MADISON, Wis. (AP) – All week Wisconsin talked more about fixing its own problems than about its border rivalry with Minnesota.
John Clay and James White took it upon themselves to run right through the Gophers.
Clay ran for three touchdowns and White added two more to lead No. 20 Wisconsin to a 41-23 win over Minnesota on Saturday, keeping Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the seventh straight year.
Wisconsin believes it is back on track after losing to Michigan State last week.
“After a loss and a bad taste in your mouth, you can’t look back, you’ve got to move forward, and I thought our guys did that,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. “I can’t say enough about our ground game. John Clay and James White and the big guys up front blocking up for them are really special.”
Clay ran for 111 yards and his freshman teammate had 118 to extend the longest winning streak for Wisconsin (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) in the most played rivalry in Division I football. The series dates to 1890.
“Our goal each week is to try to get everybody over 100 yards,” White said. “If we do that, we’re having a really good day.”
Even the lopsided victory didn’t keep emotions from running high as the oversized Axe was paraded around Camp Randall Stadium. Minnesota coach Tim Brewster angrily confronted Bielema at midfield afterward because of his decision to go for a 2-point conversion with 6:39 left.
“I thought it was a very poor decision by a head football coach and he’ll have to live with that,” said Brewster, who is 15-29 in four disappointing seasons in Minnesota. “It was wrong. Everybody in here knows it and everybody in college football knows it. It was wrong.”
Bielema defended his decision as being the correct one on the card he carries to determine whether to kick an extra point or go for the 2-point conversion.
“You know what? If we’re playing and somebody is going to go for two against me because they’re up 25, that’s what they should do, that’s what the card says,” he said.
Brewster wasn’t buying that explanation, either.
“That’s a poor excuse,” Brewster said.
Minnesota (1-5, 0-2) wore white helmets and uniforms on an unseasonably hot day, but that didn’t help the Gophers break their skid against Wisconsin or overcome an early 14-0 deficit.
Adam Weber, who started his 44th game, went 11 of 25 with 249 yards and three touchdown passes – one to MarQueis Gray in the second quarter and two to Da’Jon McKnight in the fourth, when the Gophers were already on their way to their fifth straight loss.
The Gophers controlled the clock in the second quarter, scoring on Eric Ellestad’s 24-yard field goal and Weber’s 9-yard TD pass to Gray that got them within 14-9 going into halftime.
Wisconsin used an 11-play, 64-yard drive on the opening possession of the second half that was aided by three Minnesota penalties. Those mistakes set up White’s 8-yard touchdown run through a gap opened when center Peter Konz pulled out and buried cornerback Ryan Collado.
Clay scored his second touchdown on the next possession, going straight up the middle for a 4-yard score, and added an 8-yard TD run by bowling over James Manuel early in the fourth quarter to make it 35-9. White’s 1-yard TD run gave Wisconsin a 41-16 lead midway through the fourth quarter before the failed 2-point conversion attempt.
“There’s no slack when one of us comes out of the game,” White said. “If Clay comes out, I go in, there’s no slack.”
White finished with 19 carries while Clay had 21 a week after a streak of 10 straight games with at least 100 yards and a touchdown was snapped in a loss at Michigan State.
Now, they’ll share the load heading into next week’s Saturday night showdown against No. 2 Ohio State.
“We’re excited about where we’re headed going into Ohio State week,” defensive end J.J. Watt said.
Minnesota wore white helmets for the first time since 2006 as temperatures reached the 80s, but the fashion forward look did little to help another ugly loss for a group that’s struggled on defense by allowing 29 points or more in each game of its losing streak.
“No one on their team has touched the Axe,” Watt said. “We hope to keep it that way for a long, long time to come.”