Nov. 12, 2011
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Minnesota has made progress over the past few weeks of this rough rebuilding season under new coach Jerry Kill.
The Gophers still have a long way to go, as their border-state rival reminded them.
Montee Ball set the Big Ten's single-season touchdown record and 16th-ranked Wisconsin trampled Minnesota 42-13 to keep Paul Bunyan's Axe for the eighth straight year - and stay in the conference title chase.
"We thought we had a good plan," Kill said. "We just didn't execute it very well. We played a pretty good football team today, and they played better than us."
Russell Wilson had a season-high four touchdown passes. He was on target with every throw and every decision, connecting on all but his last pass, a deep ball that Nick Toon had in his hands but let trickle out as he hit the turf hard midway through the third quarter. Toon finished with eight catches for 100 yards and two scores, and Wilson went 16 for 17 for 178 yards.
As for Ball, he ran for two scores and caught a pass for another to beat by one the previous Big Ten record of 26 touchdowns. The mark was shared previously by Pete Johnson (Ohio State, 1975), Anthony Thompson (Indiana, 1988) and Ki-Jana Carter (Penn State, 1994).
Ball found plenty of gaping holes behind that Wisconsin-born, gargantuan offensive line and gained 166 yards on 23 carries. The Badgers (8-2, 4-2) outgained the Gophers in total yards 461-156 and had 29 first downs to their rival's nine on an unseasonably warm afternoon with a kickoff temperature in the low 60s.
This was an ideal day all around for the Badgers, who benefited from losses by Leaders Division foes Penn State and Ohio State and moved within one game of the Nittany Lions and pulled one game ahead of the Buckeyes. Wisconsin can reach the conference championship game by winning the next two weeks.
The Gophers (2-8, 1-5) aren't anywhere near contending for that.
"We've still got two games to go," quarterback MarQueis Gray said. "We just need to make sure the guys are all on the same page."
Minnesota scored twice on special teams, a 5-yard run by kicker Jordan Wettstein on a fake field goal and a 96-yard return of the second half kickoff by Duane Bennett, but Wisconsin dominated on both sides of the ball all day.
The yardage at the end of the first quarter was 189 for the Badgers and minus-1 for the Gophers.
Gray, after his two best games of the season, finished 6 for 14 for 51 yards and one interception that Wilson turned into a touchdown drive the other way at the end of the first half. He ran 19 times for 68 yards with a bad back that hampered him in practice this week.
Kill said he was "very concerned" about Gray's injury.
"He gutted it up today. We have to play better around him," the coach said.
Gray also had a lot on his mind. His girlfriend gave birth Friday to twin boys, MarShawn and MarZell.
"As soon as I left the hospital I knew I had to get back into game mode," Gray said, adding: "They didn't do anything we didn't prepare for. They were just the better team today."
The red-wearing Wisconsinites came by the busloads, clogging the campus sidewalks near the stadium and mingling amiably with their friends in maroon and gold. Thousands of students from each state attend school across the border each year, and all the transplants lured over the river for work add even more spice to the rivalry. But the Badgers fans have enjoyed the majority of the bragging over the last two decades.
Wisconsin has won 17 of the last 21 meetings in the most-played series in college football history. This is the first four-game road winning streak the Badgers have had at Minnesota.
The Gophers were going to need some good luck to keep this game close, given the discrepancy in talent, but they didn't get much of that.
They sacked Wilson twice on the first possession, but he deftly led the Badgers on an 81-yard touchdown drive that drained more than eight minutes from the clock. Dan Orseske's punt later in the first quarter bounced backward and netted just 4 yards, setting up Wisconsin for an easy score on a shortened field.
Then after Wettstein - the walk-on who didn't even play for his high school team in DePere, Wis. - caught a slick between-the-legs lateral from holder Adam Lueck and slipped out of a tackle to surge into the end zone, he pulled the extra point wide left.
Ski-U-Mah Weekly: Episode 3
Watch this week's episode which features head coach P.J. Fleck and a discussion about Gopher Football equipment with Kyle Gergely.
Game 4: Maryland at Minnesota
Minnesota welcomes Big Ten foe Maryland to TCF Bank Stadium for the first time. The 11 a.m. game on Saturday can be seen on Fox Sports 1 and heard on KFAN.
Watch Ski-U-Mah Weekly Live at Noon
P.J. Fleck will appear on this week's Ski-U-Mah Weekly Live on Facebook today at Noon.