Minnesota chops down No. 18 Wisconsin 23-13 to take back Axe
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Tanner Morgan overcame an interception that was returned for a first-half touchdown, leading Minnesota on three scoring drives after halftime to surge past No. 18 Wisconsin 23-13, take back Paul Bunyan’s Axe and give Iowa the Big Ten West Division title Saturday.
Morgan, who went 11 for 16 for 199 yards and a third-quarter touchdown pass to Chris Autman-Bell, led the Gophers on the sprint into the end zone to hoist the 73-year-old trophy on their home field for the first time since 2003.
As the crowd streamed onto the turf, the rap song “Jump Around” played over the speakers in a taunt of Wisconsin’s home-game anthem.
The Gophers (8-4, 6-3) delivered the kind of inspired and stifling performance by their defense that the Badgers (8-4, 6-3, No. 14 CFP) were used to demoralizing their opponents with. They held freshman standout Braelon Allen to 47 yards on 17 rushes and forced Graham Mertz to throw throughout the second half to favorable results.
Mertz went 21 for 38 for 171 yards and an interception.
Allen topped the 100-yard mark in each of the last seven games, all wins for Wisconsin. The Badgers had 62 rushing yards, after averaging 229 yards on the ground entering the week.
Collin Larsh made two field goals for Wisconsin but had a 48-yard try — four yards beyond his career long — bounce off the crossbar early in the fourth quarter. Minnesota went the other way for Matthew Trickett’s third field goal of the game to put the stamp on it.
Scott Nelson returned a tipped-ball interception 25 yards for a touchdown for the Badgers early in the second quarter to give them a 10-3 lead.
The Gophers got their first big break early in the third quarter when Justin Walley, who had two pass interference penalties on the afternoon while covering Kendric Pryor, wrestled away a catch by Pryor for his first career interception at the Wisconsin 28.
Morgan hit tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford for 26 yards to the 2 on the next play. Then Ky Thomas ran it in for a 13-10 lead with eight offensive linemen blocking on the play.
Minnesota reached the end zone on its next possession, too, moving Morgan into second place on the program’s all-time list with 56 career touchdown passes.