Alas, there will be no repeat in the Big Ten championship game. And, for whatever playoff hopes the conference still holds out given today’s events, that might not be a bad thing.
Trailing 17-3 late in the second quarter, No. 14 Wisconsin scored 24 unanswered points to help drop No. 18 Minnesota 34-24 and claim the Big Ten West division title. UW now advances to the title game next Saturday against Ohio State at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
This will mark the Badgers third title-game appearance in the four-year history of the event. This clinching win, though, didn’t come as easily as some expected.
The Gophers looked to be in complete control through the first 25 minutes of the game. A mini-run in the last 4:39 of the first half sliced the deficit to 17-13 and gave the home team considerable momentum heading into halftime. That momentum extended into the second half as the Badgers outscored their opponents 21-7 the rest of the way to win going away.
Melvin Gordon, one of the favorites to win the Heisman, was held in check through two quarters of play, rushing for just 55 yards on 14 first-half carries. That changed in the second half as Gordon finished with 151 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. He also caught a first-half touchdown pass that helped fuel the comeback.
The Gophers had cut the Badgers lead to 27-24 with 7:32 remaining on a Mitch Leidner two-yard touchdown run, but a six-play drive on the ensuing possession covered 65 yards and culminated with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Joel Stave to Robert Wheelwright. That marked Wheelwright’s first catch this season and first career touchdown reception.
Gordon did sustain an ankle injury late in the game, although the severity is not known. He did limp off the field under his own power, and didn’t return. According to the broadcast, however, he could’ve returned if necessary.
Joel Stave also played a solid game under center for UW, throwing for 215 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Perhaps more importantly, Stave wasn’t intercepted.