Instead, Bielema opted to keep the offense in and attempt a two-point conversion – an incomplete pass by senior quarterback Scott Tolzien – following freshman James White's second touchdown rush of the day that gave the Badgers a seemingly insurmountable 41-16 lead with under seven minutes left.
Though Golden Gophers head coach Tim Brewster was noticeably agitated with the call, Bielema didn't back down from his decision in his post-game press conference.
Bielema told reporters he, along with all other college coaches, keeps a card with him to determine what to do following a touchdown in the fourth quarter. He said a team with a 25-point lead in the fourth quarter must go for a two-point conversion following a score, according to the card.
"I know Tim wasn't happy with it, but if I'm down by 25, and it's the third or fourth quarter, I would call a play knowing they're probably going to run a two-point conversion because that's what the card says," Bielema said.
Bielema told reporters he began thinking about the need for a possible late-game two-point try after Minnesota kicker Eric Ellestad missed the extra point attempt following his team's score with under a minute remaining in the first half.
"Whenever they missed the PAT, that throws off the numbering scheme, so I looked right away (at the card)," Bielema said. "We ignore the card until the fourth quarter. We don't pay attention to the card. But I knew it was coming. I was just tracking the scores and kind of getting in my head. At halftime, we talked about it. Actually, the touchdown before, we talked about if we went by a certain point. It's just a card and it says if we're ahead or behind and it gets every point, and it said ahead by 25, go for two (points)."
Wisconsin senior left guard John Moffitt defended his coach's decision.
"That just make sense to me," Moffitt said. "I don't think it is trying to take a shot at them or anything like that. I think it is smart football because this game, anything can happen. You saw their offense, tossing it down the field and they could have scored fast. I don't think coach Bielema or coach Chryst meant any disrespect by it. It is just smart football."
Brewster was less than happy with the Badgers' late-game two-point attempt.
"I thought it was a very poor decision by a head football coach, and he'll have to live with that," Brewster said. "It was wrong. Everybody in here knows it and everybody in college football knows it."
Johnson gets first start as Valai sits
A limited participant in practice during the week, Valai decided Thursday he wouldn't suit up for Saturday's game. So Johnson got the nod, recording three tackles in his starting debut.
Johnson called himself "extremely blessed" to have the chance to start, but felt he could have played better.
"I felt like I left some opportunities out on the field (Saturday)," Johnson said. "I felt like, in an ideal game, I might have had three picks (Saturday), honestly."
Valai said he expects to play next week against Ohio State.
Minnesota senior captain Kim Royston lifted Paul Bunyan's Axe with the rest of his Wisconsin teammates in 2006 and 2007. He stood and watched his chance for a third time slip by.
Royston left Wisconsin following the 2007 season, transferring back home to Minnesota after he felt Bielema hadn't given him a fair chance to earn the starting safety job. Bielema, in accordance to what he usually does with transfers, blocked all the teams appearing on UW's '09 and '10 schedule, causing Royston's father to take shots at UW's coach through the media.
Royston, who broke two bones in his left leg during spring practice, was inactive Saturday, but led the Gophers out of the tunnel and participated in the coin toss, where he shared an embrace with former teammate and good friend Valai.
"Kim didn't play and I didn't play, so we just looked at each other and we just started laughing and clowning," Valai said. "Kim's a good dude. He's a good football player. I hope his leg gets better. I respect him a lot. That's my boy."
Gilreath back in the mix
Wisconsin senior David Gilreath has been itching to get back onto the field.
But Saturday, Gilreath, a Minnesota native who finished 4-for-4 against the Gophers, got his chance, reminding everyone just how versatile he can be along the way.
Gilreath, who caught only one pass last week, contributed several big plays offensively and resumed his duties returning kicks.
"It means a lot to get back out there in the flow of things," said Gilreath, who hopes to take back his job as punt returner soon. "I wasn't really held down, I just wasn't in the game much last week." Gilreath, who returned five kicks for 86 yards Saturday, hauled in a 36-yard pass from Tolzien near the end of the first half and was a major contributor in the Badgers' first drive of the fourth quarter.
Gilreath rushed 14 yards on an end-around the first play of the drive, and served as a decoy on a fake end-around the following play that allowed White to escape for a 24-yard burst. Gilreath then pulled in a 23-yard pass from Tolzien the ensuing play to move Wisconsin into the red zone, where junior John Clay would eventually find pay dirt to put the team up 35-9.
Bielema admittedly wasn't thrilled putting Gilreath, who ranks second in Big Ten history in kickoff return yards, in to return kicks. But Gilreath pleaded with his coach, and Bielema finally gave in.
"I wasn't overly excited about putting him back there, but he was emphatic about wanting to do it and he wants to do punt returns, too," Bielema said. "We let him break in with the kickoff returns (Saturday). I don't know how clean they were blocked up, but David can make some guys miss."
Abbrederis gets first TD for himself, Badgers receivers
Heading into Saturday, Wisconsin's receiving corps had hauled in 41 passes – just none for touchdowns.
But freshman Jared Abbrederis wasted no time making sure that changed.
Abbrederis beat his defender on a quick slant for a three-yard touchdown for his first career score and the Badgers' receivers first score of the season.
"I was so excited being able to catch a pass and getting in the end zone," said Abbrederis, who finished with three catches for 33 yards. "First time this year for receivers."
"Keep the axe"
Even if he wanted to, Bielema couldn't have forgotten about Paul Bunyan's Axe leading up to Saturday's game.
Why? Because no one would let him.
Bielema received constant reminders from fans and even family members about the importance of retaining possession of the axe in the nation's longest-running rivalry.
"I always get a kick out of this week," Bielema said. "I'm not out and about much, but walking through the hotel last night, everybody just usually wishes you good luck, but everybody's ‘Coach, keep the axe.' It's a different week.
"My dad leaves me a message every Friday when they roll in town. He usually says good luck. He says ‘Keep that axe.' Here's a guy…from Illinois, and he's buying into this. I think it's important to anybody that loves Wisconsin."
This season's senior class has retained possession of the coveted axe all four years. Valai knows he certainly won't forget the feeling of never losing it.
"It's like an ‘Angels in the Outfield' moment, everybody's just feeling good about themselves, running around the field," Valai said. "When I come back here a couple years from now, I can say at least I never lost the axe."
Extra points: Minnesota still leads the all-time series against Wisconsin (59-53-8) ... Seven straight wins in the series for the Badgers marks Wisconsin's longest winning streak in the rivalry…the Badgers have won six of their last seven games on Homecoming, improving to 53-45-5 all-time ... Wisconsin didn't turn the ball over for a fourth straight game, tying a record set in the 1999 and 2000 seasons ... Clay became the eighth player in school history to surpass 3,000 career rushing yards.