Coming into the game, the Badgers (8-3, 5-3) faced the pressures of playing well for their senior class, sending Alvarez off with 12 straight home wins, playing for a Jan. 2 bowl game and competing against an Iowa team fighting for bowl eligibility.
But Iowa's defense provided its own kind of pressure, sacking Badger quarterback John Stocco six times, including four times in Wisconsin's first two drives of the fourth quarter. Iowa's defense also stymied Wisconsin's run game, holding tailback Brian Calhoun to just 18 yards on 15 carries; Calhoun gained 33 yards rushing but lost 15. He also finished with eight catches for 69 yards.
"We haven't blocked well and we haven't hit landmarks consistently and we haven't been able to get into a rhythm," said offensive coordinator Brian White, speaking on Wisconsin's run-game woes in the last several games. "We didn't today. I don't know how many consecutive runs we called."
Without an effective run game, the Badgers relied heavily on their aerial attack. Stocco was 21-of-38 for 257 yards and the Badgers' sole touchdown of the game. That included four passes of 20 or more yards.
But a few more caught balls could very well have changed the outcome of the game. Senior receiver Jonathan Orr ran a route improperly on a long flea-flicker pass in the second quarter. Stocco later attempted to connect with Orr on another deep pass that could have turned into a touchdown but Iowa senior defensive back Jovon Johnson got a hand on it and the pass fell incomplete. And on a second-and-seven situation from the Wisconsin 21-yard-line early in the third quarter, senior receiver Brandon Williams dropped a deep ball at approximately Iowa's 30 that could have resulted in a touchdown. Wisconsin came up empty-handed on each of those drives.
"I just let one get away from me," Williams said. "I had it and it kind of slipped as I was trying to run. I really think that that really hurt us. We lost a lot of momentum right there.
"I was thinking touchdown, but I really, I didn't secure the ball. I had it, but then it kind of slipped away."
Iowa tailback Albert Young punished Wisconsin's already battered defense, with 127 rushing yards on 26 carries, including a long scamper of 25 yards. Wisconsin's defense allowed 390 yards of total offense, including 224 passing yards and 166 total rushing yards.
"I think he was able to put himself in successful situations and make some plays on his own," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "He broke some tackles . . . he's a good back and does a lot of good things when the ball is in his hands."
Adding to Wisconsin's woes on defense, true freshman right end Matt Shaughnessy went down early in the third quarter with a knee injury that Alvarez said was "pretty serious."
Shaughnessy is just one of many Badgers that have, at one point or another, fallen to an injury this season. Wisconsin's bye is next weekend, so the Badgers have played their entire conference season without a break, giving them little time to rest and recuperate.
"I think during the course of this year, because of injury situations, because of different issues that we've had, we've had a slight tendency to wear down in that second half and obviously we were paired up pretty good today, but just weren't able to get ourselves into a positive situation, in the third quarter in particular," Bielema said.
Sophomore left end Kurt Ware filled in for Shaughnessy, finishing with a pass break-up and four tackles, including a tackle for loss and a sack on Hawkeye signal-caller Drew Tate. But he also received a 15-yard penalty for roughing the passer on an Iowa drive in the third quarter, turning what would have been a third-down situation into an automatic first down. Tate capped that drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Ryan Majerus.
"It was frustrating," Bielema said of the roughing penalty, "but again, you've got to just be able to handle the play as it happens and put yourself in a positive situation as best you can."
Rain pounded down on the stadium for much of the game, particularly midway through the third quarter; Alvarez said that some of Stocco's passes appeared to have slipped out of his hands. Punter Ken DeBauche, who had two punts of 52 yards each but also had one punt go for just 34 yards, said that more than the rain, the wind affected his game.
"It wasn't so much the rain, I would say, it was the wind. The wind was probably the worst part for me as a punter," said DeBauche, who punted a season-high nine times. "The rain got pretty bad at times and combined (with the wind), made it pretty difficult to do what you wanted to do. You just kind of had to get as much as you can out of it."
Wisconsin turned an Iowa misfortune into seven points for the only touchdown of the first half. Junior strong safety Joe Stellmacher picked off a pass at the Wisconsin 38 that was intended for Iowa receiver Ed Hinkel and ran it back 30 yards to the Iowa 32. Calhoun ran the ball twice and then caught a Stocco pass for a 20-yard gain down to the Iowa 7. But receiver Brandon Williams was called for holding and the Badgers lost 10 yards at the end of the play, setting up a first-and-10 situation at the 17. There Williams redeemed himself, catching a 17-yard touchdown pass.
On its next drive, Wisconsin moved down to the 2-yard-line but received a 5-yard false-start penalty that pushed the Badgers back to the 7. After Stocco threw a pass to senior tight end Owen Daniels that was broken up by junior strong safety Miguel Merrick, the Badgers settled for a 24-yard field goal.
Iowa opened the second quarter with a 14-play, 64-yard drive that resulted in a 35-yard field goal. Wisconsin headed into the half with a 10-3 lead but relinquished that in Iowa's first drive of the third quarter, which opened with a 40-yard pass from Tate to senior end Clinton Solomon and ended with a six-yard touchdown pass to junior fullback Champ Davis.
Iowa's other touchdown, the 13-yard pass to Majerus, came in the waning minutes of the third quarter. The Hawkeyes added a 32-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter.
Most of the 80,000-plus fans stayed long after the game to watch a special presentation dedicated to Alvarez' legacy as a coach. That included speeches from Associate Vice Chancellor for Teaching and Learning Virginia Sapiro, former Wisconsin Chancellor Donna Shalala and former Athletic Director Pat Richter. Standing with his family and friends, Alvarez watched a video that highlighted key moments during his time and interspersed those with comments from former players, coaches, family and friends, and fans.
Alvarez said he was humbled and appreciative of the tribute. But the loss made it harder to watch.
"Obviously, the ceremony afterwards and people showing respect and staying there and saying ‘thank you,' it was very touching and very meaningful to me and my football team," Alvarez said. "It's hard to go through that (watching the video) after a loss but it's always fun to go through those things."