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Gophers regain long-missing Axe, beating Wisconsin at its own game

November 26, 2018

This happened Saturday in Madison, Wis.:

A running back bulled his way for tough yards, pushing piles and moving the chains while surpassing 120 yards.

A quarterback played an efficient game, making sound decisions, avoiding turnovers and completing key third-down throws.

An offensive line imposed its will as the game wore on, pushing the defense around for more than 200 rushing yards and burning more than 35 minutes off the clock.

And at the end of the day, a team got to parade around Camp Randall Stadium with Paul Bunyans Axe, frolicking as its fans roared in approval.

Sounds like another case of Wisconsin using its tried-and-true formula to beat the Gophers, right?

Not at all.

On Saturday, it was the Gophers using that blueprint to bludgeon the Badgers 37-15 and win that Axe for the first time since 2003.

Quite simply, the Gophers out-Wisconsined Wisconsin.

Thats how everybody thinks Wisconsin football is played, Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said Sunday during his WCCO Radio appearance. When youre doing it to somebody in their own stadium and beating them at their own game, thats what we want to be able to do.

While the Gophers defense can take and deserves a big amount of credit for the victory Wisconsin had only seven points before adding a touchdown and two-point conversion with 1:12 left in the fourth quarter while trailing 37-7 Minnesotas offense efficiently and methodically controlled the games pace.

It all started with that running back, redshirt freshman Mohamed Ibrahim, who rushed 26 times for 121 yards and a touchdown. While the Badgers boasted the nations leading rusher, Jonathan Taylor, who had 120 yards on 19 carries, Ibrahims play made sure Taylor was on the sideline enough that he didnt surpass 2,000 yards for the season on the Gophers watch.

Ibrahim had seven rushes for 35 yards in the first half, and his last carry of the half put the Gophers up 10-0 when, on fourth-and-1 from the Badgers 10, he took an option handoff and sprinted untouched for a touchdown.

In the second half, Ibrahim ran 19 times for 86 yards, including a tone-setting 18-yarder in which he dragged Badgers defenders along for the ride. That was key in a drive that ended with a field goal that boosted the Gophers lead to 20-7.

Hes got the heart of a lion, quarterback Tanner Morgan said of Ibrahim.

Morgan showed heart, too, by completing nine of 16 passes for 124 yards. He didnt throw for a TD, but he didnt throw an interception, either. The ball is the program, Morgan said, and previously we hadnt been taking care of it like it was the program.

The redshirt freshman helped with his legs, too, including spinning out of a potential sack to gain 5 yards on third-and-6 from Wisconsins 27. That set up Seth Greens 3-yard dive to the 19 on fourth-and-1, and four plays later, Ibrahims TD made it 10-0.

In the fourth quarter, Morgan kept a massive, 9-minute, 16-second drive alive with third-down completions of 5 yards to Rashod Bateman and 13 to Tyler Johnson.

Minnesotas offensive line, which had an up-and-down game in a 24-14 loss to Northwestern a week earlier, rebounded nicely and paved the way for that huge advantage in time of possession. The Gophers had the ball for 8:53 in the third quarter and a dominant 12:47 in the fourth. It sure is tough for an opponent to rally when it doesnt have the ball.

The biggest drive was the one that started with 14:53 left in the fourth and ended with 5:37 to play. The 15-play, 55-yard march didnt result in points when Emmit Carpenter had his only miss in four field-goal tries, but it all but ended the game.

They dominated the line of scrimmage, Fleck said of his line. We dominated in the run game.

Earlier, the line was big on the Gophers first TD drive, when Green and Ibrahim converted fourth-down situations. On the day, the Gophers were 3-for-3 on fourth-down attempts.

If you dont want to be aggressive, Fleck said, dont play in this game.

Randy Johnson covers college football for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @RJStrib E-mail: rjohnson@startribune.

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