Nov 26, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; The Wisconsin Badgers line up for a play during the second quarter against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Good, bad and ugly from Wisconsin Badgers 23-16 loss to Minnesota

Good, bad and ugly from Wisconsin Badgers 23-16 loss to Minnesota

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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Nov 20, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) hands the football off to running back Braelon Allen (0) during the first quarter against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin Football: X-Factors For Badgers Against Minnesota

Wisconsin Football: X-Factors For Badgers Against Minnesota

Madison, Wis. –  You can throw everything that’s happened this season out the window; this one is for the Axe. 

Interim head coach Jim Leonhard and the Wisconsin Badgers (6-5, 4-4 Big Ten), who are looking to reclaim Paul Bunyan’s Axe, play host to the Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-4, 4-4 Big Ten) at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday afternoon. 

Here are three X-factors for the Badgers when they take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. 

QB Graham Mertz 

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 30: Quarterback Graham Mertz #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers looks on during a time out against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl at Allegiant Stadium on December 30, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Badgers defeated the Sun Devils 20-13. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

The past three weeks have been anything but ideal for Wisconsin Badgers starting quarterback Graham Mertz, totaling 336 passing yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. 

In short, he’s damn near been a liability. Yes, he’s been playing hurt, and I commend him for that, but if you’re going to be on the field, you have to produce, no excuses. 

If UW is going to reclaim Paul Bunyan’s Axe, they’ll need the Kansas native to take care of the football and make a few plays in the passing game. The Gophers have the No. 3 run defense and No. 4 passing defense in the Big Ten, so they’ll need QB1 to be a net positive in the regular season finale.

Wisconsin’s run defense

MADISON, WISCONSIN – OCTOBER 30: Keeanu Benton #95 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates after a fumble recovery during the first half against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Camp Randall Stadium on October 30, 2021 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Minnesota enters Saturday’s contest averaging 229.5 rushing yards per game, good for the second most in the conference. Simply put, the Gophers’ offense lives and dies by the running game – sound familiar?

If UW is going to win this grind-it-out matchup against their rivals to the north, they’ll need their run defense to bottle up star tailback Mo Ibrahim. Unfortunately, nobody has figured out how to do that, considering Ibrahim has toppled 100+ yards rushing and scored in every game this season. 

Over the past four games, however, Jim Leonhard’s defense has allowed an average of 85 rushing yards per game and is playing its best ball of the season. 

What happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force? We’re about to find out. But one thing is certain: Wisconsin’s run defense will be an X-factor in Saturday’s showdown. 

The Wisconsin Badgers stable of RBs

Wisconsin Badgers running back Braelon Allen (0) and Wisconsin Badgers running back Chez Mellusi (1) have a laugh as part of Wisconsin Badgers football media day at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022.
Badgers Media Day 0853

Star running back Braelon Allen has a hurt shoulder and is playing through tremendous pain – that much is apparent. Despite the injury, he’s still doing everything he can to spark UW’s offense.

Thankfully, backup RB Chez Mellusi returned last week against Nebraska and ran for 98 yards on 21 carries after missing the past month due to an injury of his own. More importantly, he looked outstanding and ran with intention.

I have no doubt that he and Isaac Guerendo, who has home-run potential, will each receive touches. If UW’s offensive line comes to play and can wear down Minnesota in the trenches, the Badgers’ three-headed monster at tailback could steal the show.


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CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – DECEMBER 30: Quarterback Graham Mertz #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers looks to take the snap against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the first half of the Duke’s Mayo Bowl at Bank of America Stadium on December 30, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

ESPN’s FPI projection for Wisconsin Badgers contest vs. Minnesota

Madison, Wis. – The Wisconsin Badgers (6-5, 4-4 Big Ten) enter Saturday’s home game against the Minnesota Gophers (7-4, 4-4 Big Ten) as 3-point favorites and are looking to reclaim Paul Bunyan’s Axe after losing it in last seasons Border Battle.

Ahead of Saturday’s matchup, ESPN’s FPI model gives Wisconsin a 53.6% chance of winning at home against Minnesota at Camp Randall.

This projection seems about right, especially given both programs have an undying hatred for one another.

These programs, at least in their current state, are very similar. Each team is top-12 in the country in total defense and relies heavily on running the football.

Both programs have underachieved in their own right, but one thing I know for sure, this is going to be a low-scoring, grind-it-out, Big Ten defensive battle.

Fresh off a loss to Iowa, PJ Fleck and company enter Saturday’s contest with the Big Ten’s No. 2 rushing attack and defense in the conference, allowing only 13.1 points per game.

Jim Leonhard and the Wisconsin Badgers are looking to build off last weekend’s fourth-quarter comeback over Nebraska and ride their three-headed monster of Braelon Allen, Chez Mellusi, and Isaac Guerendo at tailback to a victory in the regular season finale.

