Sunday, October 4, 2009

Axe Falls on Gopher Football, Again

The University of Minnesota Gopher football team did something on Saturday it has become accustomed to doing.....losing to the University of Wisconsin.

The Badgers pounded out 295 rushing yards, led by RB John Clay's 184 yards on 32 carries - 159 in the second half - and beat the Gophers 31-28.

As was the case with Minnesota's loss to Cal in week two, the Gophers had several chances to take Paul Bunyan's Axe in this one. However, mistakes cost them dearly, namely:
  • The Badgers converted two of three Minnesota turnovers into TDs
  • Minnesota went into the red zone three times in the first half and came away with only two field goals. The third was a Weber interception
  • Minnesota was whistled for nine penalties for 75 total yards
  • The rushing game hurt the Gophers again, as they ran 28 times for 57 yards (2 yards per carry)
  • The Badgers dominated time of possession, 34:41 to 25:19

In the end, it was the inability to stop the run in the second half which did in the Gophers. The defense had no answer for Clay. However, to their credit, the offense did absolutely nothing to ease the pressure on the defense, holding the ball for less than 10 minutes total in the second half. After holding a total yardage advantage of 189-142 at halftime, the Gophers ran a total of 9 plays for 23 yards in the third quarter, and were out-gained by Wisconsin 187-23 in that quarter alone. The final total yardage margin was 454-328 for Wisconsin.

QB Adam Weber had an up-and-down day. He was 16-30 for 271 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. However, his inability to convert on third downs was one factor which cost the team. WR Eric Decker had another huge day, catching 8 balls for 140 yards and a TD.

Wisconsin tried hard to give the Gophers a chance to win. Leading 24-13, Clay fumbled inside the Minnesota 20, and Marcus Sherels picked up the fumble and raced 88 yards for the touchdown. A two-point conversion made the score 24-21 with 6:50 to play. The Badgers raced the length of the field to extend the score to 31-21, but Minnesota struck quickly for a TD, going 79 yards in three plays. After a failed onside kick with 2:13 remaining, Wisconsin ran two rushing plays, forcing the Gophers to take their last timeout. Facing 3rd and 8 to go just outside midfield, Wisconsin inexplicably threw the ball, and it was nearly picked off by Sherels. Instead of running into the line and burning another 40 seconds off the clock, Wisconsin gave the Gophers the ball with 2 minutes left. However, punter Brad Nortman's kick was partially blocked, but took a Wisconsin bounce, and put the Gophers in jail. An Adam Weber fumble under extreme duress sealed the fate.

Wisconsin has now won six meetings in a row. Since Minnesota won back-to-back Axes in 1993 and 1994, Wisconsin has won 13 of 15 meetings.

The Gophers dropped to 3-2 and 1-1 in the Big Ten.

Next up for the Gophers is Purdue for a homecoming meeting at TCF Bank Stadium. The Boilermakers were 27-21 losers to Northwestern on Saturday, and are 1-4 (0-1 Big Ten) in coach Danny Hope's first year in West Lafayette.

The Gophers should win next week against Purdue. If they don't take care of their home field, they are in trouble, as the next two contests are road games at Penn State and Ohio State. The 2009 season could be a lost cause if a victory over Purdue is not attained next weekend.

We'll be back Thursday with a Gopher/Purdue preview.

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