(6) Wisconsin 34, (10) Miami 24: Two-minute drill

MIAMI — Quarterback Alex Hornibrook tossed four touchdowns as Wisconsin beat Miami 34-24 in the Orange Bowl.

Play of the Game

Wisconsin was in trouble. Trailing 14-3 at the start of the second quarter, Miami had a chance to go up three scores. Outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel had other plans. Hurricanes quarterback Malik Rosier tried to throw a little quick screen and the Badgers’ junior stepped in the way and made the athletic interception.

The play proved to be the turning point in the game. Wisconsin would score 21 unanswered and didn’t trail again.

Game Balls

Offense: Alex Hornibrook

He received plenty of criticism this season, but the quarterback was fantastic most of the night. He threw four touchdowns, trusting his receivers in one-on-one coverage and they came through for him.

On the biggest drive of the season — after Miami had cut Wisconsin’s lead to 27-24 early in the fourth quarter — the sophomore led an 8-play, 75-yard drive that he finished off with a 6-yard scoring toss to Danny Davis. Hornibrook went 6-of-6 with five first downs and the touchdown.

It was an absolute must for Wisconsin to put together a drive and Hornibrook delivered his best of the season.

Defense: Andrew Van Ginkel

Van Ginkel was responsible for the biggest defensive play of the game — his second quarter interception — but he was big at other points as well. He finished with three tackles, including a sack, and nearly had another interception in the fourth quarter.

Wisconsin has rarely gone the junior college route in recruiting, but Van Ginkel ended up being an absolute steal. He’ll be one of the Badgers most important players in 2018.

Special Teams: Rafael Gaglianone

As he did all season, the Wisconsin kicker was money. He drilled a pair of kicks, including a 47-yarder. The junior finished the season 16-of-18 on the season and now sits just five field goals short of the most in school history.

Videos of the game

Much was made of the “turnover chain” Miami breaks out every time they force a turnover and they had a chance to use it once on Saturday night. But the Badgers had their own celebration with a chain and they got to use it a lot of more than the Hurricanes. Like on every one of their four touchdowns.

If that wasn’t clear enough as to how they felt about the turnover chain, then the video that caught Paul Chryst’s comments on it definitely should.

In their own words

“It’s awesome. That’s a record. No one has done that. That is something we all have to be proud of, and we are. Winning 13 games in a season is not easy.”

— LT Michael Deiter on Wisconsin winning a school-record 13 games

“It’s lit!”

— Wisconsin CB Derrick Tindal on the feeling of winning the Orange Bowl in his hometown

In Case You Missed It

— Running back Jonathan Taylor finished with 133 yards on the night and 1,926 yards for the season. The latter mark set the record for the most yards by a freshman in FBS history.

— Outside linebacker Leon Jacobs played his 59th career game — the most in NCAA history

— Cornerback Nick Nelson announced after the game he will forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.

— Offensive lineman Beau Benzschawel told reporters he will return for his senior year.

— Offensive lineman Michael Deiter and linebacker T.J. Edwards told reporters they haven’t decided whether they will return or leave for the NFL.

— Miami coach Mark Richt was flagged for contacting an official late in the first half. He was apparently upset over a non-call on the Badgers.

Inside the Numbers

13 — That’s the number of wins the Badgers had this season — the most in school history.

3 — That’s the number of touchdown catches for freshman wide receiver Danny Davis — the first player to record multiple touchdowns in a bowl game for the Badgers.

25 — That’s the number of touchdowns Alex Hornibrook threw this year — the second-most in school history.

What’s Next

Spring practice

Grading the Badgers: Quarterback

Quarterbacks are often measured by wins and losses of their team. Whether or not that’s an accurate way to judge that position is certainly up for debate. Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook certainly has piled up the victories in his time as a starter.

That being said, his record of 19-3 as a starter, albeit impressive, doesn’t necessarily portray him properly. Winning games at this level is difficult. Every program in the country would be to have a starting quarterback go 19-3 in his first 22 starts. Even though the wins haven’t always looked pretty, Hornibrook does deserve some credit for the victories.

Twelve straight wins to start the season had never happened for Wisconsin’s football program before this season. Hornibrook started all 12 of those games. While the Badgers were the more talented team in all 12 of the games, not all of the games won were because of Hornibrook. In fact, there were times this season when Wisconsin was able to win despite sub-par play at the quarterback position.

Hornibrook started the season strong in nonconference play. He threw eight touchdowns against a single interception in the games against Utah State, Florida Atlantic, and BYU. The game against BYU was especially impressive, as he finished 18-for-19 passing for 256 yards and four touchdowns. The sole incompletion that day was a pass that certainly could have been caught, too.

