Abysmal second half leads to Gophers loss at Wisconsin

Quarterback Mitch Leidner threw four interceptions in the third and fourth quarters.

Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton intercepts a Minnesota pass at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. Wisconson won 31-17 over Minnesota.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton intercepts a Minnesota pass at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. Wisconson won 31-17 over Minnesota.

Mike Hendrickson

Mitch Leidner was short and to the point after Saturday’s loss to No. 6 Wisconsin.

“[I’m] pretty pissed off. I don’t know how else to describe it. It sucks,” Leidner said.

Everything changed for Leidner and the Gophers in the second half.

The Gophers were up 17-7 at the end of the second quarter but gave up 24 unanswered points to lose to their cross-state rival for the 13th straight year.

Leidner threw four interceptions — all in the second half, including three in the fourth quarter.

Wisconsin scored 14 points off Leidner’s interceptions, proving to be the difference in the loss.

His first one came midway through the third quarter when the Gophers were in the red zone with a chance to go up by 10.

On 3rd and 9, Leidner failed to see safety Leo Musso move in front of wide receiver Rashad Still and Musso jumped for an easy interception.

“I felt like I know what they were doing every single play the entire game and then they disguise one coverage and I slip and mess up,” Leidner said. “They get a lot of momentum from there.”

The interceptions continued for Leidner after that.

Over his next 10 pass attempts, three of them went for interceptions and none were completed.

“[All interceptions] are momentum swings, especially in a close ballgame,” said head coach Tracy Claeys. “They give the crowd and the teams energy, and that’s why good teams don’t turn the ball over.

It wasn’t just the passing offense that stopped working in the second half for the Gophers.

Minnesota had 115 rushing yards on 21 attempts in the first half but only 13 yards on 17 attempts in the second.

The Gophers unsuccessful runs forced them to throw the ball more as Wisconsin continued to bring pressure on Minnesota’s offensive line.

“Anytime you don’t have a good combination, it’s going to hurt you,” said wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky. “If you can’t run, they’re just going to send more defensive backs and you’re not going to be able to pass.”

The game became further out of reach after each interception.

Leidner’s second and third interceptions gave Wisconsin the ball inside Minnesota’s 20-yard line.

The game was tied 17-17 when Leidner threw his third inception.

The Badgers only needed four plays combined on the two drives to score two touchdowns and put the game out of reach.

Claeys said Leidner’s interceptions came from the quarterback trying to do too much.

“I’m sure he was trying to make a play and from the other side of it, there were two or three balls that we dropped that we had a chance that would have been big plays,” Claeys said. “Whenever you win or lose, it’s a team game and it always will be. It’s not just him.”

The second half collapse by the Gophers continued a troubling trend for the team.

Minnesota finished the season with four losses. The Gophers led at halftime in three of them.

This was the first loss all year for the Gophers by more than one possession.

“It’s not a good feeling knowing that we never got an opportunity to hold that Axe but hopefully those guys can learn from this and be able to continue to get better,” Leidner said.