Gophers’ season given the Axe

by Aaron Blake

MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin chopped off Minnesota’s football team’s legs Saturday – and that was before it took back Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

After the Gophers deferred to the second half on the opening coin toss, a suddenly potent Badgers offense scored on its first five possessions and kept Minnesota in pass-happy catch-up mode throughout the game.

And as has been the case this season when they fall behind and abandon their running game, the Gophers lost again, 38-14 to the fourth-ranked Badgers in front of 83,069 at Camp Randall Stadium.

The loss is Minnesota’s fourth in five weeks and comes on the heels of a crushing 30-21 defeat Oct. 30 at Indiana.

“I think I used the word ‘frustrated’ last week,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said after the game. “I’m totally disappointed in almost every aspect of my program.

“We did not play worth a darn tonight.”

The most telling statistic: the Gophers defense was on the field almost three times as much as the offense.

Wisconsin’s 44:31-15:29 time of possession advantage was proof positive of Minnesota’s

ineffective defense and reliance on its passing game.

The Gophers (6-4, 3-4 Big Ten) ran the ball just 18 times for 73 yards while quarterback Bryan Cupito was a respectable 17-for-33 for 258 yards and a touchdown.

But though Cupito completed more than 50 percent of his passes for the first time in six games, Minnesota’s offense ran five or fewer plays on each of its first four drives while Wisconsin (9-0, 6-0) built a 31-0 lead with 6:00 left in the second quarter.

And Cupito – who was on sidelines for the Gophers’ 21-point fourth-quarter implosion against the Wolverines on Oct. 11, 2003 – had an interesting take on the first quarter, which ended with Minnesota punting the ball back to the Wisconsin team already up 21-0.

“That first quarter was probably the worst quarter since I’ve been at Minnesota,” Cupito said. “In my three years.”

Wisconsin kept the Minnesota offense off the field by converting its first six third downs – all by the arm of quarterback John Stocco. Four of those five were six yards or longer.

Stocco finished 19-of-26 for 297 yards and a touchdown and ran for two scores. He broke his career-high for passing midway through the second quarter.

The Gophers did a decent job of containing Badgers running back Anthony Davis, who averaged four yards per carry with 124 yards and two touchdowns after racking up 509 yards and eight scores in his two previous games against the Gophers.

But the real damage was done on third down by Stocco.

“When you have an offense like ours, you want to put them on the field and keep them on the field as much as you can,” Gophers safety and captain Justin Fraley said.

But offensive lineman Rian Melander said the opportunities were there for the offense.

“The offense could’ve done the same thing and gone out there and put up 31 points, just like (the Badgers) did,” Melander said. “No excuses.”

With enough blame to go around, the Gophers are once against faced with the task of picking up the pieces of another frustrating loss and an even further-lost season.

And now they might have even lost their direction.

“I guess maybe you’re at a loss for what to say,” Mason said. “Where do you go from here? I don’t know. We just got our brains beat a couple minutes ago.”