MINNEAPOLIS -- — Wisconsin's offense underwent a major makeover this season under new coach Luke Fickell and his staff, and the process of becoming a faster-paced, pass-friendly team wasn't pretty.
Braelon Allen and the blockers in front of him helped the Badgers return to their roots with a spirited win over their biggest rival.
“We all know what this program has been built on, right? It doesn’t mean it has to change,” Fickell said. “Yes, it might look a little bit different, but it’s still about the physicality, it’s still about the line of scrimmage, it’s still about those guys in the backfield.”
Tanner Mordecai threw for scores to Will Pauling and Riley Nowakowski and had a career-high 69 yards rushing on nine scrambles to help Wisconsin (7-5, 5-4 Big Ten) finish on an upswing in a trying first season with Fickell. The offensive line delivered impeccable protection for Mordecai and plenty of lanes for Allen, whose junior year was interrupted by a lower leg injury.
“The O-line left everything out there,” said Allen, who might have played his final game for his home-state team with the NFL draft beckoning. “It made my job really easy. It's always really fun when they're fired up and moving people off the ball.”
Hunter Wohler had 12 tackles for the blitz-heavy Badgers, who raced to the west end zone to get their hands on the hardware for the oldest rivalry in major college football. The Gophers haven't had the axe in their trophy case for three straight years since they won four in a row from 1984-87.
“We showed who we are,” Wohler said. “I'm proud as hell of this team.”
Jordan Nubin rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown for Minnesota (5-7, 3-6), which failed to secure bowl eligibility on its own but grabbed the final spot amid a nationwide shortage of six-win teams because its Academic Progress Rate score was the best of the 5-7 bunch. The Gophers were also aiming to house the axe together with the pig — known as Floyd of Rosedale — for the first winter since 1990. That's the last year they beat both of their primary rivals, Iowa and Wisconsin.
“It was a lot more emotional than I thought it would be,” said sixth-year tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford.
Daniel Jackson had 121 yards and a touchdown on nine catches. In the fourth quarter, Minnesota's leading receiver dropped a well-blocked screen pass on third-and-9 at the Wisconsin 27 before a turnover on downs and on the next possession lost a fumble at the Wisconsin 39 after a 30-yard gain.
Allen, who had two touchdowns last week including the overtime winner to beat Nebraska, didn't look banged up at all on 26 carries. He broke three tackles on a 50-yard rumble in the third quarter and followed with a 5-yard touchdown run on the next play to give the Badgers their first lead.
“We really imposed our will on that front seven,” said left tackle Jack Nelson.
Wisconsin: The injuries that caused multigame absences for Allen, Mordecai and several others made the debut season for offensive coordinator Phil Longo difficult to fairly assess. This performance on a balance of between-the-tackles power running plays and field-stretching passes was a blueprint for future success in the Big Ten once the high-octane West Coast teams arrive and the divisions disappear.
Minnesota: The inability or unwillingness to step on the gas when there's a potential game-shifting play to be made has been a problem for the Gophers not only this season but for much of coach P.J. Fleck's seven-year tenure. They started their third drive at midfield late in the first quarter but went three-and-out with a punt from the Wisconsin 43. Late in the second quarter, the Gophers called an up-the-middle run on third-and-5 from their 45 that was stuffed for no gain with 1:17 left before halftime.
“There's a lot of things to adjust moving forward,” Fleck said.
Wisconsin: The Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee, on Dec. 30 is a good bet for the Badgers. The ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa, Florida, on Jan. 1 is a possibility, too. An SEC team is lined up for both games. As for next season, the Badgers host Western Michigan in their opener on Aug. 31.
Minnesota: The Gophers left the field needing a handful of other FBS matchups involving 5-6 teams to break their way throughout the night, and they had to wait until the last game on the schedule when Hawaii beat Colorado State to prevent the Rams from getting six wins. The Gophers could go to the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit on Dec. 26 or the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 23. They open next season at home against North Carolina on Aug. 29.
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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football