The Wisconsin Badgers might be flawed but their season remains perfect thanks to a dominant defense and spectacular special teams.
Behind Matt Davenport's school record-tying four field goals, the eighth-ranked Badgers improved to 9-0 for the first time since 1901 by beating the Minnesota Gophers 26-7 Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
Next up for the unblemished Badgers is a trip to No. 22 Michigan, which also has a 6-0 Big Ten mark after shutting out ninth-ranked Penn State 27-0 Saturday in Ann Arbor.
The Gophers (4-5, 1-5) failed to stain Wisconsin's perfect season as they did to the Badgers' Rose Bowl run five years ago, managing only 28 yards on 24 carries against the nation's second-best rushing defense.
Wisconsin had its troubles putting the ball into the end zone, seeing drives stall at the Minnesota 18, 1 and 4 and settling for field goals of 35, 48, 18 and 22 yards.
"Especially coming into these next two games, we need to score 7s instead of 3s when our defense and special teams are giving us great field position," Badgers quarterback Mike Samuel said.
"You can't beat the great teams without punching it in when you get the ball first-and-goal from the 5. We're going to have to get touchdowns against really good teams," agreed Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, whose team faces Penn State after the Wolverines.
Ron Dayne rushed 35 times for 133 hard-earned yards against the nation's seventh-ranked rushing defense and became the first Wisconsin player with three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons since Billy Marek in 1973-75.
Dayne's TD also broke marek's schol mark of 46 and it gave him a school-best 282 career points, four more than Marek and kicker Todd Gregoire had during their careers.
| Ron Dayne managed 133 yards against a tough Minnesota defense. (AP) |
Dayne, who scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter, also gave the Badgers a 1,000-yard rusher for the sixth consecutive season. He has eight 100-yard games in a row after missing the opener with a sprained ankle.
After splitting tight games with Michigan State and Michigan, the Gophers trailed just 10-7 at halftime. They hung in by virtue of one big offensive play and outstanding defense that limited Dayne to 48 yards on 16 carries.
With Dayne getting stuffed, Samuel completed four passes for 58 yards on an 11-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that made it 10-0 when Dayne rumbled in from two yards out with 6:28 left in the second qua8rter.
The Gophers struck back on a 53-yard touchdown pass from Billy Cockerham to Luke Leverson a minute later. Freshman cornerback Jamar Fletcher bit on the fake and Cockerham hit Leverson at the 25 and he ran untouched to make it 10-7.
On Wisconsin's next snap, Samuel was hit by linebacker Parc Williams as he threw, sending the ball into the hands of Minnesota linebacker Sean Hoffman at the Wisconsin 30. But it didn't matter.
Right tackle Eric Mahlik deflected Cockerham's first-down pass, left tackle Ross Kolodziej, returning from a knee injury to boost an already outstanding line, dropped Thomas Hamner for a 6-yard loss and linebacker Chris Ghidorzi hurried Cockerham on third down to force a punt, and Minnesota would never gain the lead.
"That probably was the biggest stop all day," Alvarez said. "Our defense answered. We took the momentum right away from them."
"When you're playing a top team like Wisconsin and you're playing on the road and you get an opportunity like that, you've got to come away with scores," Gophers coach Glen Mason said.
Davenport's first field goal, from 35 yards, followed Jason Doering's interception and made it 3-0. His 48-yard attempt in the third quarter hit the crossbar and bounced over for a 13-7 lead.
On the next play from scrimmage, Fletcher tipped Cockerham's pass into Ghidorzi's arms at the Minnesota 28, then he fumbled at the 23, where teammate John Favret recovered. That led to Davenport's 18-yarder and a 16-7 lead.
Fletcher's diving interception on the Gophers' next possession led to another short field goal by Davenport, a 22-yarder that made it 19-7.
After Cockerham's fourth interception, this one by freshman cornerback Mike Echols at the Wisconsin 28, Samuel scampered in from 10 yards out to make it 26-7.
The Baders' plus-21 turnover margin and outstanding special teams play -- punter Kevin Stemke had a 62-yarder that was downed at the 1 by Donte King on Saturday -- has allowed the Badgers to have a special season despite a thicket of troubles on offense.
"They started a lot of drives inside our 50, which made it easier for their offense to score," Williams said.
Even if they came three at a time rather than seven.
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