Out of the six drives in the second half, none were a three-and-out series. The UW defense did its part and then some, stalling the Hawkeyes’ offense and its elusive quarterback, C.J. Beathard, to the tune of 69 total yards the last two quarters and forcing two turnovers. The worst starting field position out those six drives was their own 31, and the Joel Stave-led offense moved the chains into Iowa territory each drive.
Problem is, despite those primed chances, Wisconsin only tallied three points in the final two quarters in an ugly 10-6 defeat to the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten opener.
"I think with the way they [UW’s defense] were able to perform and execute today, put us in good positions down the stretch, we got to come away with points,” Stave said. “So it's disappointing."
After building momentum in its last three games after the season-opening loss, four key turnovers, a stagnant running game and missed opportunities will likely haunt the Badgers from now until the end of conference play.
Two of Wisconsin’s turnovers led to all of Iowa’s points in the second quarter, the game’s deciding factor. The first came off an errant pass intended for receiver Alex Erickson, telegraphed into the waiting arms of junior cornerback Desmond King. The easy pick and subsequent return to Wisconsin’s 31 led to the game’s only touchdown on a 1-yard touchdown pass.
The very next offensive play for Wisconsin was also a disaster. Senior defensive end Drew Ott rushed past left tackle Tyler Marz and forced a fumble with a blind side hit that defensive end Nate Meier recovered. The defense held Iowa to a field goal, but the damage was done.
"That was poor technique on my part; I got to be better," Marz said. "I was probably late off the ball or just need to kick vertical. It definitely shouldn't have happened though."
Many players gave credit to Iowa for its performance. A stingy unit holding teams to 84 rushing yards, Iowa had a field day against Wisconsin’s rebuilding running game and another patchwork line, holding Wisconsin to 86 yards and 2.5 yards per carry.
"It was the kind of game it was,” redshirt sophomore fullback Austin Ramesh said. “Obviously we want to come out and run for more than 80 yards, but we did what we thought was working."
As has been the case all season, Wisconsin didn’t convert on key third-down opportunities. On UW’s first drive, junior wide receiver Robert Wheelwright dropped a third-down completion that would have moved the chains.
Driving down to the Iowa 32 on its first offensive series in the third quarter, Stave -- who finished 21-for-38 for 234 yards -- hung a ball up that King picked out of the air at the Hawkeyes’ 11-yard line for his second of the afternoon. The interception erased a productive seven plays that produced 37 yards prior.
“There's going to be games where you've got to win it running the football and you've got to win it throwing the ball,” said Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst, whose team went 4 of 13 on third down. “I didn't think we were consistent enough at either one today to really be as good as we needed to be.”
The back-breaking play of the afternoon came at Iowa’s 1-yard line in the final eight minutes. In position to retake the lead after outside linebacker Joe Schobert strip-sacked Beathard and recovered the fumble on Iowa’s 27-yard line, Stave had his foot stepped on by redshirt freshman right guard Micah Kapoi, fumbled the handoff and saw Iowa recover.
"We were all supporting each other," said redshirt freshman Jacob Maxwell, who made his first start at right tackle for an injured Hayden Biegel. "That one yard line turnover, that was deflating. We all stepped up to try to get over it. It just wasn't enough.”
The Badgers threatened late with their defense stonewalling the Hawkeyes’ offense. Getting the ball with 2:45 left on its own 47-yard line, the Badgers down to the Iowa 24-yard line, hitting junior wide receiver Reggie Love for a 26-yard completion on a third-and-7.
They stalled out from there, however, as Stave missed sophomore tight end Troy Fumagalli on 4th-and-2 from the Iowa 16.
Dominating in total yards, 320-221, and holding Iowa to 77 passing yards, Wisconsin has nobody to blame but its offense.
“We missed some opportunities,” said receiver Rob Wheelwright. “We just got to make the opportunities that are given to us.”