Once conference play started, things became more difficult through the air for Hornibrook. He threw an interception in each Big Ten game except for the regular season finale against Minnesota. Three times during the regular season he had games with multiple interceptions, and he tossed a pair of picks in the Big Ten Championship, as well.

Things weren’t all bad for Hornibrook, despite the turnover issues he had plenty of strong performances and timely throws. Those typically came after a mistake, too. Hornibrook’s best quality this season may have been his ability to bounce back after making a mistake. One instance of this that stands out is the second half of the Michigan game.

Hornibrook threw a pass that was intercepted by Michigan linebacker Devin Bush inside Wisconsin territory. The Badgers defense was able to hold the Wolverines to a field goal before Hornibrook put together back-to-back touchdown drives.

The immediate response was arguably Hornibrook’s most impressive drive of the season. The Badgers faced third-and-13 where he found wide receiver A.J. Taylor for 51 yards down the left sideline. That drive culminated when Hornibrook found Taylor in the end zone from 24 yards out on third-and-14 through a tight window. That sequence might have been the best all season for Hornibrook.

GRADE: C+ | Hornibrook did several good things this year for Wisconsin. As previously stated, winning games in the Big Ten is a challenge. To go unbeaten in the regular season, including a nine-game conference slate is a rarity these days. Hornibrook deserves credit for helping the Badgers navigate that path. Moving forward, Hornibrook can certainly improve. He needs to do a better job limiting turnovers for Wisconsin to reach their ceiling as an offense.

Wisconsin’s formula wasn’t enough to beat Ohio State

INDIANAPOLIS – Wisconsin was as close to the College Football Playoffs as they’ve ever been. The Badgers came into the Big Ten Championship with a perfect 12-0 record and ranked No. 4 in the country. A win against Ohio State would have given them a berth in the semi-finals.

It wasn’t meant to be. The Badgers finally dug a hole too deep for themselves to climb out of. Time and time again they were a team that was much better in the second half of games than they were the first. Saturday night was much of the same for Wisconsin.

To close out the first half, Wisconsin defensive back Nick Nelson blocked a 43-yard field goal attempt off the right foot of Ohio State kicker Sean Nuernberger to keep the score at 21-10 in favor of Ohio State. At one point, Wisconsin faced a 14-point deficit, their largest of the season.

The Badgers were able to turn things on in the second half. They outscored Ohio State 11-6 and had the opportunity to win the game in the final two minutes. This time, they just couldn’t pull through.

Wisconsin had gotten as far as they did by managing the game in the first half and taking control in the second half. Ohio State was simply too talented for that to happen, despite Wisconsin’s best efforts.

The Buckeyes built their first half lead on big plays and speed that Wisconsin hadn’t seen to date this year. They struck first on an 84-yard touchdown pass from quarterback J.T. Barrett to wide receiver Terry McLaurin. McLaurin beat Wisconsin safety Joe Ferguson deep over the middle and won a footrace to the end zone.

After Wisconsin tied the game on an Andrew Van Ginkel interception returned for a touchdown Ohio State responded with another big play. Buckeye wide receiver Parris Campbell caught a swing pass from Barrett, broke a tackle from Wisconsin safety Natrell Jamerson, and took it 57 yards for another Ohio State touchdown.

Add in a 77-yard run from running back J.K. Dobbins to set up a Barrett touchdown run from a yard out and the Badgers had given up three plays of 50 or more yards in the first half. In their first 12 games combined they had only given up three such plays.

The second half was a different story, while they still allowed a 53-yard run to Dobbins, the defense was much better. After allowing a whopping 309 yards of offense in the first half, the Badgers only gave up 140 yards in the second half, despite the 53-yard scamper. The defense looked much like it had all season after halftime, keeping Ohio State out of the end zone.

Offensively, the Badgers were never able to get their running game going. The staple of Wisconsin football was only able to muster 60 total yards on the ground. That was partly due to playing from behind and partly due to Ohio State’s defensive line having their way with Wisconsin’s offensive line. Linebackers Jerome Baker and Tuf Borland were free to make tackles. Baker finished with a team-high 16 tackles and Borland was behind him with seven.

Freshman running back Jonathan Taylor was unable to generate any running room, finishing with 41 yards on 15 carries, by far his lowest output of the season. That meant the Badgers had to rely on the arm of quarterback Alex Hornibrook. He attempted a career-high 40 passes, completing 19 of them for 229 yards and two interceptions. One interception came while searching for tight end Troy Fumagalli deep in Ohio State territory. The other pick came on the Badgers’ final offensive play, a fourth down with 20 yards to go with 1:16 on the clock.

Wisconsin was set back in the fourth and long situation due to a holding penalty on offensive lineman Michael Deiter on first down. On that same play, Hornibrook looked for wide receiver Danny Davis down the field. Davis was tangled up with an Ohio State defensive back on a play that certainly could have warranted a flag. In fact, the field judge grabbed at his penalty flag before having second thoughts.

