Gophers crushed by Badgers

by Mark Remme

;MADISON, Wis. – Football games last 60 minutes, but Minnesota’s football team showed how quickly a game can get out of hand just moments into its 48-12 loss to Wisconsin Saturday.

The 25th-ranked Badgers forced a fumble by junior running back Amir Pinnix just 1:35 into the first quarter, and sophomore cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu took the ball 50 yards for a touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead.

Coach Glen Mason said a turnover so early changes the complexion of a ballgame.

“Turning the ball over in the first series is less than you’d like,” he said. “When it turns into a defensive score for Wisconsin it can loom to be disastrous because those things are tough to overcome.”

The score wouldn’t get any closer than 7-0.

After the Gophers punted on their next possession, Wisconsin relied heavily on the legs of freshman running back P.J. Hill to build a 14-0 lead with 5:24 remaining in the first quarter.

Hill carried the ball seven times on the Badgers’ scoring drive, including five straight to start the possession.

He accumulated 78 of Wisconsin’s 87 total yards on the drive, including a five-yard run for the score.

Hill, the Big Ten’s leading rusher, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in the third quarter, ran for 164 yards and two scores on the day.

Sophomore linebacker Deon Hightower said Hill’s smash-mouth running style makes him a solid runner in the conference.

“He’s running downhill,” Hightower said. “He’s not going to make a lot of moves and he lowers his shoulder – that’s what a Big Ten back is.”

Minnesota (2-5 overall, 0-4 Big Ten) was no match for Hill’s running attack, nor could it stop senior quarterback John Stocco’s passing game, which benefited from Hill’s stout performance.

Stocco used play-action with perfect precision as the Gophers’ defense consistently bit on the run.

Stocco used that deception to set up a two-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Andy Crooks, who stood wide open in the end zone as Minnesota’s defense collectively tackled Hill.

Wisconsin’s offensive onslaught didn’t waste any time finding the end zone in the second half, either.

The Badgers (6-1, 3-1) went 81 yards on two plays – 41- and 40-yard pass completions by Stocco to sophomore tight end Travis Beckum – and stretched their lead to 35-3 just one minute into the half.

Minnesota found life with 3:22 remaining in the third quarter as freshman cornerback Keith Massey – filling in for senior cornerback Trumaine Banks, who left the game in the third quarter with a broken arm – stripped junior wide receiver Luke Swan and recovered the fumble on the Badgers’ 22-yard line.

Pinnix capped off a seven-play, 22-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run, cutting the Wisconsin lead to 41-12.

But the Badgers responded as Stocco found Beckum again for a four-yard touchdown just nine plays later.

Beckum, who is second on the tight end depth chart, finished with five receptions for 118 yards and two scores.

Forgotten in the midst of Wisconsin’s continuous scoring was Minnesota’s unimpressive offensive performance – a facet of the team that has normally been strong.

Senior quarterback Bryan Cupito followed up his 347-yard passing performance against Penn State with 94 yards and one interception against the Badgers.

By mustering only 200 yards of total offense, the Gophers proved that an aggressive, disciplined defense coupled with a lethargic offense makes for an ugly finish.

“(Wisconsin’s defense) played extremely hard,” Pinnix said. “They ran to the ball just like they did on film. We didn’t expect nothing less.”