The Minnesota Gophers fought hard but came up short in their attempt to win the Big Ten West Division title and play for the conference championship, as they lost to the Wisconsin Badgers 34-24 Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.
The Gophers came out on fire, scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter. The first one came off a fumble by the Badgers on a punt return. Minnesota recovered at the 14 yard line and two plays later, quarterback Mitch Leidner ran the ball in from 10 yards out for a quick seven-point lead.
Later in the quarter, the Gophers pinned the Badgers deep into their own territory and got the ball back at the 40-yard line. David Cobb took a handoff and ran it in for a touchdown to make it 14-3 at the end of the first quarter.
Cobb started the game after nursing a sore hamstring all week. He seemed to be back in good form, and with that touchdown, he set a school record for the most rushing yards in a single season.
Cobb finished with 25 carries for 118 yards. He ran for 1,548 yards this season, which broke Laurence Maroney’s school record of 1,464.
The Badgers came back in the second quarter to score 10 points - on a short touchdown pass to Melvin Gordon and a field goal as the half expired, to close to 17-13.
In the second half, the Gopher defense had a tougher time stopping Gordon and the rest of the Badger offense, and Wisconsin's defense stiffened against Minnesota's offense. Leidner had a bad day passing; he was just 5-of-18 for 95 yards.
Wisconsin scored two touchdowns to go up by 10 points before Minnesota scored on a rushing touchdown by Leidner to close the gap to three again. That play was set up by a 53-yard pass completion from Leidner to tight end Maxx Williams. It was his only catch of the game, the Star Tribune reports.
On the next drive, Wisconsin drove down the field and scored again on a 17-yard pass from quarterback Joel Stave to Robert Wheelright; it was his first reception and first touchdown of the season for the Badgers, according to the Star Tribune.
The Gophers' last drive ended with about a minute left when they couldn't convert on fourth down, and the Badgers ran out the clock. Wisconsin players ran behind their end zone to get Paul Bunyan's Axe from mascot Bucky Badger, as the Gophers quietly left the field.
Minnesota hasn’t defeated Wisconsin since 2003 and hasn’t won in Madison since 1994. The Gophers also haven’t won a share of the Big Ten title since 1967.
Although the Gophers won't play for the Big Ten championship, their record of 8-4 (5-3 in the Big Ten) virtually assures they'll be playing in a bowl game around the first of the year.