The Axe Stays in Wisconsin
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Corey Clement ran for two fourth-quarter touchdowns, a big-play defense pitched a second-half shutout, and No. 5 Wisconsin beat Minnesota 31-17 on Saturday for its 13th straight win in the annual border rivalry.
The Badgers triumphantly lifted Paul Bunyan's Axe again, the trophy that goes to the victor in the most-played rivalry in major college football.
Wisconsin (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten, No. 6 CFP) turned in a stalwart defensive effort in the second half after getting outplayed in the first and falling behind by 10 points at halftime.
The comeback served as an exclamation point for an already momentous weekend. Wisconsin had wrapped up the Big Ten West and a trip to next week's league title game after Nebraska lost to Iowa on Friday night.
Mitch Leidner threw four interceptions in the second half for Minnesota (8-4, 5-4). The protection around him crumbled as the Badgers mixed up their defensive pressures.
On offense, Wisconsin's running game finally caught up in the fourth quarter.
Jazz Peavy went 71 yards on a jet sweep down the right sideline to the Minnesota 11. Two plays later, Clement bowled into the end zone from 2 yards to give Wisconsin the lead for good, 24-17, with 6:42 left.
Four-year starter Sojourn Shelton, playing in his last home game, had two interceptions. Shelton had an entertaining 40-yard, across-the-field return to the Minnesota 19 after his first interception with about 13 minutes left.
Clement scored his first touchdown of the game three plays later to tie it at 17.
Backup quarterback Bart Houston played the entire second half for Wisconsin because of an injury to starter Alex Hornibrook. Houston finished 9 of 14 for 123 yards.
For Minnesota, Drew Wolitarsky had four catches for 76 yards, including a 35-yard reception after tipping the ball to himself and advancing to the Wisconsin 22 late it the second quarter. It set up Leidner's 3-yard touchdown run with 53 seconds left for a 17-7 halftime lead.
It was the 126th meeting in a series that dates back to 1890.
Minnesota: The rough fourth quarter overshadowed a terrific first half for Minnesota. Leidner threw off the Badgers' active defense early with keepers around the edges, including his scoring run late in the first half. He finished 9 of 26 for 158 yards and a score, with 46 yards rushing on 16 carries.
A five-win season in the Big Ten, even with a softer schedule, is a confidence builder for the future. But the Gophers still can't catch up to their biggest measuring stick.
Wisconsin: The Badgers had perhaps their worst first half of the season, with Minnesota following Wisconsin's blueprint for success. The defense missed key tackles, and the running game couldn't get going. The left-handed Hornibrook departed after taking a shot to his right shoulder after throwing an incompletion near the sideline late in the second quarter. Hornibrook then fell to the turf, with the back of his helmet slamming hard into the ground.
Minnesota: Awaits its bowl destination. The Gophers will play in its fifth consecutive bowl game, tied for longest streak in program history.
Wisconsin: Plays No. 7 Penn State in the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 3 in Indianapolis.