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Saturday's Big Ten: Wisconsin dominates, stays unbeaten

Associated Press
Wisconsin defensive end Alec James (57) holds up Paul Bunyan's Axe after the Badgers beat Minnesota, 31-0, on Saturday.

Minneapolis — That weaker schedule that has kept Wisconsin on the fringe of the College Football Playoff picture has become a moot point.

Win one more game, and the Badgers will be a sure bet for the final four. They’re still unbeaten, confidently striving for more.

Alex Hornibrook threw three touchdown passes without an interception for fifth-ranked Wisconsin, and the Badgers overwhelmed rival Minnesota, 31-0, on Saturday for their 14th straight victory over the Gophers.

The only other time Wisconsin completed a conference slate without a loss was in 1912, when there were only five contests on the schedule.

“It’s exciting, man. It’s something that’s really hard to do,” linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “I think some people take it for granted, but you can’t.”

Jonathan Taylor rushed for 149 yards on 20 carries, including a 53-yard scoring sprint on the first play of the fourth quarter that gave the Badgers (12-0, 9-0, No. 5 CFP) their largest winning margin in a Big Ten game this season.

Aided by No. 2 Miami’s stunning loss at Pittsburgh on Friday and No. 1 Alabama’s defeat on Saturday by No. 6 Auburn, the Badgers headed to the Big Ten championship game weekend next against Ohio State in prime position to move up and make sure they won’t be denied a top-four spot as an undefeated team.

“They’ll be ready,” coach Paul Chryst said.

Rodney Smith rushed 16 times for 82 yards for the Gophers (5-7, 2-7), who finished coach P.J. Fleck’s first season by suffering the program’s first consecutive shutouts since 1950.

“The actual performance tonight? Unacceptable,” Fleck said. “There’s no way that we’re going to look like that next year.”

With yet another smothering performance by the defense that started the week ranked second in the FBS in fewest points and yards allowed, the Badgers kept Paul Bunyan’s Axe from changing hands and prevented the Gophers from reaching a bowl game for the first time in six years.

Demry Croft completed only 3 of 9 passes for 40 yards for Minnesota and took a pair of costly 12-yard sacks by Badgers linebacker Ryan Connelly. The Gophers totaled only 133 yards and eight first downs, with a pair of missed field goals by Emmit Carpenter punctuating the humiliation.

After Hornibrook’s touchdown pass to Fumagalli put the Badgers on the scoreboard late in the first quarter, Smith returned a kickoff more than 90 yards to inside the Wisconsin 10. The Gophers were flagged for holding, though, pushing them back to their own 33. They went three-and-out for their third of five straight possessions to start the game.

The last of those came right after Taylor lost a fumble forced by Thomas Barber at midfield. On the first play after the turnover, Connelly came racing into the backfield to drop Croft for a big loss back to the Gophers 37.

“You never know if they’re going to catch an interception or get a pick-six or a sack-fumble. You never know what they’re going to do, so you’re on edge the entire time,” Taylor said. “It’s exciting.”

Wisconsin had its first shutout since Sept. 26, 2015, against Hawaii.

“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,” Fleck said.

More Big Ten

(At) No. 12 Penn State 66, Maryland 3: Trace McSorley threw two touchdown passes and ran for a score to cap an outstanding regular season and carry Penn State.

The Nittany Lions (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten, No. 10 CFP) built a 31-0 halftime lead and cruised to their third straight victory. The streak began after successive losses at Ohio State and Michigan State by a combined four points.

McSorley went 22-for-33 for 237 yards and ran seven times for 36 yards. The junior has thrown for 3,228 yards and 26 touchdowns this season and run for 589 yards and 11 touchdowns.

McSorley left with 5:46 left in the third quarter, after Saquon Barkley made it 45-0 with two third-quarter touchdown runs.

Penn State has won 10 games in successive seasons for the first time since 2008-09.

The one bright spot for Maryland (4-8, 2-7) was the record-setting play of DJ Moore, who had eight catches for 100 yards. Moore set the school single-season mark of 80 receptions, breaking the record of 77 held by Geroy Simon in 1984, and became only the third Maryland receiver to have a 1,000-yard season.

No. 23 Northwestern 42, (at) Illinois 7: Justin Jackson ran for 144 yards and a touchdown and Northwestern won its seventh straight.

The bowl-bound Wildcats (9-3, 7-2 Big Ten) held Illinois scoreless after giving up a first-quarter touchdown, and put 42 straight points on the board.

Jackson finished the regular season with 1,154 yards, one of two Big Ten players along with former Wisconsin star Ron Dayne to top 1,000 yards for four straight seasons. Clayton Thorson was 13 of 21 for 140 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

In a quiet stadium where the Illinois band far outnumbered the student section, the Illini (2-10, 0-10) lost their 10th straight and finished winless in the Big Ten for the first time since 2012.

(At) Purdue 31, Indiana 24: Jackson Anthrop ran for two scores, Elijah Sindelar threw for two more and Markell Jones rushed for a career high 217 yards to lead Purdue into its first bowl game in five years.

The Boilermakers (6-6, 4-5 Big Ten) won three of their last four to reclaim the Old Oaken Bucket for the first time since 2012. Jeff Brohm became the first Purdue coach to reach the postseason in his first year since the late Joe Tiller in 1997.

Indiana (5-7, 2-7) had a two-game winning streak snapped and now must wait for other results to see if it might sneak into the bowl picture based on its Academic Progress Rate. Some teams with 5-7 records were taken each of the past two seasons because all of the bowl slots could not be filled by six-win teams.

The loss ended Indiana’s school record-tying four-game winning streak in the rivalry.