If that penalty flag comes out, there’s no telling what happens. It might have changed the game, it might not have. It certainly made Wisconsin’s comeback effort more difficult.

In the end, everything was too much to comeback from. The slow start, the big plays, the lack of a rushing attack, the questionable no call on the final drive, it was all too much to overcome.

The Badgers simply couldn’t follow the same formula they had used to reach the Big Ten Championship to find a way to the College Football Playoffs.

B1G Championship preview: (4) Wisconsin vs (8) Ohio State

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers (12-0, 9-0) vs the No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes (10-2, 8-1)

The time: 7 p.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Lucas Oil Field, Indianapolis, Ind.

The TV coverage: FOX with Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt in the booth, and Jenny Taft on the sideline.

The last time: No. 2 Ohio State came back from a 10-point halftime deficit to beat No. 8 Wisconsin in overtime 38-31 last October in Madison.

The series: Ohio State leads 58-18-5

The line: Ohio State -6

The Badgers injury report:

OUT

Game:

TE Luke Benzschawel (leg)
OLB Noah Burks (leg)

Season:

WR Quintez Cephus (leg)
S Patrick Johnson (arm)
RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
LB Jack Cichy (knee)
LB Zack Baun (foot)
RB Sam Brodner (knee)
LB Mason Stokke (leg)
TE Zander Neuville (leg)
RB Bradrick Shaw (leg)

THE BREAKDOWN: FOUR THINGS TO WATCH

1) Biggest game in school history

It may seem like hyperbole, but Saturday night’s game is the biggest in Wisconsin football history. A win against one of the blue bloods of the sport would give the Badgers their first Big Ten title since 2012, almost surely punch their ticket to the College Football Playoff and leave them just two victories short of the school’s first national championship. A loss wouldn’t make the season a failure, but it would be looked at as a missed opportunity to make a splash the rest of the country couldn’t ignore, one that would force the doubters to at least respect what the program has become. This is not the first time Wisconsin has been in position to make that statement but it’s certainly its best and something the Badgers can’t let fall by the wayside.

2) Containing J.T. Barrett

The big story this week has been the knee injury to Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, the one that knocked him out in the third quarter of last week’s game at Michigan. The senior reportedly had arthroscopic surgery on the knee on Sunday, but coach Urban Meyer is expecting him to play. If he does, then it becomes vital for the Wisconsin defense to keep him in the pocket. In last season’s game, Barrett was Ohio State’s leading rusher with 92 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns. It’s not that he can’t beat you with his arm — he can — but if you’re Wisconsin, you want to force him to show it again.

3) No turnovers

Wisconsin is a bit of anomaly this season. You don’t normally see an unbeaten team like the Badgers turn the ball over as much as they do. They rank No. 97 in the country with 21 turnovers and there are only three FBS teams with a winning record that have more than that. It’s not an every player problem. In fact, it’s mainly a two player issue — quarterback Alex Hornibrook and running back Jonathan Taylor. The duo has accounted for 18 of the 21 turnovers this year. Wisconsin’s defense has been able to erase many of those mistakes, but you sure don’t want to put them in that position against the most explosive offense the Badgers have faced this year.

4) Redemption

When people hear the term redemption in regards to this game, most probably think of the 59-0 shellacking that Ohio State delivered to Wisconsin in the 2014 title game. But they would be wrong. Sure, that one hurt, but that game was over almost as soon as it started. No, the game the Badgers want (need?) redemption for is the 2016 title game when they blew a 28-7 lead to Penn State and lost 38-31. A defense that was so good all year, got exposed with big plays down the field and some brilliance from All-American running back Saquon Barkley. Nearly all of Wisconsin’s defenders from that game are still around and have told the media this week they believe they learned some valuable lessons as a result of that collapse. We could see if that’s true on Saturday night.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Wisconsin is an underdog for the first time in 20 games. The last time the Badgers weren’t favored was the Buckeyes visit to Camp Randall Stadium last October.

Current or former walk-ons have combined for 862 yards of total offense, seven touchdowns, 117 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, four sacks and four interceptions this season for Wisconsin.

The Badgers are allowing just 236.9 yards per game, the lowest mark by a Wisconsin team since 1954.

