Oct 30, 2020; College Park, Maryland, USA;   Minnesota Golden Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim (24) reacts after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the Maryland Terrapins at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota, Wisconsin set to battle for ‘Paul Bunyan’s Axe’

Rushing for 1,000 yards is the mark of a top running back.

That Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim is in position to do it in 2020, when the Golden Gophers will play just their seventh game of the year Saturday at Wisconsin, speaks to how brilliant he’s been week after week.

The Big Ten Conference Running Back of the Year enters needing only 75 yards to reach four figures. He leads the league in rushing attempts (175), yards (925), touchdowns (15), rushing yards per game (154.2) and all-purpose yards (1,028).

What’s more, Ibrahim is the focus of every defense with the departure of wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who opted out of the season’s remainder before last week’s 24-17 win at Nebraska to prepare for his NFL future.

But the Cornhuskers couldn’t keep Ibrahim from rattling off 108 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, including key runs down the stretch to salt away an unlikely win. Minnesota (3-3) was without a whopping 33 players because of injuries or COVID-19 protocol.

Little wonder that coach P.J. Fleck’s first comments after the victory were to thank his university’s medical team.

“We had a lot of challenges on our football team this week,” he said. “We haven’t played in 22 days, everyone. It’s a very difficult thing to do in 2020 with the ghost in the room. I don’t think people realize how truly hard this is.”

While the Gophers returned from a lengthy break with a win, a long layoff appears to have hampered the Badgers’ season. Coronavirus hammered the roster after a season-opening 45-7 rout of Illinois, sidelining quarterback Graham Mertz and coach Paul Chryst, among others.

Wisconsin returned three weeks later with a blowout win at Michigan, but hasn’t won since. In fact, the Badgers fell to 2-3 last week with a 28-7 defeat at Iowa, their third straight game in which they failed to crack double figures offensively.

“We had our chances, but you have to be opportunistic when you get those chances, and we weren’t,” Chryst said. “Every time you compete, there’s lessons to be learned. We have to get better and finish this thing out the right way.”

The teams were scheduled to play on Nov. 28 but had to postpone because COVID-19 was ripping through Minnesota’s program. This will be the 130th game in a series that dates back to 1890. Wisconsin holds a 61-60-8 edge, winning last year 38-17 in snowy Minneapolis to capture the Big Ten West title.

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2020; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes place kicker Keith Duncan (3) kicks a field goal as punter Ryan Gersonde (2) holds during the first quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

No. 16 Iowa tops Wisconsin to extend win streak

Ihmir Smith-Marsette had seven receptions for a career-high 140 yards and two second-half touchdowns to help No. 16 Iowa increase its winning streak to six games with a 28-7 victory over visiting Wisconsin on Saturday at Iowa City.

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras was 14 of 25 for 211 yards and two TDs, while Tyler Goodson had 80 of his 106 yards came on a late scoring run for the Hawkeyes (6-2, 6-2 Big Ten).

Iowa has not lost since falling to both Purdue and Northwestern to open the season by a combined five points. Iowa held short-handed Wisconsin to 225 total yards while snapping a four-game slide between the rivals, while defeating the Badgers at home for the first time since 2008.

The Badgers (2-3, 2-3), minus leading rusher Jalen Berger and key receivers Kendrick Pryor and Danny Davis, have scored 20 total points during a three-game losing streak. Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz was 20 of 38 for 169 yards with an interception.

The teams combined for 178 total yards – 66 from Wisconsin — and 13 punts in the first half, with Iowa leading 6-0 at the break. Each showed some life out of the gate in the second half.

The Badgers marched to the Hawkeyes’ 29-yard line on their first drive of the third quarter, but Collin Larsh’s 47-yard field-goal attempt came up short.

Iowa took over possession and Petras connected with Brandon Smith for a 14-yard pass play and then hit Smith-Marsette for a 38-yard reception. On third-and-10, Petras found Smith-Marsette in the corner of the end zone from 19 yards with 8:49 left in the third.

Wisconsin, though, took advantage of a muffed punt by Iowa’s Charlie Jones muffed punt, recovering it at the Hawkeyes’ 25. Three plays later, Nakia Watson scored the Badgers’ first touchdown in 10 quarters from 1-yard out to make it 14-7 with 5:42 to play in the third quarter.

Iowa found some breathing room when Petras and Smith-Marsette hooked up on a 53-yard TD for a 21-7 lead with 1:23 remaining in the third quarter, on a score that concluded with the receiver doing a flip into the end zone. Smith-Marsette apparently injured his ankle on the play and did not return.

