Wisconsin sticks with

Michael Dougherty

MADISON, Wis. — It’s not rocket science, folks, it’s football, and No. 8 Wisconsin showed the Gophers that doing the simple things leads to victories.
The Badgers (9-0, 6-0 in the Big Ten) won Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the fourth straight year by using the fundamentals of the game — like good field position, an effective kicking game and timely turnovers — to methodically roll over the Gophers 26-7 in front of a crowd of 78,767 at Camp Randall Stadium.
Heading into the game with the Badgers, Minnesota concentrated on ways to stop 258-pound Wisconsin tailback Ron Dayne, and they did so with moderate success.
But Gophers quarterback Billy Cockerham threw four interceptions and Gophers punter Ryan Rindels struggled while his counterpart Kevin Stemke excelled, giving Wisconsin a huge advantage in starting field position.
“Turnovers and the punting game killed us,” linebacker Parc Williams said. “They started a lot of drives inside our own 50-yard line and that makes it easier to score.”
Starting out at their own 40-yard line on average, the Badgers did just enough to win. They had one long scoring drive in the second quarter when they went 74 yards with Dayne capping off the drive with a two-yard touchdown run.
But their other five scoring drives (four field goals and one touchdown) averaged only 22 yards, as the Gophers defense continuously plugged the holes in the leaking dam created by the anemic Minnesota (4-5, 1-5) offense.
The Gophers running game was held to 28 yards rushing, 15 of which came on the first play of the game, and Gophers coach Glen Mason said his offense leaves a lot to be desired thanks to its incredible inconsistency.
“On offense we don’t have an identity right now,” he said. “I don’t know what we do consistently, but we’ve got to score some points.”
Actually, the one consistent thing his offense seems to be able to do is throw interceptions.
In his past two games, Cockerham has only 19 completions compared to seven interceptions, and was replaced by sophomore quarterback-turned wide receiver- turned quarterback Ryan Keller. Not surprisingly, Cockerham was distraught after the game.
“We’ve got to figure something out quick, because we’ve got to win these last two games,” he said. “I’m the leader on offense, so when we don’t win I take it pretty hard.”
The lone bright spot on offense was the play of freshman Ron Johnson, who caught nine balls for 100 yards. Johnson used his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame to shield the defensive backs for most of his receptions, something Mason said was impressive.
“He’s only a true freshman,” Mason said of Johnson. “We thought he’d be a good receiver and he keeps coming on. He’s the best we’ve got.”
Johnson, however, could not make up for the inept running game or the off-target passing game. And along with those destructive interceptions came some subpar special teams performances.
After a Cockerham interception and trailing 13-7, the Gophers stuffed Dayne twice for a loss and sacked Badgers quarterback Mike Samuel forcing Wisconsin to punt from their own 37-yard line. Then Stemke nailed a 62-yard punt which was downed at the Gophers one-yard line.
“Our special teams were truly special,” Badgers coach Barry Alvarez said. “Stemke really was a key. His kicks inside the 10 gave us field position and allowed us to score points.”
Despite the struggles of the offense and the special teams, the defense turned in another solid performance. Even though the Badgers ran for 165 yards (Dayne had 133) they only had a three-yard average on 55 attempts.
“I really think the final score of that game is no indication of how the Gopher defense played today,” Mason said. “They played tremendously.”
Cockerham said he knows the defense gets frustrated holding opponents while watching the offense limp along.
“Our defense has played so well the past couple of weeks,” he said. “If we could just get a touchdown here or a touchdown there we could win some of those games.”

Rushing — Hamner 11-22; Cockerham 8-(-4); Evans 3-5; Keller 1-5; Henderson 1-0.
Passing — Cockerham 13-29-4-161 yards, 1 TD; Keller 2-12-19.
Receiving — Johnson 9-100; Leverson 3-73, 1 TD; Henderson 1-6; Hamner 1-1; Henderson 1-0.