Hype videos

A couple of the better hype videos to get you ready for the game:

ZONE PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 21
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 27, Ohio State 24
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Ohio State 21
Danny Cunningham’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Ohio State 21

NATIONAL PREDICTIONS

Wisconsin (14)

Eric Single, SI.com: Wisconsin
Molly Geary, SI.com: Wisconsin
Andy Staples, SI.com: Wisconsin
Joan Niesen, SI.com: Wisconsin
Paul Myerberg, USA Today: Wisconsin
George Schroeder, USA Today: Wisconsin
Erick Smith, USA Today: Wisconsin
Eddie Timanus, USA Today: Wisconsin
Dan Wolken, USA Today: Wisconsin
Corby Davidson, Sportsday: Wisconsin
Rich Cirminiello, College Football News: Wisconsin
Jeff Feyerer, College Football News: Wisconsin
Pete Fiutak, College Football News: Wisconsin
Mitch Light, Athlon Sports: Wisconsin

Ohio State (18)

Edward Aschoff, ESPN: Ohio State
Zac Al-Khateeb, Sporting News: Ohio State
Tom Fornelli, CBS Sports: Ohio State
Bruce Feldman, SI.com: Ohio State
Chris Johnson, SI.com: Ohio State
Scooby Axson, SI.com: Ohio State
Jace Evans, USA Today: Ohio State
Ben Baby, Sportsday: Ohio State
Scott Bells, Sportsday: Ohio State
Chuck Carlton, Sportsday: Ohio State
Adam Grosbard, Sportsday: Ohio State
Ric Renner, Sportsday: Ohio State
Newy Scruggs, Sportsday: Ohio State
Kevin Sherrington, Sportsday: Ohio State
Brett Vito, Sportsday: Ohio State
Ralph Russo, Associated Press: Ohio State
Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports: Ohio State
Bryan Bischer, Athlon Sports: Ohio State

Big Ten Championship; Three keys to Wisconsin winning

INDIANAPOLIS – Wisconsin heads into Saturday’s matchup with Ohio State searching for their first Big Ten Championship since 2012. The Badgers enter the game perfect on the season at 12-0, but haven’t faced a team quite as talented as the Buckeyes to date.

The Buckeyes come into the contest at 10-2 on the season. At times, they’ve looked like one of the best teams in the country, but on other occasions they’ve looked rather pedestrian.

Here are three keys to a Badger win on Saturday night:

1. Ohio State defensive lineman Nick Bosa was awarded as the Big Ten Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the year earlier this week. The matchup between Bosa and the Wisconsin offensive line will be a very interesting one to watch on Saturday. So far, this season Bosa has 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks and both of those marks pace the Buckeyes.

“I think [Ohio State] and Michigan had some of the best edge rushers I’ve seen this year,” offensive lineman Michael Deiter said earlier this week. “One-hundred percent it will be my biggest challenge, especially on this stage, out there at tackle.”

Not only was Deiter speaking about Bosa, but also defensive end Sam Hubbard. Hubbard was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten this year and has 10 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks on the year. Things don’t end there for the Buckeye defensive line, Tyquan Lewis was also a consensus first-team selection, and Dre’mont Jones was named to the third-team by the media.

Wisconsin likely has the best offensive line that Ohio State has faced this season, but this will be a true battle of strengths. The Badgers must be able to open holes for freshman running back Jonathan Taylor to help keep quarterback Alex Hornibrook out of obvious passing situations. When the Badgers do fall into obvious throwing situations, the offensive line must keep Hornibrook upright.

2. Hornibrook’s favorite target this year has been senior tight end Troy Fumagalli. He leads the Badgers with 38 grabs on the season for 471 yards and four touchdowns despite missing some time due to injury. On the contrary, Ohio State has struggled defending tight ends in the play-action passing game at times this season.

Against Iowa, the Buckeyes allowed a combined nine catches for 125 yards and four touchdowns to tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant of the Hawkeyes. Those two aren’t necessarily mirror images of Fumagalli, but the area of weakness remains on the Buckeye defense. As recent as last week there were multiple instances of intermediate routes being open for Michigan’s offense. Wolverines’ quarterback John O’Korn was unable to find his teammates, however.

Hornibrook should be able to find Fumagalli in key situations, just as he has often attempted to do this year. That’s an area of weakness that the Badgers should look to exploit.

3. When Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett was removed from the game against Michigan last week immediate uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position for the Buckeyes emerged. Backup Dwayne Haskins entered the game for Ohio State and helped them to win the game.

News broke during the week that Barrett had surgery on his knee on Sunday following the Michigan game but is expected to play against Wisconsin. His effectiveness is yet to be seen. Ohio State head coach told the media that Barrett had practiced throughout the week and is cleared to play, but never declared Barrett the starter.

Barrett is a quarterback that’s able to extend plays and escape the pocket when things break down around him. If his knee isn’t right and his running ability suffers because of that, Wisconsin’s already stout defense could be in even better position. The Badgers would be able to key on running backs Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins in running situations and presumably be able to get to Barrett easier when the pocket collapses.

