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Saturday's Big Ten: Minnesota chops down Wisconsin, hands West title to Iowa

Associated Press

Minneapolis — Minnesota’s fans gleefully converged on the field as Paul Bunyan’s Axe was slowly paraded through the crowd, eager for a peek at this long-sought trophy that has gone so often to Wisconsin.

The Gophers’ defense swarmed the field like that all afternoon.

Tanner Morgan overcame an interception that was returned for a first-half touchdown, leading three scoring drives after halftime to take down the 18th-ranked Badgers in a 23-13 victory that regained the Axe and gave Iowa the Big Ten West Division title Saturday.

“We all put a ton into it. I’m just so proud that they have a big reward for it,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said.

Minnesota wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell (7) reacts after scoring a touchdown against Wisconsin during the second half on Saturday.

The Badgers had only 160 total yards over the final three quarters and three points after halftime. They turned the ball over on downs on their last two possessions, and the Gophers got to sprint to the end zone to hoist the 73-year-old trophy on their home field for the first time since 2003. The rap song “Jump Around” played over the speakers in a taunt of Wisconsin’s home-game anthem.

“Nobody wants to be the team that loses the Axe, so it’s truly disappointing,” Badgers outside linebacker Noah Burks said.

Collin Larsh made two field goals for Wisconsin, but he had a 48-yard try – four yards beyond his career long – bounce off the crossbar early in the fourth quarter. Minnesota went the other way for Matthew Trickett’s third field goal of the game to put the stamp on it.

Morgan went 11 for 16 for 199 yards and a third-quarter touchdown pass to Chris Autman-Bell, but the defense stole the show. The Gophers (8-4, 6-3) delivered the kind of stifling performance by their defense the Badgers (8-4, 6-3, No. 14 CFP) were so used to demoralizing their opponents with.

Freshman standout Braelon Allen was limited to 47 yards on 17 rushes. He topped the 100-yard mark in each of the last seven games, all wins for Wisconsin. The Badgers had 62 rushing yards, after averaging 269 yards on the ground during their winning streak.

“We hit them low. We swarmed. There wasn’t many broken tackles, and if guys got a hand on them, they held on for dear life and everybody rallied around him,” Fleck said.

Over the last 23:05 of game time, Allen had just two carries for minus-2 yards. Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi sent a flurry of early down blitzes that caught the Badgers off guard.

“They showed a lot of stuff that we hadn’t seen all year as a offense and a lot of stuff that wasn’t on tape,” Allen said.

Wisconsin went 4-for-14 on third down conversions — and 1-for-8 on third-and-4-plus-yards.

“The biggest thing was just not getting in a rhythm. They’re a good defense, but we’ve all got to execute together and truly move the ball one first down at a time,” quarterback Graham Mertz said.

More Big Ten

► Maryland 40, (at) Rutgers 16: Maryland earned its first bowl berth since 2016 as record-setting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa threw three touchdowns and ran for another in the victory.

Halfback Tayon Fleet-Davis also had a big day with a bowl bid on the line, rushing for a career-best 152 yards and two touchdowns as the Terps (6-6, 3-6) rolled up 575 yards in total offense. Fleet-Davis scored on runs of 13 and 2 yards in the fourth quarter.

Tagovailoa had touchdown passes of 25 and 11 yards to Corey Dyches and 38 yards to Brian Cobbs in getting the Terps bowl eligible. He also tallied on a 10-yard run as Maryland opened a 20-2 halftime lead and never looked back.

Rutgers (5-7, 2-7) was seeking its first bowl berth since 2014.

Tagovailoa finished 21 of 30 for 312 yards. The yardage gave him 3,595 yards, breaking the Terps’ single-season record of 3,499 set by Scott Milanovich in 1993.

► (At) Purdue 44, Indiana 7: Aidan O’Connell tied a career high with four touchdown passes and Zander Horvath ran for another score as Purdue won the Old Oaken Bucket for the first time since 2018.

The Boilermakers (8-4, 6-3) have won four of five to post their highest single-season victory total since 2006. It was the most lopsided game in the series since 2008 when Purdue won 62-10 in the late Joe Tiller’s final regular-season game as coach.

Indiana (2-10, 0-9) lost its last eight games, finishing its first winless season in league play since 2011.

(At) Illinois 47, Northwestern 14: Brandon Peters threw for 242 yards and a touchdown and Illinois rolled over Big Ten rival Northwestern.

With the resounding win to end the regular season, Illinois (5-7, 4-5) hopes to secure its second bowl bid in five years.

Chase Brown rushed 14 times for 112 yards and a touchdown, Josh McCray carried 12 times for 42 yards and a score. Isaiah Williams and Daniel Barker also scored rushing touchdowns for the Illini. Williams also caught seven passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.

Ryan Hilinski passed was 12 of 23 for 123 yards passing for Northwestern (3-9, 1-8). Evan Hull rushed 32 times for 101 yards and a touchdown for the Wildcats. Malik Washington caught seven passes for 83 yards.