MADISON - Looking back, senior Marcus Coleman is still in shock over what happened.
“I remember sitting on the sidelines and thinking we were a long shot to win the game,” Coleman said about the last time the Badgers travelled to Minneapolis. “Then watching the events unfold was just unbelievable. It was just an unreal moment.”
Making its first appearance in the top 25 in four weeks, Wisconsin looks to have much less drama in this trip to Minneapolis, as the Badgers (8-3, 4-3) take on the hapless Minnesota Golden Gophers (1-10, 0-7) this Saturday in the regular season finale for both teams.
In the last game between the Badgers and Gophers in the Metrodome, UW rallied from a 10-point deficit with less than three minutes left in the game to win, 38-34. Trailing 34-31, freshman Jonathan Casillas blocked a Gopher punt deep in their own territory and sophomore Ben Strickland recovered it in the end zone for the game-winning score with 30 seconds left in the game.
“As soon as I blocked I it, I’m like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to get this, we got to get it,’” Casillas said at the time. “It was bouncing so long because I tried to not jump on it, because every time somebody jumps on the ball it skirts out and shoots past the end zone. The whole game changed in about 20 seconds.”
Wisconsin was outgained 510-366 and Minnesota held a 10:30 advantage in time of possession, but the Badgers somehow found a way to win in Barry Alvarez last game in the rivalry.
“I couldn’t believe what happened,” senior Andy Crooks recalled. “The building was in chaos. Their fans were in shock and our fans were electric. It was amazing.”
Since that game, the Badger and the Gophers have gone in vastly opposite directions.
Since winning that game in the dome, the Badgers are 24-6, ranked eighth in the nation in wins since the start of the 2004 season and have won two Capital One Bowl games.
Minnesota, on the other hand, is just 9-21 during that time frame and 0-2 in bowl games, prompting then-head coach Glen Mason to resign at the end of last season and new head coach Tim Brewster to take over the program’s reigns.
After loudly declaring that Minnesota was going to be on the rise, Brewster’s Gophers have tied the 1983 Minnesota team with the worst record in program history, with their only victory being a 41-35 decision in three overtimes over Miami (Ohio) in week two.
The low point came in week eight, when North Dakota State, in the final year of its transition from Division II to the Football Championship Subdivision, scored a 27-21 victory over the Gophers in Minneapolis.
A loss over Wisconsin would set a new program low, as the Gophers have never been 1-11 in a football program that dates back to 1882.
The Gophers have appeared in 10 bowl games over a span of four decades, Minnesota's last Big Ten championship came in 1960 and last Rose Bowl appearance came in the 1961 season.
"Everything we're going through we're going through for the first time as a staff," Brewster said. "I think next year as we get into our second year the biggest thing is that our football team is going to understand exactly what we want, what we're asking of our football team.”
While the Badgers are rely on veteran players, 12 of Minnesota’s 22 starters are either freshmen or sophomore in relation to just six seniors.
"(Losing) is very hard on the kids,” Brewster said. “But from a coaching perspective we're all on the same page. We know the direction we want to go and I think it will be much more comfortable for the players."
In the crazy world of the Big Ten this season, Minnesota is the only team that is not bowl-eligible, which makes Saturday’s game all that more important to the Gophers, who will not be going to a bowl game for the first time since 2001.
“You’re going to have a group of seniors that are going into their last home game like our seniors just did this past Saturday,” head coach Bret Bielema said. “Those seniors have gone to four straight bowls (and) they’re accustomed to winning. They’ve won every year, maybe not as much as they may have wanted, but they’ve been proven winners.
“It just hasn’t turned out the way they wanted in the end. And I’m sure we’re going to get their best effort of the year.”
With the wild and crazy finish the last time the two teams faced each other in the dome fresh in his mind, Bielema knows that the anarchy does not have to be a tradition when the Badgers head north to the twin cities.
The game before the memorable block punt, Minnesota kicker Rhys Lloyd kicked a 35-yard field goal as time expired to give the Golden Gophers a 37-34 win in 2003.
With the Badgers still having a chance for a January 1st bowl game, Wisconsin looks to limit the craziness on Saturday.
“This Saturday’s game doesn’t need to be crazy if we control and do the things that we want to do,” Bielema said. “It becomes crazy when you aren’t able to execute and do certain things, and obviously, if they do things that are going to hurt us, that puts that crazy label on it.”
No. 24 Wisconsin (8-3, 4-3) vs. Minnesota (1-10, 0-7)
Date/Time - Saturday, Nov. 17 at 2:30 p.m. CST
Stadium – HHH Metrodome (FieldTurf / 64,172)
Television - Big Ten Network (Wayne Larrivee, Chris Martin, Dara McIntosh)
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas)
Series – Minnesota leads 59-49-8
Last Meeting - Wisconsin won, 48-12, on Oct. 14, 2006 in Madison
This will be the 117th meeting between the two teams and is the most-played rivalry in Division I football. The series has been played continuously since 1890 (except for 1906).
The Golden Gophers lead the series 38-21-2 in Minneapolis.
UW has won 10 of the last 12 meetings between the teams with the winning team has scoring at least 37 points in each of the last seven games. However, four of the last five games in Minneapolis have been decided by four points or less.
With one more victory this season, Wisconsin will reach nine wins for the fourth consecutive season. That has never happened in school history. The Badgers are one of just nine teams in the country to have nine or more wins in each of the previous three seasons.
Wisconsin defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks held the same position for Minnesota in 2005 before joining Bret Bielema’s staff.
The Badgers have six players that hail from the state of Minnesota. They are WR Isaac Anderson (Minneapolis), C Marcus Coleman (Plymouth), WR David Gilreath (New Hope), DL Brandon Hoey (Shoreview), DB Kim Royston (Minneapolis) and LB Blake
Sorenson (Eden Prairie).
This will be Minnesota’s bowl game and, just like its last two bowl games, the Gophers will lose. The Badgers have too much to play for, as UW can still get a January bowl game. Wisconsin traditionally brings a ton of fans into the dome and with Minnesota being 1-10, expect this to be a home game for the Badgers, giving UW its eighth home win of the season.