Barrett has been inconsistent throwing the ball, even when he’s been healthy. Wisconsin’s defense could take control of the game and force Barrett into mistakes and make things much more difficult than they normally do. Wisconsin’s chance at winning improves exponentially if those things happen.

Prediction: Early in the week I was leaning towards taking the Buckeyes, and I did go on record picking them before news of Barrett’s knee procedure broke. His health is my deciding factor, it takes an incredibly special athlete to be able to play in a football game six days after having surgery. While I commend Barrett for having the guts to try and suit up with his teammates, I don’t think he’ll play well enough for the Buckeyes to win.

Wisconsin 24-21

(5) Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 0: 2-minute drill

MINNEAPOLIS — For the first time since 1912, the Wisconsin Badgers finished a regular season undefeated.

The No. 5 Badgers got three touchdown passes from Alex Hornibrook and 149 yards rushing from Jonathan Taylor in a 31-0 win over Minnesota to move to 12-0 and extend their winning streak over their rivals to 14 games.

Play of the Game

All season Wisconsin has run the fullback dive in short yardage situations. On Saturday, faced with a third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, the Badgers went against their tendency, calling for a play-action pass. It worked perfectly, as Hornibrook found tight end Troy Fumagalli for the first points of the day. Wisconsin didn’t look back on its way to a shutout victory.

Game Balls

Offense: Alex Hornibrook

In what was easily his best effort of the Big Ten season, the sophomore completed 15 of 19 passes for 151 yards and the three scores. A number of his throws, including a 5-yard touchdown to Danny Davis in the third quarter, were absolute darts, put in places that only his receivers had a chance. Perhaps most importantly, Hornibrook didn’t turn the ball over for the first time in eight games.

It was the type of effort that had several teammates talking about the team’s potential when he plays like that.

“When your offense is clicking and going, especially the way we play defense, there’s no stopping us, I feel like,” cornerback Derrick Tindal said.

Defense: Ryan Connelly

A Minnesota native that wasn’t recruited by the Gophers, Connelly was all over the place on Saturday. He finished with six tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks.

Connelly often gets overlooked among Wisconsin’s inside linebackers, but he’s been fantastic in a staring role of late. He’s the team’s leading tackler, and like he did last year, has more than filled the injury void left by Jack Cichy and Chris Orr.

Special Teams: Rafael Gaglianone

Gaglianone moved to 12 of 14 on the year with his 32-yard field goal in the second quarter. He’s also remained perfect on extra points for the season after hitting all four on Saturday.

In their own words

Did you think 12-0 was a possibility:

TE Troy Fumagalli: “I did, but I didn’t think too much about it. I tried not to focus too much on that and not the season. With the experience we had coming back, with the players in the locker room, I thought this was possible.”

LB T.J. Edwards: “Oh, yeah. 100 percent. I know that if we come out and play our best game we can hang with anyone in the country.”

CB Derrick Tindal: “I been telling you that [since the start of the season]. I trusted my teammates, trusted by boys and feel like they are going to keep it going.”

Is Wisconsin a win away from making the College Football Playoff?

WR Kendric Pryor: “We have to focus on playing Ohio State next. After that, we can’t control [the way] the committee votes. We just go out there and just play ball. If they decide to put us in, they do. If they don’t, they don’t.”

When did you know the game was in the bag?

Tindal: “When the first quarter started. I felt confident before the game. I knew we were going to win.”

In Case You Missed It

— Tight end Zander Neuville left with a knee injury in the first quarter, while running back Bradrick Shaw left in the second quarter with a leg injury. Coach Paul Chryst didn’t have an update on either guy after the game.

— Fullback Austin Ramesh took a sweep for a 41-yard gain in the second quarter. It was the longest rush of his career.

— After being forced to miss four games with a leg injury earlier this year, running back Chris James got his first extended action and finished with 51 yards on seven carries.

— Saturday was the first time since 1922 that Wisconsin has shutout Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Inside the Numbers

13 — That’s the number of wins in a row Wisconsin has, the longest streak in the country

1 — That’s the number of Power 5 teams in the country that are unbeaten. Wisconsin is that one team.

1,806 — That’s the number of yards Jonathan Taylor has run for this year. It’s the third-most in FBS history for a freshman.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (12-0, 9-0) will head to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis next Saturday to take on Ohio State (10-2, 8-1).

Preview: (5) Wisconsin at Minnesota

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (11-0, 8-0) vs the Minnesota Gophers (5-6, 2-6)

The time: 2:30 p.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn.

The TV coverage: ABC with Mark Jones and Rod Gilmore in the booth, and Quint Kessenich on the sideline.

The last time: Wisconsin scored 24 straight points in the second half to overcome a 10-point deficit and win 31-17 last November at Camp Randall Stadium.

