Not Paying For Lost Causes

After Badger offensive members describe their first-half performance as 'not playing UW football,' the Badger defense comes to the rescue to make sure Wisconsin did not pay for three first-half turnovers in its 35-32 victory over Minnesota.

MADISON - It wouldn't be a Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry game without a couple of game-changing moments to define the historic contest. In recent history, those moments have been a key turnover, most of the time committed by Wisconsin's rival to the northwest.

In 2005, Jonathan Casillas blocked punt in the closing minutes sealed an improbable comeback for the Badgers in the Metrodome. In 2006, Jack Ikegwuonu recovered a fumble by Amir Pinnex on the game's fourth play and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown, setting the tone for a 48-12 route. In 2007, Wisconsin was clinging to a seven-point lead late in the fourth quarter when the Gophers botched a punt return, allowing the Badgers to score the game-winning touchdown in a 41-34 shootout.

In the first half of the 2008 tilt, it looked like it was Wisconsin's turn to extend the courtesy.

Ball security and poor secondary coverage were the prime issues in Wisconsin's first half down fall, as the Badgers seemingly made numerous egregious errors at the most inopportune times.

After the Badgers were the beneficiaries of a Minnesota fumble on their own 10-yard line, Wisconsin was the givers time and again. Freshman running back John Clay coughed up the football on his own 10-yard line after running into linemen Bill Nagy, leading to a Minnesota recovery and a touchdown.

Wisconsin's offense, despite its opening touchdown, was inept most of the half. The Badgers generated only 129 yards of total offense in the first half and had two three-and-out drives in the second quarter that each gained negative yards. With those two drives only taking three minutes, 10 seconds off the clock combined, the Badger defense had little time to rest for the Minnesota spread attack.

Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber had little trouble finding his Gopher wide receivers with the blown coverage in the Badger secondary. Broderick Smith was wide open between three Badger defenders when Weber connected with him for a 43-yard touchdown pass to give Minnesota its first lead.

The next Gopher drive, Weber got the secondary to bite on the play-action fake, leaving Brandon Green wide open for 37 yards. Two plays later, Minnesota had a 21-7 lead, registering back-to-back scoring drives of less than 74 seconds.

"It's a crazy game," Head Coach Bret Bielema said. "In the first half, we did a lot of positive things but anytime we seemed to have a long play, we fumbled at the end of it. That was the story of the first half. We gave him the short field too many times."

Trailing by double-digits for the first time in four weeks, the Badgers' next drive could best be described as a comedy of errors. Dustin Sherer, who had been hit or miss throughout the first half, didn't have a chance to connect on a third-down attempt when he was run into by senior guard Andy Kemp when he stepped up in the pocket.

"I probably would have booed us too," said Sherer about some boos that rained down on the team at halftime. "That first half was not Wisconsin football. We had to persevere if we were going to come back and win that game."

After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty saved the Badgers drive, Sherer had a wide-open Isaac Anderson sprinting all alone along the Badger sideline. Instead of the easy touchdown, the ball went right through Anderson's hands, caromed off his facemask and fell harmlessly on the turf.

"Man, I just dropped it," Anderson said. "I'm going to tell you that flat-out, there's no excuse. I should have caught the ball."

Running back P.J. Hill, who left the game earlier because of a stinger, looked to save UW's drive when he broke through a road block for a 24-yard gain but forgot to hang onto the football when cornerback Tramaine Brock caught him from behind, giving the ball back to Minnesota on its own 29.

"I was very upset because I worked awful hard to get those tough yards," said Hill of his fumble. "They have some guys on defense that can make some big plays and he made a big play. I knew that it was a big game and I didn't want to put my team in a position to fall behind."

After a three-and-out by Minnesota, it was a carbon-copy drive for Wisconsin, as the Badgers coughed up a fumble deep in Gopher territory. Catching a pass over the middle, Kyle Jefferson lost control of the ball as he fell to the turf after being knocked out cold at the Minnesota 21 after get a shoulder-pad shot to the helmet compliments of Simoni Lawrence. Jefferson, who had been replaced in the starting lineup by Nick Toon, lay motionless on the turf for roughly 10 minutes before being taken off the field by ambulance.

Jefferson, who's x-rays were negative and preliminary reports are positive, was just one of the many Badgers who fell victim to Minnesota's swarming defense, a unit that ranked third in the nation in turnover ratio.

"One thing that we knew was that Minnesota was good in its turnover ratio and that we needed to go out there and out play its defense," senior cornerback Allen Langford said. "Their defense went out and played a heck of a first half. We knew that we needed to do the same thing in the second half."

But after an ambiguous first half marred by turnovers and injuries, Wisconsin found its rallying point while the Gophers resorted back to the ways of the past.

The Badgers limited the Gophers to only 48 yards in the third quarter while creeping their way back into the game, trailing 24-17, and setting the tone for some more historic game-changing moments in the fourth quarter.

There were the two safeties on back-to-back Gopher possessions that gave UW four points. There was the fumble recovered by senior Jonathan Casillas than led to a John Clay touchdown two plays later and, last but not least, there was Niles Brinkley's interception in the final two minutes that sealed UW's 12th border-battle victory in 14 tries.

It wasn't the prettiest of scenarios for Wisconsin – sloppy with the ball, failing to capitalize on big plays and giving up the short field. In the end, offense, defense and special teams made the plays and swung the momentum back toward the sideline with the axe, which is a big reason UW is now bowl-eligible for the seventh consecutive season.

"The game is full of momentum," Langford said. "Every game is. They had the momentum after our turnovers and we were able to get the momentum and stay a step ahead … The defense responded well to a lot of things. We were able to go out there and challenge our own team. We knew that we weren't responding well and we knew that we needed to respond and took that as a challenge in the second half."


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