MADISON, Wisc. — One positive the Gophers can take away from their loss to No. 20 Wisconsin is that they scored every time they were in the red zone.
Too bad they only got there twice.
The Gophers scored one touchdown and one field goal Saturday when they managed to get inside the 20-yard line. The Badgers got into the red zone six times, scoring touchdowns each time.
But for Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster, it wasn’t just frustrating that his defense couldn’t stop the Badgers in the redzone. “It’s frustrating when you don’t stop them period,” he said.
Behind the thunder-and-lightning running attack of senior John Clay and freshman James White, who combined for five touchdowns and 229 yards, Wisconsin moved down the field seemingly at will, especially in the second half.
Already with a comfortable 28-9 lead early in the fourth, Wisconsin drove 80 yards on four plays, culminating on Clay’s 11-yard touchdown as he carried Gophers safety James Manuel for several yards into the end zone.
The effective running attack kept the Badgers on the field for more than 34 minutes, including almost 11 minutes in the third quarter alone, wearing out the Minnesota defense.
“When you’re out there as long as our defense was, they got a little worn down,” Brewster said. “There’s no question about it.”
Similar to last weekend when Northwestern scored two quick touchdowns, the Badgers came out firing early, scoring touchdowns on each of their first two drives.
The Gophers defense eventually settled in and didn’t allow another score for the rest of the half, but the damage had already been done and Wisconsin gained the early momentum while the Gophers found themselves in an early hole.
“One thing we have to stop doing is spotting teams 14 points,” senior Kyle Theret said. “That kills you mentally.”
While Wisconsin had no trouble moving the ball consistently, the only thing the Gophers offense did consistently was sputter in Wisconsin territory.
Their first three plays of the game were a prototype of their season-long quest for a run-first offense: Two consecutive rushes up the gut for five and seven yards and a play-action pass to tight end Eric Lair, ostensibly set up by the run, that put them deep in Wisconsin territory.
But the Gophers gained just four more yards on that drive and failed to convert on fourth down at the Wisconsin 31-yard line. That kind of drive was all-too common for the Gophers Saturday.
With Wisconsin’s offense hogging possession, time scoring chances were sparse for the Gophers, and they struggled to turn those chances into points.
They mounted a promising drive after taking over near midfield midway through the second, chewing up more than six minutes and driving 49 yards. But with first down from the 14-yard-line, the Gophers stalled on two rushes and an incomplete pass, and came out with just a field goal.
“We knew going into this game that…there’s not going to be a lot of opportunities for us on offense just because they handle the ball so much,” senior quarterback Adam Weber said. “We gotta be able to put the ball in the endzone.”
Although the defense struggled to contain Wisconsin throughout the game, Weber laid a share of the blame on the offense for not answering.
“It goes both ways,” Weber said. “It’s a full team loss and it’s pretty painful.”