The Wisconsin Badgers knew they would be playing for the Big Ten Championship before they took the field against the Minnesota Gophers on Saturday. The first half may have looked like that as the Badgers trailed 17-7 at halftime.
But the Wisconsin defense, which has engulfed opponents all season long, did it again in the second half against the Gophers. The Badgers rallied for a 31-17 win over the Gophers.
The Badgers (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) knocked off Minnesota (8-5, 5-4) for the 13th straight season, will now face Penn State in the Big Ten Championship game on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Penn State (10-2, 8-1) beat Michigan State, 45-12, on Saturday.
Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner passed for 111 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 60 yards as the Gophers were jumping all over the Badgers in the first half.
Wisconsin senior safety Leo Musso then grabbed Paul Bunyan’s Axe in the locker room at halftime and let his teammates know what was on the line.
The defense led the second half charge with four interceptions as the Badgers captured the West Division title outright.
Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook was knocked out in the first half with what’s believed to be a concussion. Bart Houston took over and completed 9 of 14 for 123 yards.
The defense and the Badgers ground game took over.
SoJourn Shelton had two picks, Leo Musso had one and Leon Jacobs added his first pick of the season. Musso’s was the momentum changer though. With the Gophers up 17-10, they were driving for another score when Musso stepped in front of a Mitch Leidner pass in the end zone.
Corey Clement rushed 26 times for 100 yards and touchdowns.
Wisconsin has now won the Big Ten West Division for the second time in the first three years of the league’s current divisional alignment. The Badgers are making their fourth appearance in the Big Ten Football championship game, the most of any team in the game’s six-year history.
At 10-2, Wisconsin has its sixth 10-win season in the last eight years. The Badgers had five 10-win seasons in the program’s first 119 years.
The last time Wisconsin and Penn State met was the final game of the 2013 regular season. The Nittany Lions prevailed 31-24 at Camp Randall Stadium. The rematch comes at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis with a 7:17 p.m. kickoff.