Stocco’s passing haunts Gophers defense

Dan Miller

MADISON, Wis. – Minnesota free safety John Pawielski shoved Wisconsin’s Anthony Davis out of bounds midway through the second quarter Saturday for his 10th tackle of the game.

“It’s not a good thing when your free safety is making that many tackles,” Pawielski said after the game.

As the last line of defense for the Gophers, Pawielski’s increased tackling responsibility showed just how badly the Gophers defense was torn apart Saturday.

And Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco was leading the tearing.

Stocco came into Saturday’s game ranked ninth in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (159.6) and seventh in passing efficiency (109.7).

Saturday, at the expense of an extremely porous Minnesota defense, Stocco broke out with a career game.

The Richfield, Minn., native passed his previous career-high passing mark before halftime. He went 14-for-18 with 241 yards and a touchdown in the first half alone.

The Badgers converted their first six third downs in the half, and Stocco was personally responsible for all six.

“We just tried to move the chains and be good on third down,” Stocco said. “That’s something we talked about all year, and we just kept the chains moving.”

On third-and-eight on Minnesota’s 17-yard line with 4:39 left in the first quarter, Stocco threw a strike to Jonathan Orr in the back of the end zone to give Wisconsin a 14-0 lead.

It was his fourth first-down completion on third-and-long of the drive.

And it was Stocco again who all but buried the Gophers at the end of the third quarter.

With Minnesota having chipped the lead down to 31-14, he faked a handoff on the 4-yard line and bootlegged left. By the time he turned his head, he had enough time to leisurely raise his arm and point to the sky before jogging into the end zone.

The entire game before, Stocco calmly and methodically picked apart Minnesota’s secondary and its loose zone coverage.

“They just tore our zone apart,” Minnesota captain and defensive end Darrell Reid said. “We had third-and-long about 10, 15 times, and they kept converting it.”

Reid, along with the rest of the Gophers players and coaches, couldn’t find any clear-cut answers as to how Stocco and the Badgers offense completely dominated the game.

Reid repeatedly talked about the shortcomings of players’ mentality and the defensive schemes the Gophers were using.

“Like I said, I think it’s a combination of players’ intensity and coaching, period,” Reid said.

“I wouldn’t say that they were doing things that we weren’t a good fit for. I just don’t think the way we did them was right.”

Gophers coach Glen Mason didn’t pull any punches when talking about the ineptitude of the defense, either.

“If I am (Wisconsin) coach (Barry) Alvarez in their locker room, I am talking about my offense,” Mason said. “I am talking about my defense.

“I thought our defense would be better (this year). Statistically, that can be very misleading. But performance-wise, that hasn’t happened.”