Gophers end season with shutout loss to Wisconsin

Minnesota ended its season with a 5-7 record after losing 31-0.

Badgers defensive end Matt Henningsen celebrates the victory with fans at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 25. The Badgers defeated the Gophers 31-0.

Image by Max Ostenso

Badgers defensive end Matt Henningsen celebrates the victory with fans at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 25. The Badgers defeated the Gophers 31-0.

by Drew Cove

Heading into Saturday’s game, the Badgers had beaten Minnesota every year since 2003. Head coach P.J. Fleck had his first chance at changing the narrative of the rivalry. He also had a chance to dethrone an undefeated No. 5 Wisconsin team.

His offense sputtered and the story stayed the same.

Minnesota (5-7, 2-7 Big Ten) was shut out for the second consecutive game Saturday, as Wisconsin (12-0, 9-0 Big Ten) rolled to the end of its unbeaten regular season by beating the Gophers 31-0 at TCF Bank Stadium. The Paul Bunyan’s Axe trophy stayed in Wisconsin for the 14th consecutive matchup.

“This was unacceptable tonight,” Fleck said. “There’s no way we’re going to look like that next year. We are exactly where we are. We got exactly what our work deserves.”

Minnesota was rarely in Wisconsin territory. The few times the Gophers were on the brink of scoring, the team missed their chances. Kicker Emmit Carpenter missed a 46-yard try in the second quarter and a 48-yard try in the fourth quarter, keeping Minnesota’s zero on the scoreboard.

The Gophers were shut out last week against Northwestern 39-0. The last time Minnesota was shut out in consecutive games was in the 1950 season.

The loss sets Minnesota’s season record at 5-7, and for the seniors, it marked their last game at TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota will not see a bowl game for the first time since the 2011 season.

“Hate to send the seniors out that way,” running back Rodney Smith said. “I know I laid it all on the line for those guys. It’s tough to send them out that way.”

The Gophers had the same troubles offensively and defensively as they did against Northwestern just a week ago.

Minnesota couldn’t stop the run, and Wisconsin’s running back Jonathan Taylor was his usual self, given that he came into the day averaging over 150 yards per game. He ran for 149 yards against Minnesota and scored a touchdown. 

“They had a good game plan,” linebacker Thomas Barber said. “We were really stacking the box trying to stop the run and [we weren’t] very disciplined on defense, we’ve got to keep our eyes on our man.”

Taylor also had a long run of 53 yards for that touchdown, and he averaged 7.4 yards per carry.

The Gophers didn’t have much going offensively Saturday, either. 

Quarterback Demry Croft didn’t have some of his usual receivers, like Tyler Johnson, or Eric Carter. Most of the receivers for the Gophers, besides Phillip Howard and Mark Williams, haven’t played the position all season or their entire career.

Minnesota’s longest reception on the day came from junior Will Reger, a 26-yard pass from Croft, that was the first reception of his career. Besides that reception, Croft only completed two more passes, both to Smith.

With the win, Wisconsin recorded their first undefeated regular season since 1912. The Badgers have a chance to qualify for the college football playoff. Both No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Miami lost over the weekend.

With the win, Wisconsin now leads the all-time series — 60-59-8 — against Minnesota for the first time in its 127-year history.

The Gophers season ended in defeat, but Fleck doubled down on his statement of future success.

“Those who stay will be champions,” Fleck said. “I’ll re-evaluate the entire football team … players, coaches, everybody.”