Stave will rarely wow us with his passing numbers and his overall numbers against the Gophers don't jump off the page (16-for-26 for 127 yards, one touchdown and one interception), but his play on the opening drive of the second half was exactly when UW needed: 6-for-6, 68 yards one touchdown.
That drive erased much of the play of the passing offense in the first half, which was an ugly 6-for-14 for 44 yards and a costly interception. On Minnesota's only touchdown, Stave's lower body was starting to get hit as he threw, which in part led to Aaron Hill's 39-yard interception return for the touchdown.
I won't take off marks for not seeing the pressure, which was a direction result of a missed block by an offensive lineman (more on that later), but Stave said he was attempting to float a pass to Jared Abbrederis on a corner route instead of hitting Jordan Fredrick on the slant. Whether he was hit or not, that pass, if intended for Abbrederis as he said, had doom written all over it.
"I just didn't throw it the way I wanted to," said Stave.
Wisconsin also missed opportunities to finish drives in the first half because of misfires by Stave, throwing fastballs when he should have been throwing floaters. I'll put part of the blame on the bone-chilling weather that caused the pigskin to become slick.
"Joel bounces back and he seems to bounce back fairly well when he makes a mistake," said Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen. "He got smacked around a couple times pretty good today and kept getting up and making some plays."
It was a tough day to throw the football, but Stave's drive to open the third quarter, including converting a couple key third-and-long situations, iced the game for Wisconsin.
Playing against an opponent so committed to the run that they were putting upwards of nine or 10 players in the box, Wisconsin was likely not going to rush for the eye-popping numbers fans have been accustomed to.
So for the simple fact that White grinded out 125 yards on 26 carries, his eighth 100-yard rushing effort of the season and 17th of his career, speaks to the work the senior did.
Melvin Gordon finished with 69 yards on 13 carries, but his fumble out of bounds on his first carry of the game limited his production in favor of the sure-handed White. Gordon only had four carries for 23 yards by halftime.
"(The fumble) probably affected (his usage) at some point, but not later," said Andersen. "A couple series or so. It's going to happen sometimes. Melvin doesn't want it to happen, but he bounced back and made some plays. He was so close two or three times to hitting the big one there."
Take out White's 49-yard run on the game's first play, Wisconsin managed only 3.3 yards per carry.
Abbrederis led the team in both catches (seven), yards (67) and touchdowns (one), doing most of his work on the opening drive of the third quarter (four catches, 49 yards and the score). Abbrederis' 2-yard touchdown was the seventh on the season and 23rd in his career, tying him with Tony Simmons for second all-time on UW's career TD receptions list, trailing only Lee Evans (27).
However, Abbrederis had a crucial drop in the second quarter that hit him right in the chest before falling to the turf. Instead of answering Minnesota's touchdown with a 49-yard score, Wisconsin was forced to punt later on the drive.
"We're going to bank on Jared catching that one ball most of the time," said Andersen. "That doesn't happen very often to him."
Jacob Pedersen added five catches for 45 yards, White had two for one and Brian Wozniak and Fredrick each had a catch. Wozniak's catch for nine yards came on a third-and-7 on UW's third-quarter touchdown drive, just his third catch of the year.
Once again the downfield blocking by the receivers was excellent, and set up some big gains by UW in the passing game.
It was harsh conditions for Wisconsin's offensive line, but the Badgers have to be somewhat pleased with their end result. UW was flagged for only one holding penalty (on Ryan Groy) and didn't allow any sacks, although Kyle Costigan failing to adequately block Michael Amaefula helped led to Stave's interception. Minnesota threw a lot of pressure from its linebackers and safeties at the line of scrimmage, so yards were going to be at a premium.
"They had a bye week, so they had a lot of time to plan and scheme against us," said center Dan Voltz. "They had a really good scheme. They loaded the box, did some stuff we weren't prepared for. We made adjustments. I thought it was a good physical game."
Voltz started in place of the injured Dallas Lewallen and not only did he not have any quarterback-exchange issues in the weather, he held Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'shede Hageman to only two tackles while playing defense.
"I've had three weeks in a row starting, so I feel very comfortable with where I am," said Voltz. "It's just a matter of experience, continuing to grow and get better."
Minnesota's program prides itself on running the jet sweep to open up other areas of its offensive game, so the fact that the Gophers' longest rush with 16 yards speaks to how dominant the line was throughout the game.
Held to only 185 total yards, Minnesota averaged a paltry 3.2 yards per carry and UW's constant pressure from the line forced the Gophers to three-plays-or-less on six of their 11 drives (excluding the end of the first half). It's a big reason Wisconsin hasn't allowed an offensive touchdown to a Big Ten opponent in the last three games.
Konrad Zagzebski (a one-time Minnesota commit) and Ethan Hemer led the way on the defensive line with three tackles each while Warren Herring delivered a 17-yard sack after his pressure led to an intentional grounding call.
Chris Borland being excluded as a Butkus Award finalist is simply ignorance, considering he's one of the best linebackers in the country and continues to make plays around the football.
Not only did he have a game-high 12 tackles (eight more than any other UW player), Borland forced and recovered a fumble on Minnesota's first play of the second half. It was his 14th career forced fumble, tying Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue for the Big Ten record. He also recovered another fumble earlier in the game, giving him a school-record eight for his career.
"Coach Andersen's saying ‘Players make plays, players win games,'" said Borland. "All the planning and preparation is right and on Saturdays guys have been performing."
Borland's play overshadowed a tremendous effort by sixth-year senior Brendan Kelly, as the Minnesota native finished with four tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble that Borland recovered.
Minnesota quarterback Phillip Nelson was the victim of some easy drops by his receivers, which should have made his stat line (7-for-23 for 83 yards) look better, but Wisconsin's secondary was fairly dynamic throughout the game.
Nate Hammon had three tackles and forced the first of UW's three fumbles on the game. Tanner McEvoy looks like a natural at safety and should consider taking the spot of Dezmen Southward next season instead of messing around at quarterback.
McEvoy did drop a sure interception in the third quarter, but he had two other pass breakups, including breaking up a potential touchdown pass to Isaac Fruechte in the end zone, which gives a salute to his abilities on the field.
"Thank goodness he is 6-5 and got his hand on it," said Andersen of the end-zone breakup. "That was a big-time play for him."
Sophomore kicker Jack Russell improved his streak of consecutive kicks to seven before missing a 39-yard try in the third quarter. Funny, but it also seems like Russell performances better when the weather is at its worse.
UW's kickoff and punt units were solid, with Andrew Endicott firing off shorter kicks with better hang time to allow the coverage unit time to get down field. Minnesota never started better than its own 29 after Endicott's kickoffs, which included him making two of the tackles. Drew Meyer put two of his five punts inside the 20 with no touchbacks in challenging conditions.
Abbrederis, who replaced Kenzel Doe on punt returns, had a great 35-yard return until he coughed up the football. Fortunately, reserve safety Leo Musso was able to pounce on it. How many of those bounces have gone UW's way this year?
Wisconsin's fake field-goal call on fourth and 2 was bizarre. It called for Sam Arneson to attempt a pass to Wozniak after receiving a lateral from Meyer, and didn't come close to working.
"We've had it in in practice," Andersen said of the fake. "It's one of those calls … Sure didn't look good today. That one will be scratched off the play list for awhile."