The series: 59-59-8

The line: Wisconsin -17

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

S D’Cota Dixon (leg)
LB Chris Orr (leg)

OUT

Game:

TE Luke Benzschawel (leg)

Season:

WR Quintez Cephus (leg)
S Patrick Johnson (arm)
RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
LB Jack Cichy (knee)
LB Zack Baun (foot)
RB Sam Brodner (knee)
LB Mason Stokke (leg)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) Looking for perfection

Wisconsin is off to the best start in school history and with a win can have its first unbeaten conference season since 1912. Now sitting at No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings, the victory would also keep the Badgers in the race for one of four spots as they head to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game against Ohio State next weekend. All of this coming knowing that a loss would make Minnesota’s season. No pressure.

2) For the ‘Axe’

Thirteen years. That’s how long it’s been since Minnesota players have touched Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the trophy that goes to the winning team in the oldest rivalry in college football. And Wisconsin has no intention of the streak — the longest for either team in the series — coming to an end on Saturday. They know what’s at stake for their season but also in the rivalry itself, as a win would give the Badgers the series lead for the first time ever.

3) Need a clean game

The only way Minnesota has a chance to beat Wisconsin is if the Badgers beat themselves with penalties and turnovers. The latter begins and ends with quarterback Alex Hornibrook. He’s thrown at least one interception in every conference game this year, including three against Iowa — the last trophy game Wisconsin played. Can the Badgers win even if he does turn it over? Sure. But they can be scary good when he’s on the mark and not forcing the issue.

4) The curious case of Demry Croft

Minnesota’s quarterback hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in more than a month, and the Gophers are just 1-3 with him as their starter during that period. But in the one game they did win — a 54-21 whipping of Nebraska — the sophomore put on a show. He threw for 105 yards and ran for another 183 yards and three touchdowns. It’s an outlier in an otherwise rough season, but Wisconsin can’t allow Croft to get loose. They need to force him to beat them from the pocket, something he has largely proven he can’t do.

5) P.J. Fleck vs Paul Chryst

The men that lead these two programs could not be more different. Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck is a never ending string of words and actions designed to get your attention and keep it. He’s a cliche machine with his “Row the Boat” mantra and a ball of energy that is constantly rolling. On the other sideline is Paul Chryst — almost the exact opposite. Both have been successful in their careers, though everyone is waiting to see if Fleck’s success at Western Michigan can be duplicated in Minnesota. Neither way is the right way, but it’s impossible to not notice the difference.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Wisconsin is 16-1 in its last 17 trophy games (Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska).

Running back Jonathan Taylor needs 269 yards to break the single-season FBS rushing record for a freshman, which is currently held by Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson. He ran for 1,925 yards in 2004.

The Badgers are allowing just 246.4 yards per game, the No. 2 mark in the nation behind Alabama. While noting they still have at least three games to play, that total would be the fewest by a Wisconsin defense since 1958 (244.1).

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 17 (11-0 on the season, 7-4 against the spread)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 34 , Minnesota 14 (11-0 on the season, 7-4 against the spread)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 41, Minnesota 10 (11-0 on the season, 7-4 against the spread)

Three keys to Wisconsin beating Minnesota

MADISON – Saturday afternoon against Minnesota the Wisconsin Badgers will look to control Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the 14th consecutive season. Wisconsin’s last loss to Minnesota came in the 2003 season when they fell to the Gophers 37-34 on a Rhys Lloyd 35-yard field goal as time expired. In 2004 the Badgers handily beat the Gophers 38-14, and they haven’t lost in the rivalry since.

Here are three keys to victory for the Badgers to keep Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Madison for the 14th straight season:

1. Run the football – It’s no secret that Wisconsin wants to run the football effectively in each and every week. They boast one of the country’s best running backs in freshman Jonathan Taylor. He’s currently third in the country in rushing yards with 1,657 on the season. Taylor has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week a record-tying seven time. A big game against the Gophers could give him sole possession of that record.

Minnesota’s defense hasn’t exactly been stout against the run. They’ve given up over four yards per carry. That is quite the difference after Taylor rushed for 132 yards against one of the country’s best rushing defenses last week against Michigan. Taylor could be poised for another big game in his first taste of this rivalry. Look for him to have his ninth 100-yard game, and possibly his fourth game of over 200 yards.

2. Limit mistakes – In nearly every upset that occurs in college football, the underdog team is able to win the turnover battle. Wisconsin has made quite a few mistakes, but been consistently bailed out by an outstanding defense. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook has thrown 13 interceptions on the season, which is tied for third most in the country. He’s thrown an interception in each of the Badgers’ eight Big Ten wins.

This would be an excellent time for Hornibrook to play his best game of the season and build a bit of momentum before the Badgers head to Indianapolis to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship game. The defense will likely be able to bail out Hornibrook if necessary this weekend, but the Buckeyes are a different story.

