When the clock struck zero at Kinnick Stadium Saturday evening, only the Hawkeyes were left smiling and holding a share of the Big Ten Championship. Back in Ann Arbor, Michigan's displeasure with its performance Saturday could turn to California dreams.
While Iowa's seniors were announced prior to their last home game at Kinnick Stadium, the Buckeyes were putting the finishing touches on a 37-21 win over Michigan, knocking the Wolverines down to 7-1 in the Big Ten, 9-2 overall.
Suddenly, Wisconsin and Iowa were playing for a share of the conference championship; the Badgers for a trip to the Rose Bowl.
An avalanche of missed opportunities, however, doomed Wisconsin to the most significant loss of all, a failed quest for a trip to Pasadena.
"I'm disappointed we didn't play better with so much on the line," UW head coach Barry Alvarez said.
With five minutes left, chants of "Big Ten Champs" cascaded down from the sellout crowd of 70,397. The Hawkeyes' 30-7 victory was in hand, the team's 18th consecutive at Kinnick.
Iowa improved to 7-1 in conference play, 9-2 overall with the win. The Hawkeyes won seven straight conference games following its one league loss—a Big Ten opener at Michigan. The Badgers, meanwhile, faded down the stretch, losing two consecutive games after rising to No. 5 in the BCS standings with a 9-0 start.
"I don't know what you can do," Alvarez said. "You just move on now, try to regroup, try to get healthy and get ready for a bowl game."
The Wolverines' head-to-head edge over Iowa sent them to Pasadena while the Hawkeyes are now the odds-on favorite for the Capitol One Bowl in Orlando, Fla. As the conference's third-place team, Wisconsin (6-2, 9-2), will likely end up in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla. All three games take place on New Year's Day.
"Obviously we had some higher goals," UW quarterback John Stocco said.
The Badgers fell from the ranks of the unbeaten last week in a 49-14 shellacking at Michigan State. Ohio State's win Saturday gave the Badgers a second life and Iowa quarterback Drew Tate's two interceptions on his first three throws gave UW a golden opportunity to take command early.
Wisconsin, though, gained just three yards on its first seven plays from scrimmage, botched a snap on a potential 47-yard field goal attempt and missed a 51-yarder wide right.
"If you are going to win a game like this on the road in this stadium against that defense you need to be able to capitalize," UW offensive coordinator Brian White said. "We had two straight possession early in the football game and didn't do anything with them."
On the contrary, the Hawkeyes jumped on their opportunities, scoring 16 points off the latter four of five consecutive UW turnovers in the third and fourth quarters, to take a commanding 30-7 lead with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 24-7 with three second left in the third quarter, Wisconsin faced a fourth-and-one from its own 29 and chose to go for it. Iowa defensive end Matt Roth and middle linebacker Abdul Hodge ensured that the ensuing handoff to tailback Booker Stanley stood no chance of success, however, caving in the right side of the Badgers' offensive line. Stanley made good work of simply getting back to the line of scrimmage.
"They were three, four yards deep in the backfield," White said. "They penetrated the line of scrimmage, they came off the ball, they anticipated well and the defensive end made a great play."
The Hawkeyes then moved 25 yards to set up Kyle Schlicher's second of three field goal, giving Iowa a 27-7 edge.
Stocco was intercepted twice in the third quarter, then fumbled after scrambling for a yard. He fumbled again the possession after the fourth-down run. The Badgers turned it over on downs again with five minutes left to play to close out their offensive performance with six straight turnovers.
"Just bad decisions," Stocco said of the interceptions. "Just trying to make a play and just didn't come out the way I wanted it to."
Tate followed a Stocco interception with a touchdown toss to Scott Chandler. The next three UW turnovers all resulted in Schlicher field goals.
Wisconsin's offense struggled immensely from start to finish, picking up just 186 total yards and 15 first downs. Stocco connected on just 18 of 38 passes for 145 yards. He was sacked four times and threw three interceptions.
"We didn't have enough ammo," White said. "Obviously you are not going to win a championship scoring seven points and playing offensive football the way we did today."
UW free safety Jim Leonhard picked off Tate's first and third passes of the game, both on third-down attempts, to give UW the ball at the Iowa 32 and the Iowa 35 on its first two possessions.
The Badgers, though, settled for a 47-yard field goal attempt after gaining just two yards on their first drive. Holder Ken DeBauche then misplayed Matt Katula's snap and was forced to throw the ball away, giving possession back to Iowa.
"I just took my eye off the ball," DeBauche said. "I tried to look down at the spot before I even caught the ball and it ended up going right through my hands."
UW gained one yard on its second drive, setting up Mike Allen's 51-yard field goal attempt, which sailed wide right, preserving a scoreless tie.
The game's first first down came with 7:44 left in the first quarter, when Tate hit Ed Hinkel for 13 yards to the UW 45. On third-and-two from the 37, defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux lined up on offense and helped clear the way for fullback Aaron Mickens, who powered his way to an eight-yard gain.
Leonhard gave Wisconsin field possession in Iowa territory for a third time when his 29-yard punt return pushed the ball to the Hawkeye 43 with 6:29 left in the second quarter.
This time the Badgers took advantage, marching 10 plays over the course of 4:38, punctuated by Booker Stanley's four-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7.
It was Wisconsin's first points in more than four quarters of football. The Badgers last score had come with 4:58 left to play in the second quarter at Michigan State last week, when Bernstein found the end zone from nine yards out.
Iowa, though, needed just three plays, 43 seconds and a magical play from Tate to answer.
Tate spun away from UW defensive end Jamal Cooper, stepped up in the pocket and fired a strike off his back foot to Solomon, who caught the ball in stride at the 15 and cruised in for a 51-yard touchdown, giving the Hawkeyes a 14-7 advantage.
The Badgers nearly tied it heading into halftime but Stocco's Hail Mary heave from the Iowa 40 hit receiver Jonathan Orr in the chest and bounded harmlessly onto the end zone grass.
"We came back and I thought [the ball] was in our receiver's hands on that last play of the half," Alvarez said. "I thought if we answer right there it would have really been a huge lift for us. But we've got to make those plays and we didn't."
Both offenses played loose with the football to start the second half—trading interceptions until Iowa began to take advantage.
Tate finished 15 of 24 for 186 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions.