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Tom Oates: Grading Badgers' performance in 38-17 win over Golden Gophers

Tom Oates: Grading Badgers' performance in 38-17 win over Golden Gophers

Wisconsin Minnesota

Wisconsin running back Garrett Groshek picked up 70 yards on a pass from quarterback Jack Coan in the fourth quarter to set the Badgers up for a score. The Badgers defeated the Golden Gophers 38-17 to take back Paul Bunyan's Axe and earn a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game. 

Wisconsin State Journal columnist Tom Oates grades the 13th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers' performance in their 38-17 win over the 9th-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. 

Offense: A-minus

With Minnesota playing nine in the box to stop the run, Jack Coan and Quintez Cephus took over the game. Jonathan Taylor's contested catch on a wheel route for a touchdown was a thing of beauty. The jet sweeps and end arounds just keep working. Aron Cruickshank fumbled when he was smoked on a run from the wildcat formation.

Defense: B-plus

Minnesota had runs of 23 and 36 yards; otherwise, UW held it to 34 yards on 21 carries. The Badgers slowed the run using only two down linemen because Garrett Rand and Isaiahh Loudermilk were outstanding. Caesar Williams' first-half interception changed the momentum and his late end-zone breakups stopped Minnesota on downs.

Special teams: B

Isaac Guerendo's 49-yard kickoff return on a reverse came after Minnesota cut UW's lead to 17-10. Senior Zach Hintze, the No. 1 kicker for the first time, made his only field goal. Anthony Lotti averaged 33 yards per punt, though, to be fair, it was miserable weather. So miserable that Jack Dunn didn't even try to field punts.

Coaching: A-minus

Not sure what was better on Garrett Groshek's 70-yard catch on a screen — the timing of the call or the execution of the play. A freshman cornerback got beat on a deep post for a 51-yard touchdown on Minnesota's second play. Shouldn't there be some safety help there? Nice call on the reverse on the kickoff, Chris Haering.

Overall: A-minus

Down 7-0 after Minnesota's second play on a cold, windy, snowy day, UW took a 10-7 lead just before halftime, then thoroughly dominated Minnesota in the second half to win the Big Ten West Division title and a spot in the conference championship game. The Badgers' strength advantage in both lines simply wore down the Gophers.

Photos: Wisconsin Badgers take back Paul Bunyan's Axe from Minnesota Golden Gophers

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Tom Oates has been part of the Wisconsin State Journal sports department since 1980 and became its editorial voice in 1996, traversing the state and country to bring readers a Madison perspective on the biggest sports stories of the day.

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