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Instant analysis: Offensive struggles, questionable calls doom Wisconsin football in loss to Minnesota
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Instant analysis: Offensive struggles, questionable calls doom Wisconsin football in loss to Minnesota

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The University of Wisconsin football team surrendered Paul Bunyan's Axe after the Minnesota Golden Gophers defeated the 18th-ranked Badgers 23-13 on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

MINNEAPOLIS – The University of Wisconsin football team fell to 8-4 overall and 6-3 in the Big Ten Conference with a 23-13 loss to the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium. Here are my three quick thoughts on the game:

Pass fails

Things looked good for Graham Mertz early in the game.

He hit Danny Davis for 17 yards off a play-action fake on UW’s first play from scrimmage and completed his next four passes to help the Badgers move inside the Minnesota 10.

But Mertz was way off on a throw to Chimere Dike in the end zone on third-and-goal, resulting in UW being forced to settle for a field goal.

Mertz was wide of the mark on a pass over the middle to Danny Davis that would have gone for a big gain — perhaps even a touchdown — had the ball been on the money later in the first half.

Mertz’s interception on the second play of the third quarter flipped the momentum in the game. Kendric Pryor didn’t do Mertz any favors by losing a 50/50 battle to Minnesota cornerback Justin Wailey, but the ball should have been thrown closer to the sidelines.

Mertz finished 21 of 38 for 171 yards with a pass efficiency rating of 87.8.

Nowhere to run

Not helping matters for the UW offense was its running game, so strong during a seven-game winning streak, was stuck in neutral.

Freshman tailback Braelon Allen was held to 47 yards on 17 attempts. He looked indecisive and it’s likely a lower-body injury he’s been dealing with played a role in that.

University of Wisconsin football players speak to the media after the 18th-ranked Badgers fell to the Minnesota Golden Gophers 23-13 in the Battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Allen had a 14-yard run in the first half but that was his longest of the game. He was greeted at the line of scrimmage by multiple Golden Gophers most of the time, a sign of how poorly the UW offensive line played. There was very little push by that group, and Minnesota’s front seven was tenacious from start to finish.

Flag day

Officiating wasn’t the reason UW lost this game, but there were a couple questionable calls that didn’t go the Badgers’ way.

The biggest, in my opinion, was a pass interference penalty on senior cornerback Caesar Williams on a deep ball in the second half. There was plenty of contact on the play, but it appeared to be going both ways between Williams and Minnesota wide receiver Dylan Wright.

Williams was flagged and Minnesota was rewarded with a first down at the Minnesota 17. After a holding penalty on the Gophers, Tanner Morgan and Chris Autman-Bell connected for a 27-yard touchdown that gave Minnesota a 20-13 lead with 1:56 left in the third quarter.

Contact Jim Polzin at jpolzin@madison.com.

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