IOWA CITY, Iowa – When two of the best defenses in the country battle on a brisk Halloween weekend in November, touchdowns at Kinnick Stadium are about as rare as an angel costume with horns and a tail.
Unfortunately for Iowa, the devil wore Badger red.
Wisconsin took advantage of a pair of interceptions and held the Hawkeyes to three field goals to pull away for a 28-9 victory in the battle for the Heartland Trophy.
The Badgers led, 14-9, into the fourth quarter but wore down the Iowa defense to score a pair of rushing touchdowns. The Hawkeyes held Wisconsin to 100 yards rushing through three quarters but gave up 118 more in the fourth quarter and couldn’t finish the job. James White had 86 of the 118 and scored on runs of 11 and 2 yards in the final period. White finished with 135 yards rushing, 20 more than the entire Iowa team.
“It was an outstanding football game from our perspective for 50 minutes,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We couldn’t finish the job and they did a heckuva job of doing that. . . . Some of the things that happened early in the ballgame really came back and made it tough for us in the fourth quarter.”
For the second straight time, the Hawkeyes had a big-time rival on the ropes but couldn’t land the knockout blow. Each time the defense was the culprit. Iowa was tied with Ohio State entering the fourth quarter and gave up two scoring drives in a loss. This time it was White and Co. who gashed the Iowa defense for big gains late. Trailing by 5 with 9 minutes remaining, the Hawkeyes had the ball and needed to control the clock and score. But backup quarterback C.J. Beathard bounced a pass of the helmet of lineman Andrew Donnal and into the arms of linebacker Pat Muldoon at the Iowa 26. Four plays later, White raced 11 yards untouched through a winded Iowa defense for the touchdown to make it 21-9.
Wisconsin iced it on its next drive, going 78 yards in eight plays. White broke loose down the sideline for a 59-yard gain to the Iowa 17. Two more runs by White moved the ball to the 2 before he finished it off with his second touchdown run to make it 28-9 with 1:35 remaining.
In the first half, the Hawks scraped together a pair of field goals by Mike Meyer and held Wisconsin scoreless for 28 minutes until a late touchdown gave the Badgers a 7-6 lead at halftime.
“We had the wind behind us an ended up with three points,” Ferentz said. “And I think the first half came down to us being in the red zone twice and not being able to come out with a touchdown. We had a couple of self-inflicted wounds on both possessions.”
Iowa (5-4, 2-3) had held the lead at halftime in its previous eight games and threatened to make it nine, leading 6-0 late in the half. But the Badgers drove 72 yards in three minutes and took the lead when quarterback Joel Stave hit Jacob Pederson for a 44-yard touchdown.
The Badgers (6-2, 4-1) threatened again after an Iowa punt but Jack Russell missed a 54-yard field-goal attempt as time expired.
Both teams sputtered for much of the first half on offense. Iowa, which had scored on its opening possession the past two games, needed three before it could march into field-goal range. After a short punt, Iowa took over on the Wisconsin 39 and took 11 plays to go 28 yards. The Hawks converted a 4th-and-1 from the 19 but stalled three plays later before Meyer made it 3-0 from 28 yards out.
Wisconsin came in ranked second in Big 10 in scoring defense, with Iowa third. The Hawks played most of the first quarter in Wisconsin territory but had little to show for it. Iowa’s biggest plays of the half came on consecutive plays. The first was a 17-yard catch by Tevaun Smith from Jake Rudock. That was followed by a 21-yard shovel pass to Damon Bullock that gave Iowa a 1st-and-10 on the Wisconsin 17. Iowa was called for holding on the next play. Two plays later, Rudock hit C.J. Fiedorowicz for 16 yards down to the 8. Iowa gambled on fourth down and it paid off when Mark Weisman gained 2 yards to the 6. But the offense sputtered and a penalty forced Meyer to kick a 22-yard field goal to make it 6-0.
Wisconsin got its second touchdow after an ill-advised throw by Rudock resulted in an interception by Darius Hilary. One play later Stave found Jared Abbrederis all alone in the end zone from 20 yards out. Rudock left the game with an injury but is not expected to miss the next game.
The Badgers didn’t get a first down until 14:04 left in the second quarter. The Iowa defense quickly snuffed out that drive. Linebacker James Morris sacked Stave on 3rd-and-4 from the 37 to force a punt
Iowa safety Tanner Miller intercepted Stave on the game’s third play for the only turnover of the half.