3. Follow the plan – Wisconsin has stuck to the same plan in nearly all of their games this season. Things have been close in the first half. They’ve had an opportunity to feel out their opponent, the defense has been strong and the game has been close. The second half of games is where the Badgers have dominated, only trailing for 8:49 in the second half this season. They only other game this season in which they trailed during the second half this year was the Big Ten opening matchup with Northwestern.

If the game is close heading into the second half, as it should be, Wisconsin will find themselves in very comfortable territory and likely to pull away. It would be even better if they took control a little earlier this week. Wisconsin is the more talented team, but anything can happen in rivalry games.

Prediction: Wisconsin completes their first ever 12-0 season with a 38-13 win to keep Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Madison for at least one more year.

Same old plan for Wisconsin, same old result

MADISON – For Wisconsin, everything is about blocking out noise from the outside and sticking to their plan. While it has many twists, and turns along the way, the plan hasn’t failed the Badgers to this point, and it didn’t Saturday when the Michigan Wolverines visited Camp Randall, either.

The Badgers have been a team that hasn’t always looked superior to their opponents, even though they have been the better team each and every week on the field. They’ve dealt with slow starts and costly turnovers but found a way to overcome them with strong second halves and outstanding defense.

That’s exactly what they did against Michigan. The Wolverines came in and thoroughly outplayed Wisconsin in the first half. They had 169 yards in the first half compared to only 99 for Wisconsin. The Wolverines fell victim to either bad luck, or carelessness with the football, depending on your viewpoint.

In the second quarter, Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters threw a fade to wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones in the left corner of the north end zone on second down. The play was called incomplete on the field. Moments later, the replay booth signaled down for a second look at the play. Upon further review, the call was upheld, forcing Michigan to try things again on third-and-goal from the five. Whether or not the replay officials got the call correct is subject for debate.

On the next play, Peters scrambled to his left, tucked the ball and attempted to reach the end zone himself. Wisconsin linebacker Leon Jacobs not only made sure that Peters wasn’t going to reach the end zone, but that Michigan had blown their chance at putting points on the board. He knocked the ball out of the signal-callers’ hands, and defensive back Derrick Tindal fell on the ball at Wisconsin’s own one-yard-line.

To that point, Wisconsin had been unable to generate any offensive momentum, and Michigan had just moved the 35 yards down the field on three plays.

Michigan was able to continue their momentum on the next drive offensively with a seven-play, 84-yard touchdown drive after they forced Wisconsin to punt thanks to a replay going in their favor after a Danny Davis catch on third-and-14 was overturned.

After that touchdown, Wisconsin was content to go in to halftime with a 7-7 tie. After the break, they looked like an entirely different team. This has been the recipe for the Badgers all season. Stay afloat in the first half, and dominate in the second half.

“I just think it’s starting to get a better feel for your opponent, I think that’s part of it,” offensive lineman Michael Deiter said after the win. “I think we just gain confidence as games go on. You get a better feel for what the team you’re going against is doing defensively. I think we’re doing a good job of gaining confidence as the game goes by.”

The kicker against Michigan was that they weren’t dominant from the start of the third quarter. Wisconsin opened up with back-to-back three-and-outs. On the third possession of the half quarterback Alex Hornibrook fired a pass across the middle of the field that was picked off by Michigan’s Devin Bush deep inside of Wisconsin territory.

Wisconsin has played eight Big Ten games and there have been two constants about them, they have won them all, and Hornibrook has thrown at least one interception in each of them. This was the first bad mistake he made on the day, and it came at a critical time.

Luckily for the Badgers, their defense continued to do what they have done all season, stand up in a tough situation. After Michigan took over at Wisconsin’s 29-yard-line, they were only able to gain eight yards before kicker Quinn Nordin nailed a 39-yard field goal.

While it wasn’t the ideal scenario, it went down as a win for the Badgers. It was at that moment the momentum seemed to flip, and things clicked for Hornibrook.

“I was really proud of the stop that the defense made,” head coach Paul Chryst said after the game.

When Wisconsin got the ball back, they trailed 10-7. This was their first deficit in the second half of a game since trailing Northwestern 10-7 to start the third quarter in their Big Ten opener, on September 30.

That lead for the Wolverines lasted for a whopping 3:05 on the game clock. Hornibrook masterfully constructed a seven-play, 77-yard touchdown drive that culminated on a 24-yard touchdown to A.J. Taylor. Throughout the drive Hornibrook made throws he hadn’t previously on the day, including a 51-yard bomb to Taylor on third-and-13.

“We’re resilient, for two-and-a-half quarters it wasn’t going our way,” Deiter said. “We were stalled and we weren’t doing a whole lot but I just think we kept battling and made plays go later in the game.”

