Shutout completes No. 5 Wisconsin’s perfect regular season
MINNEAPOLIS — There was no looking ahead to the Big Ten title game or a possible spot in the College Football Playoffs for No. 5 Wisconsin.
A rivalry game and making history kept the Badgers focused on Saturday.
Alex Hornibrook threw for three touchdowns, Jonathan Taylor ran for 149 yards and a touchdown, and Wisconsin held Minnesota to 133 yards in a 31-0 win on Saturday.
“It was Axe week,” Badgers senior tight end Troy Fumagalli said of the Paul Bunyan Axe, the rivalry trophy between Wisconsin and Minnesota. “Everybody loves Axe week. We’re going to carry that forward. We’re 12-0, but all our goals are still in front of us. We’re going to still play with that chip on our shoulder.”
Hornibrook completed 15 of 19 passes for 151 yards.
Fumagalli, Kyle Penniston and Danny Davis caught touchdown passes for the Badgers (12-0, 9-0 Big Ten), who finished the Big Ten regular season undefeated for the first time since going 5-0 in 1912.
Wisconsin will face Ohio State in next week’s Big Ten Championship Game and could leap into the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings after Alabama and Miami lost this week.
“I think this whole season we’ve been week by week, so it’s the same thing right now: ready for next week,” Hornibrook said.
Wisconsin, which entered the game with the nation’s No. 2 defense in total yards and points allowed, smothered Minnesota, which had just 46 yards at halftime and didn’t have a first down until 41 seconds remained in the first half.
“We knew that we’d have to be able to play close to perfect to beat them, and at least take care of the execution of the opportunities that we had, and we didn’t do that,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said.
The Badgers, who shut out an opponent for the first time since Sept. 26, 2015, against Hawaii, beat the Gophers to retain the axe for the 14th consecutive year, the longest streak for either team.
It was the first shutout by either team in the rivalry since Wisconsin won 24-0 in 1982.
“It hurts,” Minnesota linebacker Thomas Barber said. “It really does, especially for the seniors and all they’ve been through. It’s one of those things you just got to trust in the process and know we’re going in the right direction to be able to take back that axe.”
Gophers quarterback Demry Croft was 3-of-9 passing for 40 yards. Rodney Smith had 16 carries for 82 yards for Minnesota (5-7, 2-7), which failed to become bowl eligible in coach P.J. Fleck’s first season after winning nine games last year under Tracy Claeys.
Emmit Carpenter missed two field-goal attempts as the Gophers were shut out in back-to-back games for the first time since 1950.
“This is unacceptable tonight, period,” Fleck said. “The actual performance tonight, unacceptable. There’s no way that we’re going to look like that next year.”
Minnesota’s defense stuffed the run and forced punts on the Badgers’ first two possessions before Hornibrook started to find his receivers.
Hornibrook led a 12-play, 73-yard drive in the first quarter. He completed 6 of 7 passes for 62 yards and the touchdown to Fumagalli, a finalist for the John Mackey Award given to the top tight end in the country.
Penniston’s first touchdown of the season came with 50 seconds left in the first half to give Wisconsin a 17-0 edge. Penniston became the 19th player for the Badgers to score a touchdown this season.
Taylor, a Heisman Trophy candidate as a freshman, topped 100 yards for the fourth straight game with a 53-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“We’re just building something special here,” Taylor said. “There’s a lot more football to be played, but what we accomplished so far is a special thing.”
NOTES: Saturday marked the 127th meeting between Wisconsin and Minnesota, the most-played rivalry in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Badgers have won 21 of the past 23 meetings to take the series lead for the first time in history at 60-59-8. ... Wisconsin suffered a few injuries in the game. TE Zander Neuville (right leg), RB Bradrick Shaw (left leg) and LB Noah Burks (left left) all left and didn’t return. ... The Gophers were without leading receiver Tyler Johnson, who has a broken hand. WR Rashad Still was not in uniform as coach P.J. Fleck made changes to his receiving corps before the game. ... Minnesota junior WR Will Reger hauled in the first reception of his college career in the second half.