Goodson broke free for the long insurance touchdown run for the Hawkeyes after Mertz was intercepted in the end zone on Wisconsin’s prior drive.

Keith Duncan’s 30-yard field goal opened the scoring for Iowa with 7:12 to play in the first quarter. Duncan then hit from 45-yard field-goal, banking it in off the upright, with one second left in the first half.

–Field Level Media

Dec 5, 2020; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Spencer Petras (7) throws the ball against the Illinois Fighting Illini during the second half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

No. 16 Iowa hosts Wisconsin, aiming for 6th straight win

Considering how well Iowa is playing, there’s a good chance it can end some extended struggles against rival Wisconsin.

The host No. 16 Hawkeyes look to conclude this condensed and unique regular season with a sixth consecutive victory, which would also halt a four-game slide against the struggling Badgers on Saturday in Iowa City, Iowa.

Iowa (5-2, 5-2 Big Ten) is certainly kicking itself by thinking back to the first two weeks of this season when it lost to Purdue and Northwestern by a combined five points. That 21-20 loss to the Wildcats on Halloween is essentially what will keep the Hawkeyes out of the Big Ten title game.

Still, Iowa is looking to head into the bowl season on a roll after outscoring the last five opponents 186-76 during its longest winning streak since starting 12-0 in 2015. The Hawkeyes, which moved up three spots in the College Football Playoff rankings, fell behind 14-0 early in the second quarter at Illinois last weekend before scoring 35 straight points en route to a 35-21 win.

“Our slow start was a team effort,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

“Sometimes defensively it takes time to get a feel for the game and how things are going.

“The best thing that happened was our players kept playing. The coaches kept coaching and things started getting better.”

The Hawkeyes’ offense, paced by running back Tyler Goodson (107.2 average rushing yards and five touchdowns in the last five games) and quarterback Spencer Petras (six touchdown passes, two interceptions in last five games), has averaged 37.2 points during the five-game run. However, it could be the Iowa defense, which has not allowed more than 24 points in any game this season, that could be the X-factor in this rivalry contest.

The Hawkeyes have dropped four in a row and seven of the last eight against Wisconsin, which is no longer ranked in the CFP after losing to then-No. 12 Indiana last week.

“We’re playing a team that is a border rival, and we have had great games with them,” Ferentz added. “We haven’t come out on the right end enough — that’s for sure.”

That said, the Badgers (2-2, 2-2 Big Ten) have struggled while totaling 13 points in consecutive losses to Northwestern and Indiana after scoring 94 in wins over Illinois and Michigan. Wisconsin, which has been banged up and hindered by COVID-19 issues inside and outside the program, managed only a pair of Collin Larsh field goals in last weekend’s 14-6 loss to then-No. 12 Indiana.

“You’ve got to play good football to give yourself a chance to be a good football team,” Badgers coach Paul Chryst said. “If you’re not doing that, you make it harder.

“We’ve had two games now where we didn’t score a lot of points. Two games before we scored a lot of points. I don’t know that I’ve got the answer for you right now on that.”

Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz, who had a bout with COVID-19 earlier this season, threw seven touchdowns without an interception in those first two games, but has just one score with four picks in the last two. The Badgers have also totaled 276 rushing yards and averaged 3.7 per carry in their two losses.

Still, Wisconsin boasts one of the nation’s top defenses, giving up 49 points on the season and an average of 52.7 rushing yards in the last three games.

–Field Level Media

Dec 5, 2020; Madison, Wisconsin, USA;  Indiana Hoosiers quarterback Jack Tuttle (14) is tackled with the football during the second quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Tuttle, defense lift No. 12 Indiana past No. 16 Wisconsin

Jack Tuttle passed for two touchdowns in his first career start, and No. 12 Indiana’s defense made a late stand to hold on for a 14-6 win over the No. 16 Wisconsin on Saturday.

The Hoosiers (6-1) snapped a 10-game losing streak to Wisconsin, dating back to Oct. 12, 2002. Indiana also improved to 3-1 on the season against ranked teams.

Wisconsin (2-2) drove to Indiana’s 17-yard line with under two minutes remaining, but Micah McFadden came up with a sack on second down. The Hoosiers forced Wisconsin quarterback Graham Metz to throw incompletions on third and fourth down, with Indiana defensive back Reese Taylor coming up with a pass defense in the end zone on fourth down to close out the game.

Metz completed 20 of 34 passes for 202 yards with one interception for the Badgers, while Jalen Berger finished with 87 yards rushing. Wisconsin outgained Indiana 342-217, but came away with just six points in three trips to the red zone.

With Indiana starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. out for the season with a torn ACL, Tuttle was called upon to lead the offense on the road against a ranked opponent. He played composed throughout the game, with his lone mistake coming when he lost a fumble on a quarterback sneak.

