When the Minnesota Gophers football team hears the song “Jump Around,” it’s typically bad news.
Wisconsin has been playing House of Pain’s smash hit in between the third and fourth quarters of every game at Camp Randall Stadium since former athletic director and coach Barry Alvarez transformed the football program into a Big Ten dynasty in the late 1990s.
The song plays, and Badgers players and fans alike leap up and down on the sidelines and in the stands to give the team a dose of fourth-quarter adrenaline rarely matched elsewhere in college football. It’s been known to make the Wisconsin press box rattle and shake.
Saturday, however, was a different story.
For the first time since 2003, the Gophers defeated Wisconsin at home, 23-13. While fans stormed the field, coaches celebrated and players took turns swinging Paul Bunyan’s Axe after the game, Minnesota used Wisconsin’s anthem against it and “Jump Around” echoed over the Huntington Bank Stadium speakers.
For the Gophers faithful, it was the troll job of the century.
After Badgers safety Collin Wilder was ejected on the first play of the game due to a questionable targeting call, the game quickly settled into a classic Big Ten brawl.
Minnesota went 65 yards down the field on 14 plays and killed 7:31 of the first quarter only to exit with a field goal. Wisconsin evened the score on its first drive -- a 15-play, 85-yard marathon that took nearly 10 minutes.
Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan made the first mistake. Linebacker Noah Burks batted one of his passes into the air at the line of scrimmage and Badgers safety Scott Nelson caught it in stride and sprinted into the end zone for a 10-3 Badgers lead.
Fortunately for Minnesota, it was Morgan’s only glaring mistake of the afternoon. The Gophers defense swallowed up Wisconsin’s vaunted rushing attack and dared Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz, once a highly touted four-star recruit, to beat them. Mertz couldn’t make the plays he needed, and the Gophers denied Wisconsin of another trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title.
P.J. Fleck now has two career wins over Wisconsin, which is the same amount as the last four former Minnesota coaches combined: Tracy Claeys, Jerry Kill, Tim Brewster and Glen Mason.
Here’s what we learned from the 131st battle between the Gophers and Badgers:
PLAYER OF THE GAME
The game changed on one play. The man behind that one play was freshman cornerback Justin Walley.
Leading 10-6 out of halftime, Wisconsin began the third quarter with an incomplete pass and a three-yard run by Allen. It set up a third-and-7 from the Badgers 21. Minnesota blitzed six on the play, forcing Mertz to chuck up a jump ball to receiver Kendric Pryor. In coverage, Walley met Pryor at the football in midair, and the two players tumbled to the ground with two pairs of hands around it. It was Walley who established enough possession for the referee to rule it an interception -- the first of his young career.
Two plays later, Ky Thomas went untouched into the end zone for a 13-10 lead. Minnesota never trailed again.
Walley, just one year removed from being named the Class 6A Mississippi Mr. Football winner, also collected five tackles, the third-most on the Gophers defense.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME
Minnesota’s run stoppers. The plan against Wisconsin (and practically every other Big Ten West team) is simple: Stop the run, and the rest will take care of itself.
The Badgers entered the rivalry clash on a seven-game winning streak. Braelon Allen, a 17-year-old freshman running back who entered the season fifth on the depth chart but has emerged into a star, had gained 100+ yards on the ground in all seven of those wins. Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi’s unit shut him down. Allen was held to 47 rushing yards on 17 carries (2.8 average). Eight of his 17 carries went for one, zero or negative yards.
Linebacker Jack Gibbens led Gophers with 10 tackles (one for loss), and senior Mariano Sori-Marin added seven (0.5 TFL).
Down 23-13 with under five minutes to play and facing a third-and-5, Mertz scrambled for a four-yard gain. One yard short of the chains. On fourth-and-1, Badgers head coach Paul Chryst sent out his punting unit. WHAT?! Wisconsin was down two possessions and it was punting?
Well, the snap didn’t get off cleanly. Fullback John Chenal was whistled for a false start, backing up the Badgers five yards. Wisconsin actually converted the fourth-and-6 but quickly turned it over on downs after a six-yard gain and three Mertz misfires. The special-teams blunder didn’t cost Wisconsin the game, but it was certainly indicative of the out-of-character incompetence seen from the Badgers sideline Saturday.
1 -- After Wisconsin tied the game at 13, Morgan responded by conducting a seven-play, 74-yard drive which ate 4:31 of the clock and ended with a 27-yard pass to Chris Autman-Bell for a touchdown. The Gophers led by seven with 1:56 left in the third quarter.
Despite having over a quarter to play and trailing by only one possession, the Badgers – whose offense greatly favors the run game -- called for just one rushing play the rest of the game (Mertz did have three runs but they were on scrambles out of pass formations). Sure, Minnesota was stopping the run all afternoon but it was surprising to see no balance to Wisconsin’s offense the rest of the way.
THEY SAID IT
"Stuff like that -- field being stormed, crowd going crazy. That's why you do this. That's why you come to Minnesota." – receiver Chris Autman-Bell
“It was fun winning it in Camp Randall. It was even better winning it at home.” – head coach P.J. Fleck
“It’s a pretty special feeling. It makes me think about when we won in 2018 – how much it meant to the state, to this program. But being able to do it here in front of our fans definitely means a lot. … To be able to play a team like that in important games, it’s pretty fun.” – quarterback Tanner Morgan
“We hit them low. We swarmed. There weren’t many broken tackles, and if guys got a hand on them, they held on for dear life and everybody rallied around him.” -- Fleck on Minnesota’s defense
The Gophers finish the regular season with a record of 8-4 (6-3 in the Big Ten). Minnesota will await to be placed in its third bowl game of the Fleck era. The first two trips with Fleck resulted in victories – a 31-24 win over Auburn in the Outback Bowl to cap off the 2019 season and a 34-10 victory against Georgia Tech in the ’18 Quick Lane Bowl.