IOWA CITY, Iowa – Check and check.
Wisconsin got over one hump by beating top-ranked Ohio State last week. Saturday, Bret Bielema’s Badgers got over another, beating No. 13 Iowa 31-30 on the road at Kinnick Stadium.
Down 24-30 with 8:35 to play, quarterback Scott Tolzien drove UW 80 yards in 15 plays, capped by an 8-yard run by Montee Ball to give Wisconsin the go-ahead score. The play was reviewed, as Ball was initially ruled down at the 1-yard line and looked to have lost the ball in the end zone, but video showed he got the ball over the goal line before being downed.
During Ball’s run, something straight out of the last scene in “Friday Night Lights,” the sophomore made contact with or was tackled by six Hawkeyes before going down.
“I wasn’t going to be denied,” Ball said. “The offensive line gave me a great push and I don’t want to let them down. I was going to score.”
The run capped a streak of four consecutive runs for the Badgers – who were facing the nation’s No. 7 rushing defense. Prior to that, Tolzien used his arm and legs, along with the help of a Wisconsin rarity – an empty backfield.
UW converted twice on third down in the drive and twice on fourth down, including a fake punt where punter Brad Nortman ran for 17 yards.
“That was something we had seen on film,” Bielema said of the call. “With the scheme that we run from a punt standpoint, certain teams are going to defend it differently… We made that call once I saw them send out the punt return unit.
In addition to that key game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, it took some big plays from a defense that had been gashed most of the game by the Hawkeyes, especially on third down. Iowa finished the game 11-of-16 on third-down conversions on the day.
Following Ball’s touchdown, Iowa got the ball back with 1:06 on the clock and all three timeouts. The Hawkeyes got the ball to midfield, but on first-and-10 from their own 49, UW defensive end J.J. Watt – who had been held to a quiet game up to that point – got a shoestring tackle on Stanzi for UW’s first sack of the game. The play backed Iowa up 11 yards, with 26 seconds remaining.
“Everyone always texts me before the game, that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games,” Watt said. “At that moment, I knew we needed a sack, we needed some kind of spark and got lucky enough to get it.”
Stanzi got the Hawkeyes to the UW 39, getting a 20-yard completion to Marvin McNutt on third-and-21, then getting the first down on a keeper. The UI offense was ready to spike the ball to stop the clock, but head coach Kirk Ferentz called his final timeout instead.
So with 12 seconds left, all Stanzi could do was dump a pass to running back Adam Robinson, who was tackled to run out the clock.
“I’m not going to lie, if they would have snapped the ball, I would have been offsides, because I was just staring at the clock,” Watt said. “I was literally just standing there staring, waiting for it to tick down.”
The one-point win wouldn’t have come without another Watt play, however. Iowa scored its first touchdown on a short run by Robinson, but Watt broke through the line and blocked the extra point, to make it a 6-3 game at the time – the single point ended up being the difference in the game.
Wisconsin not only got the big stop on Iowa’s last possession, but on the preceding possession. UW got the ball back down 24-27 with 10:16 to play, when on the first play of the drive, Tolzien was intercepted by Brett Greenwood, who returned the ball to the 26-yard line. The defense held Iowa to a three-and-out and the Hawkeyes had to settle for a field goal.
Ball made an impact earlier in the game, picking up 14 yards on third-and-12, to set up UW’s first touchdown, a Tolzien pass to fullback Bradie Ewing. UW’s other scores came courtesy of running back John Clay, who scored two rushing touchdowns on the day – equal to the total number of scores Iowa had allowed on the ground all year. One came on a fourth-and-1 on the 2-yard line, a gutsy call when a field goal would have tied the game at 13. UW finished 3-for-3 on fourth downs.
“We feel that we can run against anybody when the offensive line is getting everything moving up front,” Clay said. He finished with 91 rushing yards.
All of Iowa’s stars scored for the Hawkeyes, as Derrell Johnson-Koulianos had a 45-yard touchdown catch, while McNutt added a score of his own to put Iowa up 27-24.
The win didn’t come without a price, however. Center Peter Konz, tight end Lance Kendricks and running back James White all left the game due to injury in or following the end of the first half. Defensive lineman Beau Allen also came out of the game for a while and linebacker Mike Taylor – who made the game-ending tackle – was in and out of the game sporadically after being hurt last week. Wisconsin’s bye week seems to have come just in time, and none of the injuries were deemed serious by Bielema.
In the end, Bielema’s team did what it hadn’t been able to do in his five years of coaching: get a big win on the road. The game was important enough it may have topped last week’s home win over No. 1 Ohio State.
“I probably learned that from Coach Alvarez as much as anybody, the importance to win big games on the road if you want to be something in this conference,” Bielema said. “The kids went out and did it today.”