Grading the Badgers – Minnesota

Although it took longer that expected, Wisconsin football is finally bowl eligible after a sizzling second-half comeback that saw the Badgers score 18-straight points and beat the Gophers for the fifth-straight time. Badger Nation Publisher Benjamin Worgull hands out the grades for the conference finale.

Quarterbacks

Dustin Sherer heard the boos as he ran into the locker room for halftime and admitted that he probably would have booed too if he could. Sherer was only 9-for-18 in the first half for 91 yards and coughed up a fumble that he was fortunate to fall on. However with the Badgers willing to roll the dice on fourth-and-two from the Gopher two early in the first quarter, Sherer improvisational skills paid off, as the junior scrambled to his right and threaded a bullet to Garrett Graham for the touchdown.

Sherer bounced back in the second half and so did his wide receivers, a group that dropped a plethora of passes in the first half. Sherer connected with Isaac Anderson, the undisputed offensive star of the game, five times in the second half for 103 yards, including a momentum 39-yard catch between two Minnesota defenders that gave the offense a much-needed spark.

Sherer went 9-for-13 in the final 30 minutes and finished 18-for-31 for 242 yards. His 58 percent completion percentage, 18 completions and 242 yards were all career highs.

It was one of Sherer's better performances followed by one of his worst, something that is going to definitely help him moving forward.

Grade: B

Running Backs

Much like the passing game, the running backs started slow, which put the offense in a bind early. John Clay coughed up the football early in the second quarter that quickly led to a Gopher touchdown and P.J. Hill followed suit, getting stripped from behind on a 28-yard run that cost the Badgers prime field position late in the first half.

While Clay was banged up for most of the second half and Hill suffering a stinger, the Badgers were thin at running back until Hill chose to tough it out and make amends for his turnover. The junior did just that, rushing for 117 yards, his third-straight game eclipsing the century mark, and a pair of one-yard scores.

Clay ran just twice for 11 yards in the second half, but scored on a four-yard run in the second half that proved to be the game winner.

Wisconsin only ran the end around to Gilreath once, a surprise seeing as how well it worked the week prior. The Badgers rushed for only 116 yards, a season low.

Grade: C

Wide Receivers/Tight End

Having nine catches for 99 yards for his career, Minnesota-native Isaac Anderson had himself a career day after a particularly difficult first half. Anderson dropped what looked to be a sure touchdown catch when Sherer's pass bounced right off his hands. A sign of confidence, Wisconsin went right back to Anderson on the next play and continue to do so until the Badgers were parading around the axe.

Including that big 39-yard catch that set up shop for UW at the one, Anderson grabbed six passes for 114 yards, marking the first time a UW receiver has gained over 100 yards all season and the first time a wide receiver and running back both gained over 100 yards since beating Michigan last season.

David Gilreath didn't run the ball effectively but did go back to his ‘normal' job by catching four passes for 61 yards, including a long of 30 yards after he and Sherer connected on a solid timing route to the sideline and turned it up field after the catch.

Freshman Nick Toon is quickly becoming a go-to receiver in this Badger offense and he's continuing to make plays. His 17-yard catch-and-run early in the fourth quarter was another big play and the 15-yard personal foul penalty on Minnesota certainly riled up the sideline. Toon caught four passes for 44 yards, his third-straight game with 40 or more receiving yards.

Kyle Jefferson, who has been usurped in the starting lineup by Anderson and Toon, caught his first pass since the Iowa game with a catch over the middle but was knocked out cold when he got a shoulder pad to the helmet and had to be removed from the field by ambulance. Jefferson was released from the football Sunday and reports are encouraging for the sophomore wide receiver.

Grade: B

Defensive Line

Minnesota has the worst rushing attack in the conference, so it was no surprise that the Wisconsin front four held the Gophers under 100 yards, the third time in the last four weeks UW has held a conference opponent under that century mark.

Although he thought he should have and could have played better, senior Mike Newkirk looked to have saved his best game for his last axe battle. Newkirk led UW with seven tackles, including two sacks, one of which was a safety to give UW a 28-24 lead. Credit for that safety also has to go to the secondary, as they provided solid pass coverage to force Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber to stay planted in the pocket.

Everyone on the defensive line contributed in some way, shape or fashion.

Senior Matt Shaughnessy followed closely behind Newkirk, who netted five tackles, a sack and a pass breakup. Senior Jason Chapman made four stops, knocked down a pass and was credited with a quarterback hurry while sophomore O'Brian Schofield made two stops, had a quarterback hurry and made his first career fumble recovery on Minnesota's first possession, setting up UW's only first-half points.

A tremendous performance from this group.

Grade: A

Linebackers

Jonathan Casillas always seems to make his presence known in an axe game. Casillas, who registered four tackles, was in the right place to fall on a Minnesota fumble and set up the Clay touchdown.

Jae McFadden and DeAndre Levy each had three tackles and were important in the defenses second-half recovery. After allowing U-M to gain 178 total yards in the first half, the Gophers only managed 301 of offense. Of the 123 second-half yards, 60 came on Minnesota's second-to-last drive.

Grade: B

Secondary

Wisconsin's backs looks very amateur in the first half, especially in pass coverage. Weber had two easy completions to Brandon Smith, who was wide-open and ran 43 yards for a touchdown, and Brandon Green, who was sitting uncovered between three defenders and set up another Gopher touchdown.

The second half was a different story, as the Badgers pass coverage was much sounder. Shane Carter got his first start at free safety since the Ohio State game and made four tackles. Senior Allen Langford was active and should have had a pass breakup on Minnesota's first touchdown pass if it wasn't for a stellar effort for Brandon Green to hold onto the football.

Little-used Aubrey Pleasant came back with a vengeance after being replaced in the starting lineup, registering two solo tackles and a big five-yard tackle for loss.

Sophomore cornerback Niles Brinkley registered his team-leading fourth interception of the season to end Minnesota's final drive and secure the Badger victory.

Grade: B-

Special Teams

Phil Welch moved to 18-for-22 on his field goals during his freshman season after he nailed a 47-yard field goal early in the third quarter. Other than the Penn State game, Welch has made a field goal in every game this season and is four field goals shy of the single-season school record.

Bradley Nortman had arguably his best punting day of the season in cold, windy, adverse weather conditions. The once-Minnesota commit averaged 41.2 yards on six punts and put two inside the 20-yard line.

There were special teams' blunders though. Sure-handed Chris Maragos, who has been a stellar holder all season, struggled to get control of a snap twice on a field goal attempt late in the first quarter, forcing Welch to kick the ball horizontally instead of vertically.

The specials teams' blocking isn't getting much better, as the Gophers had a punt-return long of 31 yards and a kickoff return long of 42 yards. Wisconsin's living dangerously in this department.

However, the big hit by Antonio Fenelus that led to the forced fumble and safety was a big turning point in the game, especially since UW had just stormed back to tie it. Erik Smith, however, needs to recover that ball in the end zone for six points, something he'll surely take seriously if he gets that chance again.

Grade: C


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