In a game defined by turnovers and missed opportunities, the Wisconsin Badgers dropped their second straight game Saturday, losing 20-10 at home to the No. 11 Iowa Hawkeyes.
It was the Badgers’ first home loss in an 11 a.m. game since head coach Bret Bielema took over as head coach in 2006, and it effectively ended their chances at a Big Ten title in 2009.
“We have a very disappointed football team,” Bielema said. “We prepared all week to put ourselves in a position to win a big football game against a quality opponent and we just weren’t able to finish the deal.”
Although both teams started slow offensively, Wisconsin opened the game in control, jumping out to a 10-0 lead midway through the second quarter following an 11-play, 92-yard touchdown drive capped off by freshman Montee Ball’s 10-yard touchdown run.
From that point on, however, the momentum shifted decidedly in favor of the Hawkeyes.
The Badgers gained just 66 yards over the game’s final 38 minutes and failed to score, while Iowa went on to tally 20 unanswered points.
“It just was a lack of focus in the second half,” defensive end O’Brien Schofield said. “We stopped them pretty much the whole game, and they were just able to get some scores on a couple plays. I feel like we still battled out throughout the whole game. We out-played them, we just didn’t win.”
Iowa’s comeback started immediately following the Wisconsin touchdown, when the Hawkeyes responded quickly with a 37-yard field goal by Daniel Murray, cutting the lead to 10-3, which remained the score heading into halftime.
Coming out of the break, the Badgers started with the ball on their own 36-yard line and drove to midfield before quarterback Scott Tolzien was intercepted on a second down pass by Iowa cornerback Amari Spievey, giving the Hawkeyes the ball back at their own 46.
Iowa wasted no time following the interception, driving 54 yards on nine plays over 4:37 and capping off the drive with a 24-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ricky Stanzi to tight end Tony Moeaki.
“We were able to survive our turnovers defensively with three big stops, then the offense took the ball and drove it,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That sequence right there is probably where the game turned and it was just two teams playing very hard out there.”
The teams were tied 10-10 at that point, and the Hawkeyes appeared to be well in control of the game.
Following another three-and-out for the offense, however, Wisconsin managed to force a turnover on Iowa’s next drive, as linebacker Chris Borland sacked Stanzi and knocked the ball loose, allowing Schofield to recover the fumble.
Unfortunately for the Badgers, though, they were unable to convert on the turnover, as they gained just four yards and kicker Philip Welch missed a 38-yard attempt wide right. Once again, Iowa took over at its own 21-yard line following Wisconsin’s missed opportunity and responded with a backbreaking touchdown drive.
Stanzi led the Hawkeyes on a seven-play, 79-yard scoring drive, which resulted in a 10-yard Adam Robinson touchdown run, giving Iowa a 17-10 lead following the extra point. Wisconsin followed with another three-and-out and Iowa added a field goal on its next drive, putting the Hawkeyes up 20-10 and all but ending the Badgers’ hopes of a comeback.
In addition to Tolzien’s three crucial second half turnovers, a pair of first half injuries had a big impact on the way the game progressed after halftime for Wisconsin.
In the middle of the Badgers’ second-quarter touchdown drive, running back John Clay went down hard getting bent backward as he was taken to the ground by Iowa’s A.J. Edds and Pat Angerer.
Clay tweaked his ankle on the play and following the injury, took the ball just nine times for seven yards over the final 2 1/2 quarters of play.
The lack of production was not all on Clay, however, as tight end Garrett Graham left the game near the end of the first half with a concussion and did not return after halftime.
“The fact (is) that we were able to run the ball at will in the first half and the second half those numbers weren’t there,” Bielema said. “We lost some people. Garrett (Graham) has been doing a great job for us, probably his biggest improvement as a football player is his ability to block and I think we missed him there in the second half.”
Without Graham in the game, Iowa effectively shut down the Wisconsin rushing attack and forced Tolzien to beat the Hawkeyes through the air. The strategy worked, as the junior quarterback completed just 15-of-25 passes for 143 yards and three interceptions.
“We were kind of shooting ourselves in the foot,” Tolzien said. “We were battling against ourselves … myself included. We’ve got to learn from our mistakes, put that behind us and move forward.”