BY TER STAFF
Today was a big day for the Wisconsin Badgers, and it involved a lot of familiarity while also charting a lot of new ground. First, it was Senior Day, the last day that seniors Corey Clement, Vince Biegel and company will ever play for their home crowd at Camp Randall Stadium. Emotions were running high throughout the entire day, and the senior class had their sights on a memorable afternoon with their family and friends watching.
Next, today’s game was also important because it marked Wisconsin’s heated rivalry with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Although Wisconsin has dominated this matchup in recent history, Minnesota was going to do everything in its power to ensure that Wisconsin didn’t reclaim Paul Bunyan’s axe for a 13th straight year.
And if a rivalry matchup and Senior Day wasn’t enough, the game also marked the Badger’s celebration of their Big 10 West victory. Although Wisconsin clinched the title (and therefore birth in the Big 10 Championship game) yesterday, celebrating their upcoming match against Penn State (who paved their way with Ohio State and Penn State wins earlier today) just wouldn’t have been the same after a crushing loss.
Then last but not least, the day was a special one because of the playoff implications that surrounded the game. Of course the Badgers have had a “one game at a time” mentality, but the reality is, with a win today and a Big 10 Championship win next week, Wisconsin could very well make the College Football Playoffs for the first time. It’s unclear if the Badgers would still need some help, but if the squad didn’t do their part against the Golden Gophers, then their playoff hopes would be more than over.
So with so much on the line, you could expect the Badgers to hit the ground running and bully Minnesota around, right? Well, it wasn’t so easy. At least not right away.
Not only did Minnesota draw blood first with an early field goal, but after Wisconsin responded with an Alec Ingold touchdown in the second quarter, Minnesota had two unanswered touchdown scores from QB Mitch Leidner (one rushing and one passing). But after Leidner’s touchdown run with 53 seconds left to end Minnesota’s impressive first half, Minnesota would not score another point all game.
Wisconsin first chipped away at their 17-7 deficit with an Andrew Endicott field goal. While they turned the game into a one-score Minnesota lead, field goals were not going to get the job done, especially with how Wisconsin was moving the ball up to that point.
Then it was time for the game changing moment. Just when Minnesota was starting to move the ball again, the Badger’s Mitch Leidner intercepted Leidner’s pass in Wisconsin’s own endzone, saving 7 points and perhaps saving a second half dagger that very well may have put the game away. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, this was only a 7-point swing as the Badgers punted the ball away after 4 plays and 19 yards.
But there is something about the 4th Quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. As “Jump Around” was blasting throughout the stadium, Wisconsin had new life. With 13 minutes left in the game, Wisconsin’s Sojourn Shelton delivered with a big interception and return for 40 yards to the Minnesota 19. With great field position, Wisconsin capitalized with a Corey Clement touchdown run, after Wisconsin QB Bart Houston delivered a clutch pass to Robert Wheelwright.
Minutes later, the Badgers again found the endzone, again with a Corey Clement touchdown run. The real MVP of this drive though was WR Jazz Peavy, who had a huge 71-yard run to the Minnesota 5-yard-line.
From there, the game was all but over, and Wisconsin continued to show us why they have arguably the best defense in the country. Wisconsin would see 4 total interceptions in the second half, two of which led to easy touchdowns for the Badgers. While Minnesota’s offense owned the first half of play, Wisconsin’s defense stepped up big time in the second half. Although the Badgers continue to win despite their offense, as opposed to because of their offense, it was enough for another week.
They say defense wins championships and Wisconsin will test that theory next weekend, as the Badgers will face the Big 10 East Champions in Penn State for the Conference Championship in Indianapolis.
Check out our photos from the Badger’s victory over Minnesota here.