The Gophers missed a chance to bring Paul Bunyan’s Axe back to Minnesota for the first time in 13 years.
Minnesota (8-4, 5-4 Big Ten) led 17-7 against No. 6 Wisconsin (10-2, 7-2) at halftime, but gave up 24 unanswered points in the second half to lose 31-17 in Madison, Wisconsin Saturday to mark their 13th straight loss against the Badgers — the longest streak in the 126-year history between the two rivals.
The Gophers finished tied for fourth in the Big Ten West.
“We’re disappointed that we didn’t get it done,” said head coach Tracy Claeys. “In the second half, with the [four] turnovers, you can’t do that versus a real good team on the road, and they took advantage.”
Wisconsin had 164 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground in the second half. The team had 210 yards in total on 46 carries.
Running back Corey Clement ran in for a go-ahead, 2-yard rush and Wisconsin went up 24-17. Clement was the leading rusher for the Badgers with 100 rushing yards and two scores on 26 attempts.
Starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook took a hit along the sideline that led to a skirmish between Minnesota and Wisconsin players. Hornibrook would later be ruled out for the rest of the game.
Quarterback Bart Houston only needed to throw 54 passing yards in the second half after Hornibrook went down with an injury.
Linebacker Jonathan Celestin said that Houston and Hornibrook were similar.
“Houston could just run more but he only happened to scramble one time,” Celestin said. “Besides that, it wasn't a big difference.”
Leidner had 60 rushing yards in the first half. He also had 111 passing yards, including a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky in the second quarter to help the Gophers go up 10-3.
The completion to Wolitarsky would be Leidner’s last touchdown pass of the game. Leidner threw four interceptions as the team failed to score a single point in the second half.
Down 17-7, the Badgers jogged off the field at halftime to boos from the Camp Randall crowd.
Wolitarsky said the team was trying to not get too excited.
“We’ve been in that situation a lot,” Wolitarsky said. “We’re not here because we don’t think we can win … Unfortunately, we didn’t come out in the second half.”
Leidner tried to throw the ball between two defensive backs in the third quarter. The pass was intercepted by safety Leo Musso and the Badgers took over with the Gophers leading.
Leidner’s second interception of the game came on a throw towards the sideline. Defensive back Sojourn Shelton intercepted the pass and brought the ball back to the 19-yard line.
Leidner led the team in rushing yards with 46. Running backs Shanon Brooks and Rodney Smith failed to amass more than 50 yards each, with the two putting up 37 and 45, respectively.
Minnesota’s last eight drives resulted in a punt or interception.
Cornerback KiAnte Hardin made several big plays to help Minnesota in the game. He had a kickoff return for 69 yards and recovered a fumble — forced by Celestin — in the fourth quarter
Celestin said the team needed a spark on the fumble.
“Offense got the ball back so they could go down and score,” Celestin said. “I did what I can to give the offense the ball … I thought something positive would happen.”
Wisconsin wide receiver Jazz Peavy took the ball on a jet sweep, bounced the ball outside, and ran for a 71-yard gain. The Gophers added a personal foul penalty on the play and Wisconsin had first-and-goal from the 5-yard line.
Badgers running back Dare Ogunbowale made it a two-possession game when he rushed for an 8-yard touchdown.
While Minnesota finished its regular season with a loss, the team is bowl-eligible for a fifth straight season.
Leidner said it would be fantastic to get a ninth victory in the bowl game.
“I mean that hasn't been done here in a while,” Leidner said. “We still have an opportunity. We're a team that never quits and we're going to get ready for this bowl game.”