Tuttle led Indiana on a 12-play, 81-yard touchdown drive to start the second half. The series included a 35-yard connection to Ty Fryfogle and a 7-yard touchdown pass to Whop Philyor, putting Indiana up 14-3 in the third quarter.

Indiana cashed in on an early turnover after Tiawan Mullen forced a fumble that James Miller recovered at the Hoosiers’ 47-yard line. Tuttle led Indiana on a 12-play, 53-yard drive that was capped by his first career TD pass, a 1-yard pass to tight end Peyton Hendershot to put the Hoosiers up 7-0.

Wisconsin answered with a 12-play, 81-yard drive that ended with a Collin Larsh 29-yard field goal to cut Indiana’s lead to 7-3 with 4:04 remaining in the second quarter.

Indiana’s defense limited Wisconsin to 136 yards in the first half on 4.4 yards per play.

–Field Level Media

Nov 30, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck watches game action during the first half against the Wisconsin Badgers at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota cancels game at No. 18 Wisconsin due to outbreak

There will be no battle for “Paul Bunyan’s Axe” and more important no berth in the Big Ten title game for No. 18 Wisconsin after the Badgers’ game against Minnesota on Saturday was canceled because the Golden Gophers are dealing with issues related to COVID-19.

Minnesota announced Tuesday it was pausing all team activities because nine student-athletes and six staff members tested positive for COVID-19 in the past five days. There were additional presumptive positive tests Tuesday.

“The health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff has always been our main priority,” Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle said in a statement. “We have experienced an increase in positive cases recently and have made the responsible decision to pause team activities. We will continue to rely on the guidance of our medical experts as we navigate the next several days.”

The Badgers (2-1, 2-1 Big Ten) still have a home game against Indiana (Dec. 5) and a game at Iowa (Dec. 12) on their schedule but will not reach the minimum six games set last month by the Big Ten as requirement for being eligible for the Big Ten title game.

This will be Wisconsin’s third cancellation after it also didn’t get to play at Nebraska on Oct. 31 or at home against Purdue on Nov. 7. The Badgers were hoping to bounce back after losing 17-7 at Northwestern last weekend and win “Paul Bunyan’s Axe” for a second straight year against the Gophers.

The Gophers (2-3, 2-3) hope to resume their schedule at home against No. 11 Northwestern on Dec. 5.

–Field Level Media

Nov 21, 2020; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Northwestern Wildcats wide receiver Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman (81) runs as Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Jack Sanborn (57) defends during the second half at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

No. 19 Northwestern posts statement win over No. 10. Wisconsin

The No. 19 Northwestern Wildcats took control of the Big Ten West Division with a statement victory over the visiting No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday afternoon.

With the running game only accumulating 24 yards, Peyton Ramsey stepped up for the Wildcats (5-0) with 203 passing yards and two touchdowns.

For the Badgers (2-1), redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz struggled against a menacing defensive front, finishing with three interceptions.

Northwestern had the perfect start to the game. After holding Wisconsin to a three-and-out on its first possession, the Wildcats drove down the field with Ramsey finding Charlie Mangieri for a 2-yard touchdown.

In the middle of the first quarter, Northwestern and Wisconsin had one of the craziest three-play sequences of the season.

First, Wildcats linebacker Paddy Fisher knocked the ball out of the hands of running back Garrett Groshek, and Blake Gallagher recovered the loose ball.

Immediately after that, on a double-reverse trick play, wide receiver Riley Lees found fellow wideout Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman wide open down the field. It was a touchdown on the field but was overturned when the referees ruled Chiaokhiao-Bowman had been forced out at the 1-yard line.

On the next play, Isaiah Bowser fumbled on the goal line, and Wisconsin recovered. A few plays later, Mertz found a streaking Chimere Dike for a 49-yard touchdown pass.

So instead of a 14-0 lead and all the momentum in the world, Northwestern found itself tied at 7 with Wisconsin.

In the first half, the Wildcats forced four turnovers, but only scored points off the last one. Brandon Joseph intercepted Mertz for the second time in the game with 2:15 remaining in the half.

On the ensuing drive, Ramsey found Chiaokhiao-Bowman in the back of the end zone for a beautiful toe drag catch for a touchdown to go up 14-7.

The third quarter was a punting free-for-all. The first nine possessions totaled 29 plays and 39 yards.

Charlie Kuhbander kicked a 32-yard field goal early in the fourth for Northwestern to go up 17-7.

Wisconsin finished with five turnovers and was minus-4 in TO ratio for the game.

–Field Level Media