Sports Specs with Sam

    Big Ten Football: Minnesota and Wisconsin earn big wins, will battle it out for the Big Ten West in the last three weeks of the season

    Sam Janssen

    More stories from Sam Janssen


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    The Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Wisconsin Badgers both earned big wins on Saturday, Nov. 9, as Minnesota earned a signature win for P.J. Fleck’s program over the No. 4 team in the country, Penn State, and Wisconsin got a hard-fought road win against their divisional foe — the Iowa Hawkeyes. 

    The undefeated Gophers entered Saturday with a  No. 17 rank in the College Football Playoff rankings and No. 13 in the AP poll, and came into the game as a 6.5 point underdog at home.

    This win against the Penn State Nittany Lions was a long time coming for Minnesota, as the football program hadn’t beaten a top five team at home since 1977 and advanced to 6-0 in conference play for the first time since 1961. 

    It was an impressive performance for the underdog Golden Gophers, especially on offense. 

    Penn State’s strong defensive front contained Minnesota’s usually-dominant running game pretty well for the whole game, but Minnesota’s passing game held up it’s end of the bargain and then some throughout the game.

    Tanner Morgan — a sophomore quarterback — had an almost flawless performance, completing 18 out of 20 passes for 339 yards and three touchdowns and showed unflappable confidence and arm strength throughout the entire game.

    Rashod Bateman, a sophomore wide receiver, had a career-best performance, hauling in seven catches for 203 yards and a touchdown.

    The player of the game on defense for Minnesota was Antoine Winfield Jr., a sophomore cornerback, who had two key interceptions in the game, including one on the first possession of the game which set the tone that Minnesota could play with the heavily favored Nittany Lions.

    Penn State showed the ability to march up and down the field on offense pretty easily against the Minnesota defense, especially in the second half. However, three interceptions — including a game-sealing interception in the endzone in the final minute — were the difference in the game, and Minnesota completed their upset victory, winning 31-26, to prove themselves as legitimate contenders in the Big Ten.

    Wisconsin and Iowa played in a Big Ten West elimination game of sorts, and Wisconsin came out on top — 24-22 — after a late Iowa comeback that ended with them missing a two-point conversion opportunity to tie the game. 

    The star of the game was Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin’s running back, who Iowa’s defense looked incapable of containing as he rushed 31 times for 251 yards. 

    Neither of the teams’ quarterbacks looked particularly sharp in this game, but Iowa opened up the passing game late in the fourth quarter as Nate Stanley completed a few long bombs to get Iowa back in the game.

    This wasn’t enough, as Wisconsin ran out the clock at the end of the game because Iowa couldn’t contain their rushing attack all day.

    This win puts Wisconsin at 4-2 in conference play, two games behind 6-0 Minnesota, with three games left to play.

    Minnesota and Wisconsin play in Minneapolis in the final game of the regular season, so Wisconsin could still win the division if they beat Minnesota and if Minnesota loses one of their next two games on the road against Iowa and Northwestern.

    Wisconsin faces a road game against Nebraska next week and a home game against Purdue the week after, and they will be favored in both of those games.

    Minnesota has never been to the Big Ten Championship game since the game’s existence in 2011, and, in that same span, Wisconsin has been five times — more than any other Big Ten team.

    If they make it, they will almost surely play Ohio State or have a rematch with Penn State, depending on who wins the meeting between the two teams on Nov. 23. 

    A matchup against Ohio State would be a difficult challenge for Minnesota, as Ohio State has looked like one of the best teams in the country again this season and a class above the rest of the Big Ten.

    However, a West Division championship and an appearance in the Big Ten Championship game would be a huge turning point for coach P.J. Fleck and the Minnesota football program. It looks attainable as long as Minnesota keeps playing the way they’ve been playing the last three weeks of the season.


    Janssen can be reached at [email protected].