Madison, Wis. – After laying an egg in the regular season finale, Paul Bunyan’s Axe will stay with the Minnesota Golden Gophers for the second consecutive season, a feat that hasn’t happened since 1993-94.
Even though the Wisconsin Badgers (6-6, 4-5 Big Ten) took a three-point lead into the fourth quarter, UW’s offense stalled and couldn’t hold on, losing 23-16 to Minnesota (8-4, 5-4 Big Ten) on Saturday afternoon.
Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly from Saturday afternoon’s loss to Minnesota…
The Good: Wisconsin’s run defense
If you had told me before the game that Wisconsin’s defense would hold Minnesota to 97 yards rushing, I would have bet the farm UW won that football game.
UM star running back Mo Ibrahim carried the ball 27 times for 70 yards (2.6 YPC) and no touchdowns, which was the first time he was held under 100+ rushing yards and kept out of the endzone all season.
Badgers inside linebacker Maema Njongmeta and nose tackle Keeanu Benton deserve a tip of the cap because they were disruptive all game long and played a vital role in UW keeping this one close.
In the end, it just wasn’t enough to overcome Wisconsin’s lackluster offense (I’m tired of typing out a variation of that sentence).
The Bad: RS freshman QB Athan Kaliakmanas beat UW
Heading into the regular season finale, Minnesota learned starting quarterback Tanner Morgan wouldn’t be able to go, leaving redshirt freshman Athan Kaliakmanas as QB1.
He entered Saturday’s contest, completing a paltry 46.6% of his passes with one touchdown and four interceptions – it should have been a feeding frenzy for UW’s defense.
Instead, Kaliakmanas put on a clinic against the Badgers’ secondary, completing 19-of-29 passes for 319 yards and two passing touchdowns. He also added 14 yards rushing on seven attempts.
If you’re UW, you couldn’t have asked for a more favorable matchup. Instead, the RS freshman won the game through the air and exploited Wisconsin in both man and zone coverages, winning in a way nobody, myself included, would have expected.
The Ugly: The Wisconsin Badgers final drive
After a 48-yard missed field goal by the Gophers, UW got the ball back with 1:48 remaining and a chance to tie the game.
Two plays later, Graham Mertz got hurt, forcing backup quarterback Chase Wolf into action with 1:18 on the clock and Paul Bunyan’s Axe on the line.
Then QB2 scrambled for a seven-yard gain, Isaac Guerendo picked up 14 yards on a rush attempt, and Chimere Dike caught a 16-yard pass from Wolf, bringing UW to the Minnesota 20.
With 0:32 on the clock, Wolf dropped back to pass, targeting Syler Bell in the endzone, which drew a defensive pass-interference call.
It was first and goal from the Minnesota 5-yard line with a chance to punch one in – hard to ask for more than that. Then the unthinkable happened – a bed-shitting of epic proportion.
UW committed four consecutive penalties, three of which were pre-snap infractions. Riley Mahlman kicked things off with a holding, then Tanor Bortolini had a false start, followed by a Tyler Beach false start, and Mahlman capped it off with another false start for the Badgers offensive line.
Before Badger fans could blink, it was 2nd and goal from the Minnesota 30.
Wisconsin had a chance at the end, and they blew it. Point blank. Period.
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