The Minnesota Golden Gophers completed their regular season one win short of a chance to play in the Big Ten championship game as it was blown out at TCF Bank Stadium against the Wisconsin Badgers, 38-17.
The sold-out stadium was filled with optimism as Minnesota held Wisconsin to a three-and-out on its first drive. That stop led to the Gophers scoring a touchdown on their opening drive of just two plays.
Quarterback Tanner Morgan to wide receiver Rashod Bateman looked like the passing and receiving duo it had all season long, but that early magic did not last for the Gophers. Beyond that score, Minnesota’s offense never seemed to click at any point for more than one play in the rest of the game.
“We thought we executed,” Bateman said. “Our details on that play worked. We were having fun out there and after that, I think our offense just lost control of our detail.”
Minnesota’s next offensive drives resulted in a: punt, interception, punt, punt, punt, a field goal, a turnover on downs, a fumble, a touchdown and another turnover on downs. The final touchdown came when Minnesota was already down four touchdowns in the final minutes of the fourth quarter and not enough time to mount a comeback.
In addition to drives stalling out, only two drives made it in the red zone for the Gophers. While one resulted in a touchdown in garbage time near the end of the game, the first one when Minnesota was down by 14 points resulted in a turnover on downs.
The Gophers had a first-and-goal from the Wisconsin 6-yard line but made two short rushing attempts and two failed passes to turn it over and leave empty-handed.
The game overall was inconsistent with what Minnesota had done offensively all season long: dominating the pass and complementing that with an efficient running game. Morgan was 20-for-37 for 296 yards and two touchdowns. While the yards are impressive, his completion percentage of 54 on Saturday was well below his season completion percentage.
Another thing uncharacteristic of the Gophers offense was dropped passes by the receiving corps. A few dropped passes in the end zone and elsewhere from Minnesota’s top targets made life more difficult for the Gophers, especially once Wisconsin took the lead and began running away with it.
Though Morgan had a lower completion percentage, he had considerably less time to make throws than he has most of this season. Wisconsin’s defensive line was stifling, but also a development the Gophers could not have planned for changed things early in the game.
Offensive lineman Daniel Faalele went down with an injury in the first half and it hindered Minnesota’s ability to use its ‘heavy package’ featuring six offensive linemen.
“We had a lot of heavy package in,” head coach PJ Fleck said. “Not just for the run, but for the pass. … It took a whole package away from what we were going to do.”
For the seniors, the game capped off an interesting career for any college level player. They were largely recruited by Jerry Kill, played for Tracy Claeys and ended up staying to play for Fleck in his first three seasons.
“If I want to see this program go where it needs to go, I need to spend this time [between now and the bowl game] instilling values and morals and work ethic into the younger guys,” senior Winston DeLattiboudere said. “They’re the guys that are going to be changing the page next year.”