In a back and forth affair one would expect in the Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry, the Badgers held off a frantic fourth-quarter Gopher rally to hold on to the coveted axe of Paul Bunyan.
John Clay, a sophomore tailback out of Racine, Wis., ran for 184 yards (159 in the second half) and three touchdowns to help Bucky secure the 31-28 victory.
The Badgers seemed in control in the fourth quarter after taking a 24-13 lead and marching back into scoring position.
Minnesota found themselves back in the game, however, following a fumble by reserve tailback Zach Brown that Marcus Sherels returned 88 yards for a Gopher touchdown. Following the two-point conversion, Minnesota cut the lead to 24-21.
On the next Badger possession, quarterback Scott Tolzien galloped on a 47-yard play action bootleg run to help set up another one-yard touchdown run for Clay with three minutes to go. Again, it looked like the Badgers would cruise from that point.
Again, Minnesota responded. In less than a minute, the Gophers were back in the endzone, still with a chance to win the game. The Badgers recovered the subsequent onside kick, but the Gophers forced a three-and-out and got the ball inside their own five yard line with two minutes to go.
The Gophers converted a pair of key downs, one on third and another on fourth-and-16. Following the fourth down conversion, however, the Badger pressure reached quarterback Adam Weber, causing a fumble recovered by Chris Borland for Wisconsin with 30 seconds remaining.
The Badger ground attack was impressive in this game, wearing the Gophers down in the second half. The story was John Clay and his 184 yards, but a cavalcade of Badgers added 111 more yards to total 295 yards rushing in the game. Minnesota, on the other hand, passed for 271 yards.
Tolzien provided balance with play action passes, throwing for 159 yards and a touchdown to Lance Kendricks in the fourth quarter.
Wisconsin's defense also made plays when it had to, but again allowed big plays in the game's waning moments that made the final score closer than it should have been. Another concern is kickoff coverage. It seemed that every time Minnesota returned a kick, it started right around midfield.
That needs to change if the Badgers want to keep pace with teams like Iowa, Ohio State, and Penn State in the Big 10 race.
Wisconsin should expect to find itself in the top 25 rankings tomorrow, but there will be no time for celebration; the Badgers head to Columbus for a game with Big 10 championship and bowl game implications against the Buckeyes.