MINNEAPOLIS-Before the Badgers even took the field Saturday, losses by Ohio State and Penn State provided some direction to the Leaders Division race. No. 16 Wisconsin (4-2 Big Ten, 8-2 overall) wasted no time ensuring that clarity stayed intact, at least for this week.
Senior quarterback Russell Wilson completed all 13 of his attempts in the first half, three of which went for touchdowns, and the Badgers outgained the Gophers 282-85 over the first two quarters, as they established a three-score lead before cruising to a 42-13 victory over Minnesota.
Wilson finished the day 16-17, with the only incompletion coming on a deep pass attempt that senior Nick Toon had momentarily before landing awkwardly and losing possession.
"I didn't have any idea," Bielema said of the near-perfection. "But anything Russell does doesn't surprise me."
The win ensured the Badgers again control their own destiny in the hunt for a berth in the Big Ten championship game. UW also kept possession of Paul Bunyan's Axe-the prize that goes to the winner of college football's oldest rivalry-for the eighth consecutive year.
"Now that I'm a senior I can really carry it and nobody will be mad at me," redshirt-senior defensive tackle Patrick Butrym said. "It's nice to carry it around and nice to be 5-0 and never lose to those guys."
Junior tailback Montee Ball spent much of his afternoon rewriting record books, as he set a school record with his 25th touchdown of the season in the first quarter, then tied the Big Ten single-season record with his 26th just 2:35 later and put himself alone at the top of the conference record books early in the fourth quarter.
"I did it and we did it, said Ball, who rushed 23 times for 166 yards on the day. "I'm really glad I embraced the challenge in the offseason and carried it forward to the season. It's just an overwhelming experience."
Ball amassed 10 yards more than the Minnesota offense managed overall for the game. The Gophers' longest play from scrimmage was a 13 yard run by junior quarterback MarQueis Gray. Gray finished 6-14 for 51 yards and an interception and rushed for 68 yards.
"He moves really well," Butrym said. "Once he got outside the pocket he had success. For the most part we did a pretty good job containing him."
In addition to holding the Gophers to such low yardage totals, the defense did not give up points. Minnesota's first touchdown came on a fake field goal and the second came on a 96-yard kickoff return to start the second half. All told, the Badgers gave up an average of 31.3 yards on six returns.
"It looked like we did fairly well besides the first one and that one so it's the consistency that we have to come up with," Bielema said.
The other main concern for Wisconsin going forward will be health. Toon (arm) and fellow wide receiver Jared Abbrederis (shoulder) missed time Saturday, as did junior linebacker Mike Taylor (leg) and junior center Peter Konz (leg).
Toon (eight catches, 100 yards, two touchdowns) and Taylor both returned to action. Taylor finished with a game-high 13 tackles.
Abbrederis did not return, though Bielema said the X-rays were negative and he expected the sophomore to practice this week.
Konz is the biggest question mark. He appeared to get rolled up on from behind by a tackler pursuing Ball. He was carted off the field and Bielema did not know the Neenah, Wis. native's status after the game. A week ago, Bielema said he thought Konz was playing better than any center in the country.
"He's the guy that makes all the calls up front for the other guys around him and he's just a good guy," Ball said of the center. "He's a motor that we need on the offense."