Ball, Wilson lead Wisconsin past Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Montee Ball set the Big Ten's single-season touchdown record and 16th-ranked Wisconsin trampled Minnesota 42-13 to keep Paul Bunyan's Axe for the eighth straight year - and stay in the conference title chase.

Russell Wilson had a season-high four touchdown passes. He was on target with every throw and every decision, connecting on all but his last throw, a deep ball that Nick Toon had in his hands but let trickle out as he hit the turf hard midway through the third quarter. Toon, who finished with eight catches for 100 yards and two scores, was shaken up on that play. Wilson went 16 for 17 for 178 yards.

In 10 games, Ball has 27 total touchdowns. He ran for two scores and caught another to beat by one the previous Big Ten record. It was shared previously by Pete Johnson (Ohio State, 1975), Anthony Thompson (Indiana, 1988) and Ki-Jana Carter (Penn State, 1994).

Ball found plenty of gaping holes behind that Wisconsin-born, gargantuan offensive line and gained 166 yards on 23 carries. The Badgers (8-2, 4-2) outgained the Gophers in total yards 461-156 and had 29 first downs to their rival's nine on an unseasonably warm afternoon with a kickoff temperature in the low 60s.

This was an ideal day all around for the Badgers, who benefited from losses by Leaders Division foes Penn State and Ohio State. They moved within one game of the Nittany Lions, their opponent on Nov. 26, and pulled one game ahead of the Buckeyes, who have the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage from their last-second win on Oct. 29.

The Gophers (2-8, 1-5) scored twice on special teams, a 5-yard run by kicker Jordan Wettstein on a fake field goal and a 96-yard return of the second half kickoff by Duane Bennett, but they were dominated on both sides of the ball all day.

The yardage at the end of the first quarter was 189 for Wisconsin and minus-1 for Minnesota.

The Badgers, who lead the FBS level in red zone scoring, have reached the end zone 45 times in 52 trips inside the 20-yard line this season. They've had a 100-yard rusher in 11 of their last 12 games against Minnesota.

MarQueis Gray, after his two best games of the season, missed a wide-open John Rabe with a floating pass in the second quarter that was intercepted at the Wisconsin 22 and turned by Wilson into a five-play, 78-yard touchdown march in the closing minutes of the half.

Gray looked gimpy when he scrambled and also undoubtedly had a lot on his mind, as a new father. His girlfriend gave birth to twin boys on Friday. Gray finished 6 for 14 for 51 yards and ran 19 times for 68 yards.

The red-wearing Wisconsinites came by the busloads, clogging the campus sidewalks near the stadium and mingling amiably with their friends in maroon and gold. Thousands of students from each state attend school across the border each year, and all the transplants lured over the river for work add even more spice to the rivalry. But the Badgers fans have enjoyed the majority of the bragging over the last two decades.

Wisconsin has won 17 of the last 21 meetings in the most-played series in college football history. This is the first four-game road winning streak the Badgers have had at Minnesota.

The Gophers were going to need some good luck to keep this game close, given the discrepancy in talent, but they didn't get much of that.

They sacked Wilson twice on the first possession, but he deftly led the Badgers on an 81-yard touchdown drive that drained more than eight minutes from the clock. Dan Orseske's punt later in the first quarter bounced backward and netted just 4 yards, setting up Wisconsin for an easy score on a shortened field.

Then after Wettstein - the walk-on who didn't even play for his high school team in DePere, Wis. - caught a slick lateral from holder Adam Lueck and slipped out of a tackle near the sideline to plunge into the end zone, he pulled the extra point wide left.


Gopher Illustrated Top Stories