For Wisconsin, I’d love to see the Badgers come out and take some chances on offense-really lay it out there. They’re already bowl eligible, and for several coaches on the staff, this is their last audition to keep their jobs heading into the offseason.

I’ll take Wisconsin in a close, low-scoring affair at home.


Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin Badgers news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Dillon Graff on Twitter @DillonGraff.

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Nov 19, 2022; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Wisconsin Badgers interim head coach Jim Leonhard reacts to a play during the fourth quarter against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin Football: 3 Reasons beating Minnesota is SO important

Madison, Wis. – Well, ladies and gents, it’s been a roller-coaster season for Wisconsin football thus far, but it’s finally Axe week. 

Interim head coach Jim Leonhard and the Wisconsin Badgers (6-5, 4-4 Big Ten), who are looking to reclaim Paul Bunyan’s Axe, play host to the Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-4, 4-4 Big Ten) at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday afternoon. 

Here’s a look at three reasons beating the Minnesota Gophers is so damn important…

Wisconsin football vs. Minnesota is CFB’s longest-running rivalry game

Every season, Badger fans circle the Minnesota Gophers game on the schedule regardless of circumstance. The Border Battle began back in 1890, and they have played in all but one year since, with the Badgers currently holding a 62-61-8 all-time series advantage.

Tradition matters in college athletics, and you’d be hard-pressed to find many rivalries as cherished as this one. 

Minnesota currently has Paul Bunyan’s Axe

It absolutely pained me to type out that last sentence. PJ Fleck should never, and I mean NEVER, be in possession of Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

Since the trophy was created, Wisconsin has compiled a 45-26-3 record in the Border Battle and even held it for 14 straight seasons between 2004-2017.

After last season’s 23-13 defeat at the hands of the Gophers, UW is out for revenge, and despite the disappointing season the Badgers have had, all will be right in the world if the Axe returns to its rightful home in Madison.

The Jim Leonhard situation

Oct 22, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Jim Leonhard reacts to a call during the fourth quarter against the Purdue Boilermakers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

After last weekend’s fourth-quarter comeback against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, University of Wisconsin brass had officially seen enough.

Several hours after the game, UW posted the Wisconsin football head coaching job – which legally needs to be up for seven days before naming Paul Chryst’s successor (spoiler alert: it’s Jim Leonhard, and it always has been).

Everyone knows Wisconsin AD Chris McIntosh will remove coach Leonhard’s interim tag sometime this weekend. However, there is no arguing that naming him the program’s head coach will be SO much sweeter coming off a victory over Minnesota in the regular season finale.


Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin Badgers news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Dillon Graff on Twitter @DillonGraff.

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MADISON, WISCONSIN – OCTOBER 01: Assistant coach Jim Leonhard of the Wisconsin Badgers calls out instruction to his defense in the second quarter against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Camp Randall Stadium on October 01, 2022 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

What Wisconsin Badgers HC Jim Leonhard had to say about the Minnesota Gophers

Madison, Wis. – This weekend, the Wisconsin Badgers (6-5, 4-4 Big Ten), looking to reclaim Paul Bunyan’s Axe, host the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday afternoon in the regular season finale.

College football’s longest-running rivalry began back in 1890, and the Badgers currently hold a 62-61-8 all-time series advantage in the Border Battle. 

Before the two programs face off this weekend, here’s a look at what interim head coach Jim Leonhard had to say about the Gophers and what it means to those involved.

“You just know the records don’t matter. You go in there; it’s going to be a physical game; you have to earn it; you got to take it away. That’s the fun part about rivalries to me; it doesn’t matter. Banged up. Healthy. Struggling. Playing well. You know you go out there and win it; go earn a win. I’ve always respected this program, I don’t like them, right, but I respect them because they have an identity, they know who they are, and they are going to force you to beat them very similar to what we are. It’s going to be a fun experience on Saturday, and we need to get out of there with a win.”

Coach Leonhard’s thoughts on Wisconsin’s loss to Minnesota in 2021

“I think they out physicalled us last year, and they finished. We had the lead going into halftime, and they finished. They made plays in the second half to swing the game and create momentum, and put us on our heels. We couldn’t overcome it. I already mentioned they are okay with shortening the game, playing tough, playing field position, finding ways to create turnovers, and make it a second-half game. We have to dominate the line of scrimmage, which is going to be different this week because it is going to be a slugfest. You have to make plays; you have to make big plays on the perimeter, in the run game, in the pass game, you have to create turnovers; that’s what is going to get it done.”

You can watch coach Leonhard’s entire press conference in the video below:


Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin Badgers news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Dillon Graff on Twitter @DillonGraff.

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