In his first crack playing in the historic border battle, Gilreath was the powder keg needed to ignite Wisconsin.
On a day where the Wisconsin offense wasn't at its finest, Gilreath made sure the Badgers worked from a short field, compiling 226 total return yards, which proved to be the turning point in Wisconsin's 41-34 victory in the Metrodome.
"I try to prepare real hard, but I had a good feeling and try to have a good feeling every week," Gilreath said.
After returning the opening kickoff 36 yards, Gilreath set the Badgers up for success with a career-long 51 yard punt return with under a minute left in the second quarter, setting the Badgers up on the Minnesota 26 – a drive that ended with senior kicker Taylor Mehlhaff clunking a 46-yard field goal off the right upright.
After a three-and-out by Minnesota to begin the second half, Gilreath made sure his teammates capitalized, establish a new career best when he took the punt 57 yards down to the Minnesota 18. Two plays later, running back Zach Brown cashed in the drive with a 16-yard touchdown, putting Wisconsin ahead for the rest of the game.
"Guys did a good job of blocking out there," Gilreath said. "I think they are more disappointed with me not scoring (than I was). I was looking at that end zone like it was mine."
Gilreath had been on a hot streak all season – ranked second on the team in total yardage with 756 kickoff return yards, 236 punt return yards and 26 receiving/rushing yards.
Not only was his return yards key, Gilreath contributed on a key offensive play - taking an end around on third and three for eight yards, setting up Wisconsin's first touchdown of the game.
He saved his best game for his 25 family and friends watching him from the stands.
"We've been excited since David came to our camp last summer," Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said. "He's very agile, very quick and we knew he'd be able to make an impact on the return game, which he was able to do today. He had a huge impact on the game today."
With nothing to lose, Wisconsin knew Minnesota was going to go all out against the Badgers. According to Bielema and kicker Taylor Mehlhaff, however, the Gophers crossed the line more than once.
Midway though the second quarter and the ball in the hands of the Gophers, junior cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu was engaged with Minnesota's Eric Decker when a run play was called to the opposite end of the field. Ikegwuonu pushed Decker aside, but as Decker hit the turf, his right hand appeared to hit Ikegwuonu between the legs. Replays showed that the hit appeared blatant.
Lying on the ground for several minutes, it appeared Ikegwuonu had a hard time catching his breath, confirming to Bielema that Decker had decked his shutout corner in the groin.
"I didn't like the fact that Jack had to leave the game after being punched in the lower extremities," Bielema said. "I don't mind kids leaving the game but when you leave the game for something like that, that's not where it belongs."
Ikegwuonu was replaced by Josh Nettles for only one play.
After the game had concluded, Mehlhaff, who struggled kicking in the first half, went to go congratulate Minnesota kicker Joel Monroe, but was interrupted by the coach's son (freshman QB Clint Brewster) with some insulting comments to share.
"I was just going (to the Minnesota sideline) to congratulate their kicker and a kid comes up and (says), ‘You guys suck. You're a terrible team. We're 1-10 and we should have beat you. How many kicks did you miss today?'" Mehlhaff recalled. "I was like ‘Wow man, have some class.' The kid's last name was Brewster, so I assumed it was the coaches son."
Head coach Tim Brewster did not address that issue in his post-game comments.
Swan in, P.J. out
Since injuring his foot against Indiana, P.J. Hill has been severely limited. Not suiting up for the Ohio State game and playing only one series against Michigan last week, Hill was questionable to play at Minnesota with his lingering brusied foot. But when Hill hadn't made enough of an improvement during the course of the week, Bielema decided to give outspoken leader Luke Swan a chance to travel with the team.
"Basically on Thursday, he wasn't doing things that we felt would put him in a position on Saturday," Bielema said. "He kind of regressed, so I made a decision to bring Luke Swan and give him a chance to be on the sidelines."
Motivation with a Chuckle
As if he didn't have enough ammunition to motivate his team, Bielema decided to tantalize Wisconsin with some time off. The only problem – the break was already a given.
"We knew all along that the guys were getting next week off," Bielema said. "Last night in our team meeting, I said, ‘Hey you know what? You guys win tomorrow and I'll give you next week off.' That brought a round of laughter. This team has unique chemistry and to compete for four quarters speaks volumes."
Zach Brown had a career-high 250 yards, the 10th-best effort in UW history. It is also the most for a UW true freshman since Ron Dayne had 246 yards against Utah on Dec. 27, 1996.
In his final regular-season game, Ben Strickland recorded his first career interception.
Left guard John Moffitt suffered an unspecified leg injury on Brown's 60-yard run late in the third quarter and had to leave the game. Bill Nagy came in for Moffitt, but played right guard, with Andy Kemp shifting to left guard.