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5 things we learned in the Gophers loss vs. Wisconsin

The Gophers must adapt after their disappointing season has likely come to an end.
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The Minnesota Gophers' season has likely come to an end after a 28-14 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday afternoon.

The loss drops Minnesota to 5-7 on the year and puts their status to go to a bowl in jeopardy but there are other things that we learned on a bigger stage as the loss to the Badgers gave us several things to learn.

1. Injuries played a major role in the Gophers' season

The Minnesota Golden Gophers had a disappointing year but injuries were one of the biggest reasons for their struggles.

Jordan Nubin had another admirable effort on the ground Saturday with 24 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown, but the Gophers would have definitely benefitted if freshmen Darius Taylor or Zach Evans were available.

The defense didn't escape the injury bug either even as Cody Lindenberg returned from injury. Minnesota lost starting cornerback Tre'Von Jones early in the first half and Justin Walley in the third quarter, which allowed Wisconsin to generate big plays.

Some may view this as an excuse, but the Gophers' depth was stretched throughout the season and played a pivotal role in their loss to the Badgers.

2. Tyler Nubin is an all-time great Gopher

Nubin returned as a fifth-year senior despite being a top NFL Draft prospect and cashed in by becoming one of the greatest safeties in program history.

Nubin's legend grew in the first half as he intercepted Tanner Mordecai for his 13th career pick, passing Jeff Wright (1968-1970) and Sean Lumpkin (1988-1991) for the all-time record.

The No. 2 safety and No. 27 overall prospect according to Pro Football Focus's big board, the St. Charles, Ill. native figures to have a career at the next level, but has been a key piece for a Gophers defense that struggled to limit the big play this season.

3. P.J. Fleck still won't go for it on fourth down

The Gophers entered Saturday's game as the most successful team in the country on fourth down attempts, but P.J. Fleck once again showed his reluctance to be aggressive in fear of making a mistake.

Minnesota had a 7-0 lead and was driving into Wisconsin territory early in the game but decided to punt on a 4th-and-3 from the Badgers' 43-yard line. Wisconsin took advantage by driving 86 yards to tie the game with Braelon Allen's first touchdown run of the game.

The Gophers faced a similar situation in their own territory down 21-14 in the third quarter and converted a 4th-and-3 on a 17-yard run by Jordan Nubin. But Fleck's conservative approach showed up later on the drive, punting on a 4th-and-7 from the Wisconsin 42, culminating in a Mordecai pass to Riley Nowakowski to put the Badgers ahead 28-14.

This is maddening considering the Gophers led the nation with an .857 conversion rate on fourth down while also having the 11th fewest fourth-down attempts this season. While protecting his team from a mistake, Fleck once again did more harm than good.

4. The Gophers are unlikely to go bowling

Saturday's game had more than just Paul Bunyan's Axe on the line as the Gophers were battling for bowl eligibility. Minnesota entered Saturday's game reaching a bowl game four of the last five seasons excluding a COVID year in 2020, but will have to hope that there aren't enough teams eligible to reach a postseason game this year.

To some, this may not matter. But reaching a bowl game gives the Gophers an extra month of practice and the opportunity to end the season on a positive note.

By ending the year with a 5-7 record, the Gophers need to face some hard truths, which leads us to our final takeaway.

5. The Gophers must adapt next season

The Gopher football program needs an overhaul, but firing Fleck, who has produced one of the most successful runs in nearly a century, isn't the answer.

Instead, the entire program needs to take a look at itself and determine what went wrong. Injuries played a role but so was a lack of NIL money that prevented the Gophers from attracting and keeping top-tier talent.

An outdated approach on both sides of the ball played a role as the Gophers relied too much on the run, couldn't help Athan Kaliakmanis take the next step, and gave up big plays consistently on defense.

The nature of college football passed the Gophers by in 2023 and with USC, Oregon, UCLA and Washington joining the Big Ten next season, the Gophers will have to adapt to continue their success.