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Wisconsin's focus quickly shifts to Ohio State

Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Jack Cichy, defensive end Matt Henningsen (94), defensive end Alec James (57), defensive end Chikwe Obasih (34) and linebacker Leon Jacobs (32) hold up the Paul Bunyan axe after defeating the Minnesota Golden Gophers Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. (Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)

Jason Galloway

The Wisconsin State Journal

MINNEAPOLIS — The University of Wisconsin football team had plenty to celebrate Saturday evening after keeping Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the 14th straight year and finishing a regular season undefeated for the first time since 1912.

In a season with more potential than any in recent memory, however, the Badgers aren’t spending much time reflecting before honing in on the upcoming Big Ten Championship game against Ohio State.

“We’ve got to enjoy it tonight and get back to the grind,” UW wide receiver Danny Davis said after the game. “We still have a lot of business to take care of to complete this journey.”

Beating the Gophers set the stage for the following week’s contest to be arguably one of the biggest in program history for UW (12-0, 9-0). With No. 1 Alabama and second-ranked Miami both losing over the weekend, the Badgers will likely move up from their fifth spot in the College Football Playoff rankings when they’re released Tuesday.

A win over the Buckeyes would almost certainly guarantee UW a playoff spot and a shot at competing for the national championship.

“We’re 12-0, but all our goals are still in front of us,” UW tight end Troy Fumagalli said. “We’ll still play with a chip on our shoulder and get ready for this week.”

While their playoff fate feels secure with a win next week, the Badgers don’t have any assurances that the College Football Playoff committee will feel the same way. Could the Crimson Tide remain ahead of UW? Could a two-loss Auburn leap into the top four?

The Badgers aren’t trying to answer those questions. Instead, they plan on doing what they’ve done all season — focus on the task at hand. Multiple players stated after the win at Minnesota that UW’s simply keyed in on winning a Big Ten Championship, something the program hasn’t done since 2012.

The Badgers can’t completely control what happens beyond that, so they won’t try. All they can do is continue winning.

“We’ve got to really focus on playing Ohio State next week, and then after that, we can’t control where the committee goes,” UW wide receiver Kendric Pryor said. “We just go out there and play ball. If they decide to put us in, they do. If they don’t, they don’t.”

Despite its undefeated record, UW enters this week as 6.5-point underdogs against Ohio State, which suffered losses to Iowa and Oklahoma this year.

The Badgers’ accomplishments this season have been somewhat minimized nationally due to their weak schedule. A victory over a top-10 Buckeyes team could be the final hump towards gaining more respect and pushing into a playoff spot.

Regardless of what happens Saturday, UW will view this season as a historic one. Yet another win, though, could elevate it to an even higher level.

“There’s a lot more football to be played, but what we’ve accomplished so far is really a special thing,” UW running back Jonathan Taylor said. “We just think about one more win. That’s the only thing we can focus on.

“We don’t know what the future will hold, but the only thing we know is that we have one more game left and we’ve got to make sure we get it done.”

BADGER BITS: 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. … UW freshman tailback Jonathan Taylor has 1,806 rushing yards, the third-most by a true freshman in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision history. Only UW’s Ron Dayne (2,109 in 1996) and Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson (1,925 in 2004) have more. … The Badgers are 13-1 in true road games under coach Paul Chryst.

Postgame notes

Game ball — Alex Hornibrook, the UW sophomore quarterback, didn’t throw an interception for the first time in Big Ten play this season.

Thumbs up — Ryan Connelly, the junior inside linebacker was responsible for three of the Badgers’ seven tackles for loss, including two sacks that resulted in a combined 24 yards of minus-yardage for Minnesota.

Thumbs down — P.J. Fleck for as confident as the Minnesota coach comes across in front of the microphones, he coached scared against the Badgers. It showed in the Golden Gophers’ vanilla game plan on offense and his decision to play for a field goal with his team trailing 17-0 late in the first half.

No. 3 in two polls

Wisconsin moved up to No. 3 in both the AP poll and USA Today Coaches poll.

After losses by top-ranked Alabama and No. 2 Miami, the Badgers (12-0) are now ranked behind just Clemson and Oklahoma in both polls.

The Badgers received 10 first-place votes in the AP poll, while 21 coaches put them in the top spot.

The College Football Playoff rankings are set to be released Tuesday. UW was ranked fifth in that poll last week and will likely move into the top four.

Big Ten Conference

East Division

Ohio St.(10-2)......................................... 8-1

Michigan St. (9-3).................................. 7-2

Penn St. (10-2)....................................... 7-2

Michigan (8-4)........................................ 5-4

Rutgers (4-8).......................................... 3-6

Indiana (5-7)........................................... 2-7

Maryland (4-8)........................................ 2-7

West Division

Wisconsin (12-0)........................................ 9-0

Northwestern (9-3).................................. 7-2

Iowa (7-5)............................................... 4-5

Purdue (6-6)........................................... 4-5

Nebraska (4-8)....................................... 3-6

Minnesota (5-7).......................................... 2-7

Illinois (2-10).......................................... 0-9

Thursday, Nov. 24

Iowa 56, Nebraska 14

Saturday, Nov. 25

Ohio State 31, Michigan 20

Purdue 31, Indiana 24

Penn State 66, Maryland 3

Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 0

Northwestern 42, Illinois 7

Michigan State 40, Rutgers 7

Saturday, Dec. 2

Big Ten Championship Game

at Indianapolis

Wisconsin vs. Ohio State, 7 p.m.

 

Wisconsin............. 7..... 10       7       7   —   31

Minnesota............. 0....... 0       0       0   —     0

First Quarter

WIS—Fumagalli 1-yard pass from Hornibrook (Gaglianone kick), 0:24.

Second Quarter

WIS—Gaglianone 32-yard field goal, 9:08.

WIS—Penniston 5-yard pass from Hornibrook (Gaglianone kick), 0:50.

Third Quarter

WIS—Dn.Davis 5-yard pass from Hornibrook (Gaglianone kick), 6:06.

Fourth Quarter

WIS—Jn.Taylor 53-yard rush (Gaglianone kick), 14:51.

 TEAM STATISTICS

                                             WIS            MINN

First Downs.......................... 22               8

Rushes-Yards................... 38-291        39-93

Passing............................... 169             40

Sacked-Yds Lost................. 0-0            2-24

Comp-Att-Int..................... 17-21-0        3-9-0

Return Yards........................ 37              42

Punts................................. 3-34.0        8-40.5

Fumbles-Lost....................... 1-1             0-0

Penalties-Yards.................. 3-34           1-10

Time of Possession.......... 33:22         26:38

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING-WIS, Jn.Taylor 20-149, Ch.James 7-51, Ramesh 2-43, Groshek 5-40, B.Shaw 3-6, R.Ibrahim 1-2. MINN, Rn.Smith 16-82, Ko.McCrary 12-20, Croft 11-(minus 9).

PASSING-WIS, Hornibrook 15-19-0-151, Coan 2-2-0-18. MINN, Croft 3-9-0-40.

RECEIVING-WIS, Dn.Davis 5-41, Ke.Pryor 3-51, AJ.Taylor 3-39, Penniston 2-16, Fumagalli 2-11, R.Ibrahim 1-7, Ramesh 1-4. MINN, Rn.Smith 2-14, Reger 1-26.

Copyright (c) 2017m The Wisconsin State Journal/Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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