MADISON, Wis. -- For once, Wisconsin got to watch somebody else throw away a victory.
After blowing their chance at a big-time bowl game with a pair of narrow losses to begin Big Ten play, the Badgers salvaged some pride by becoming bowl-eligible with a 35-32 comeback victory over mistake-prone Minnesota at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
And after a rougher-than-expected season, any bowl will do.
"I really don't know how the bowl system works," center John Moffitt said. "I feel like there's three guys in a room and they flip a quarter. I'm trying to go every game, one game at a time -- just try to win out."
Wisconsin (6-5, 3-5 Big Ten) fell behind two touchdowns at halftime, but capped a second-half rally with a pair of safeties and a touchdown off a Minnesota turnover in the fourth quarter.
The victory was marred by an injury to Badgers wide receiver Kyle Jefferson, who was hospitalized with potential head and neck injuries after he took a hard hit in the second quarter and was taken off the field in an ambulance.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said the initial results of Jefferson's medical tests were "very encouraging." Bielema said Jefferson was knocked unconscious on the field but was able to talk, squeeze his hands and move his feet afterward.
"All positive things have come back so far," Bielema said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with Kyle and his family."
It was the third straight loss for the Gophers (7-4, 3-4), who looked like the Big Ten's most pleasant surprise before hitting a skid in November. Paul Bunyan's axe, the trophy awarded to the winner of the rivaly game each year, will be staying in Madison.
"I'd like to credit Wisconsin more than diminish our guys," Minnesota coach Tim Brewster said. "Our guys played hard. We have so many young guys that did so many good things in this game. But that doesn't make us feel any better at this particular time."
Minnesota played without injured star wide receiver Eric Decker, but that didn't seem to matter in the first half. Quarterback Adam Weber threw for two touchdowns and ran for another to build a 14-point lead in the second quarter.
The Badgers were driving before halftime when Jefferson caught a pass from Dustin Sherer and was wrapped up by cornerback Traye Simmons, then took a hit to the helmet from the shoulder of linebacker Simoni Lawrence and fumbled the ball.
Jefferson lay motionless on the ground for several minutes before being lifted onto a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance.
Defensive tackle Mike Newkirk said Jefferson's teammates had to put his injury out of their minds.
"It's something that you just have to be able to do," Newkirk said. "But now after everything's settled down and stuff, all our thoughts go back to him. The first thing we actually did in the locker room was we got an update on his status."
Despite the shock of a potentially serious injury to their teammate, the Badgers rallied to start the second half -- eventually tying the game at 24 on a 1-yard touchdown run by P.J. Hill, his second in the second half.
The ensuing kickoff was caught by Minnesota's Troy Stoudermire, but a hit by Wisconsin's Antonio Fenelus jarred the ball loose and sent it bounding backward. After a scrum in the end zone, the ball trickled out of bounds for a safety to give the Badgers a 26-24 lead.
Wisconsin punted on its next possession, giving the ball back to Minnesota on its own 7. Weber took a sack and threw an incomplete pass, and Minnesota was called for a false start to set up third-and-16 at the 1. Newkirk sacked Weber in the end zone, giving the Badgers a 28-24 lead.
It was the first time Wisconsin had recorded two safeties in a game since Sept. 11, 2004, against UNLV.
The collapse still wasn't quite complete for Minnesota. Running back Shady Salamon fumbled a pitch from Weber, and the ball was recovered by Wisconsin linebacker Jonathan Casillas at the Minnesota 11. Wisconsin's John Clay scored on a 5-yard run two plays later, extending the lead to 35-24.
Salamon redeemed himself on the Gophers' next drive, catching a 13-yard touchdown pass from Weber and running up the middle for a two-point conversion to cut Wisconsin's lead to 35-32 with 4:15 left.
After a Wisconsin punt, Minnesota took over on its own 22 with 2:29 left. Facing fourth-and-4 on the 28, Weber threw an interception to Niles Brinkley to clinch the game for Wisconsin.
And with that, Minnesota will have to wait another year to take back the trophy.
"We were going to come in and take the axe," defensive tackle Garrett Brown said. "And to fall so short was crushing."