Davis tramples Gophers’ Alamo hopes

Brian Stensaas

MADISON, Wis. – As the final seconds ticked off the clock at Camp Randall Stadium, no one appeared happier than Wisconsin defensive lineman Darius Jones.

All 287 pounds of him led the 53.3-yard race from the Badgers’ sideline to Minnesota’s where he was soon joined by a sea of cardinal and white in reclaiming Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

Mixed in the celebration were the dejected looks of Gophers’ football players – again.

For the fourth-straight week Minnesota came out on the losing end Saturday, this time watching Wisconsin running back Anthony Davis scamper for 301 yards to lead his squad’s 49-31 win.

The loss likely puts the Gophers (7-5, 3-5 Big Ten) into the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve and Wisconsin (7-6, 2-6) in the Dec. 28 Alamo Bowl, though nothing official had been announced as of Sunday night.

While a postseason bowl is a reward for the seven games won, the last four losses are leaving a bad taste in the mouths of players.

“We’re disappointed right now,” free safety Eli Ward said. “That was a tough loss, we really expected to win. We have to try to get better and win that next game.”

Linebacker Ben West opted to take a different look at the state of the team.

“We’re going to a bowl, but it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “We’re preparing for Jan. 1 of the (following) year. Everything we do from now on is going toward going to the Rose Bowl next year. That’s all we’re thinking about.”

Before any trip to Pasadena can be planned next season, Minnesota will need to shore up the run defense which allowed Davis to torch the Gophers for the second straight year.

His top two career rushing performances have come against Minnesota. Davis not only set a career high in yards and rushing attempts (43) Saturday, but his five touchdowns tied a school record. In his two combined games against the Gophers, the sophomore has 509 yards and eight touchdowns.

Davis’ effort on Saturday – including a 71-yard touchdown run to ice the game in the fourth quarter – combined with quarterback Brooks Bollinger’s 112-yard day on the ground, ultimately spelled doom for Minnesota.

“You give up over 400 yards rushing and you are going to get beat,” Gophers Coach Glen Mason said. “In an effort to simplify things, we had missed opportunities early. We came away with field goals rather than touchdowns and had an inability to stop the run.”

Kicker Dan Nystrom recorded three field goals in the contest, two of which came on drives that began inside the Wisconsin 30-yard line.

On a high note, Nystrom’s three scores and two extra points moved him into sole possession of second place in the Big Ten for points by a kicker (350) and field goals made (66).

But the low notes surely outweigh the positives for a team that will have gone more than two months without a win when they take the field in a bowl game. The Gophers last tasted victory Oct. 19 at Michigan State.

“We realize what we let get away today,” quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq said. “We’re not real happy with our performance but we’re still going to a bowl and looking forward to that.”

Kwapinski sidelined

Tackle Dan Kwapinski tore his anterior cruciate ligament last week against Iowa and tried to play Saturday but was helped off the field in the first quarter. Mason said it is likely Kwapinski is done for the year.

Meanwhile, linebacker Terrance Campbell did not make the trip because of a shoulder injury.

Brian Stensaas covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]