Those were moments Hornibrook needed to step up, and he did. He continued the momentum from that drive when Wisconsin got the ball back after forcing another three-and-out. The Badgers went 61 yards over five plays and scored again on a Kendric Pryor 32-yard end around to grasp control of the game and led 21-10.

“Quarterbacks they have the most pressure on the team,” Pryor said about Hornibrook. “They get praised when they’re good and anytime they do something wrong, they’re always the first ones to get blamed when something goes wrong. With him, just forgetting he threw the interception. So what, he forgot about it, came back and made those big time passes down the field. It’s great when your quarterback can do that because we all just trust in him. Trust what he sees and we just play off of him.”

Wisconsin’s defense continued to turn up the heat, only allowing one first down by Michigan’s offense the rest of the afternoon. The Wolverines gained 23 yards of offense in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. A true testament to Wisconsin’s defense.

After taking the lead, Wisconsin never turned back, and they haven’t all season.

Preview: (5) Wisconsin vs (24) Michigan

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (10-0, 7-0) vs the No. 24 Michigan Wolverines (8-2, 5-2)

The time: 11 a.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

The TV coverage: FOX with Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt in the booth, and Jenny Taft on the sideline.

The last time: Michigan’s defense smothered Wisconsin and the Wolverines did just enough on offense to get a 14-7 win last October.

The series: Michigan leads 50-14-2

The line: Wisconsin -7

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

S D’Cota Dixon (leg)
C Tyler Biadasz (leg)

OUT

Game:

TE Luke Benzschawel (leg)
LB Chris Orr (leg)

Season:

WR Quintez Cephus (leg)
S Patrick Johnson (arm)
RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
LB Jack Cichy (knee)
LB Zack Baun (foot)
RB Sam Brodner (knee)
LB Mason Stokke (leg)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) Keeping that dream alive

Wisconsin has already made history with its first ever 10-0 start, but the Badgers have much bigger goals in their sights. And the only way to achieve those is to find a way to beat Michigan. A win would give them another marquee victory to add to their College Football Playoff resume and legitimize them in the eyes of those that believe their success to this point is simply a result of a less than impressive schedule.

2) Taking care of the rock

Turnovers and winning are rare bedfellows, but they have been for Wisconsin this year. Only Illinois has coughed up the ball more in the Big Ten than the Badgers, and yet they’ve found ways to overcome, largely because of a defense that has been remarkable in “sudden” change situations. But it’s not a sustainable formula, meaning quarterback Alex Hornibrook (12 interceptions) and running back Jonathan Taylor (four lost fumbles) need to be more vigilant with the ball if Wisconsin is to stay perfect.

3) Force him to beat you

Michigan has caught fire since getting whipped by Penn State last month, winning its last three games by an average of 23 points. Much of that success was the result of a strong running game that put up more than 300 yards again Rutgers and Minnesota. That’s allowed quarterback Brandon Peters to be a game manager instead of having to win games with his arm. But Wisconsin stops the run better than any team in the country, and defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said this week they have to make Michigan one-dimensional and see if the redshirt freshman making his third career start can beat them.

4) We meet again

Wisconsin’s offensive line got whipped the last time these two teams saw each other in October 2016. The Wolverines limited the Badgers to just 2.5 yards per carry and harassed Hornibrook into three interceptions. More than a year later, that Michigan defensive line is still just as a good, but it will see an offensive line that has grown immensely since then. Wisconsin has the second-best rushing attack in the Big Ten and topped 200 yards in every game but two this season. If the Badgers offense is to have success, they’ll need to neutralize Michigan’s talented front.

5) The atmosphere

When Camp Randall Stadium is full and rocking, it can be as tough a place as any in the country for the visiting team. That’s unlikely to be the case on Saturday, at least initially. The normally late arriving student section, combined with an 11 a.m. start and ESPN’s College GameDay broadcasting from the other side of campus, will surely lead to plenty of empty seats to start the game. The crowd should be a huge advantage for Wisconsin, but it may not be that way until sometime later in the first half.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Wisconsin will honor 13 seniors who will be playing their final games at Camp Randall Stadium. The class is already the winningest in school history with 42 victories.

Alex Hornibrook’s passing efficiency mark of 155.6 is the best by a Wisconsin quarterback since Russell Wilson in 2011.

Wisconsin’s defense is allowing just 247.6 yards per game, tops in the country and the best mark since Alabama gave up an average of 183.6 yards during the 2011 season.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 21, Michigan 17 (10-0 on the season, 7-3 against the spread)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Michigan 17 (10-0 on the season, 6-4 against the spread)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 21, Michigan 9 (10-0 on the season, 6-4 against the spread)