means for Minnesota: The Gophers steadily improved in each of coach Jerry Kill's first four seasons and actually finished with a winning record in the Big Ten a year ago. This was supposed to be the year Minnesota took that next step and perhaps won the Big Ten West. Instead, the Gophers slid a few steps backwards in what became a tumultuous year. Kill resigned due to health reasons on Oct. 28, and Minnesota lost four straight games. The Gophers gave themselves a chance to become bowl eligible last week by beating Illinois, but their defense simply could not stop Wisconsin's running game Saturday. Minnesota (5-7) will miss out on a bowl game appearance for the first time since Kill's first season in 2011.
The game turned when…: Two turnovers ultimately cost Minnesota a shot at winning back the Axe. First, Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner fumbled after trying to scramble for a few extra yards. Badgers linebacker Joe Schobert stripped the ball loose, and cornerback Darius Hillary fell on it. Wisconsin took possession at the Minnesota 34-yard line with 6:32 left in the second quarter and needed only four plays to score a touchdown. Tailback Taiwan Deal's 13-yard run gave Wisconsin a 21-14 lead with 4:56 remaining in the first half.
Player of the game: Ogunbowale's workload significantly increased because Wisconsin's top tailback, Corey Clement, missed his ninth game of the season and did not travel with the team. Ogunbowale responded by recording a career high for rushing yards before halftime. He finished with 33 carries for 155 yards and one touchdown.