Making his first career start in place of injured quarterback John Stocco, Donovan showed the poise of a savvy veteran. Donovan completed his first seven passes, including a three yard touchdown to sophomore Travis Beckum, in route to 228 yards threw the air and used his legs to give Wisconsin 61 yards on the ground. More importantly, the Badgers broke their Hawkeye curse, laying their hands on the Heartland Trophy for the first time with a 24-21 triumph in Iowa City.
"I wanted to play for my coaches and teammates," Donovan said. "I wanted to prove something to myself and this was a big game for us. Since the beginning of the season, it was a goal of ours to beat Iowa. It feels good to get that under our belts."
With Iowa trailing by three and pinning the Badgers on their own three-yard line in the third quarter, Donovan engineered one of the most impressive drives of the Badgers' season. Donovan milked almost eight minutes off the clock in a 15 play, 97-yard masterpiece that ended with P.J. Hill's first rushing touchdown in three games that put the Badgers up by two scores and deflated the Hawkeyes.
"That drive there was the game," Donovan said. "As an offense, we knew we had to go down and score. Give the offensive line credit for smash-mouth football and good protection to allow me to make some throws."
"The way the offense took the field and how they were able to move the ball down the football field with the running game in addition to the throwing game, said a lot about what our kids believe in," head coach Bret Bielema said. "No matter what comes at them, no matter what situation they are put in, they continue to compete … [That drive] was the cushion we needed to win."
The drive would have stalled at midfield however if not for a gutsy pass by Donovan and a phenomenal catch by Swan. With his offensive line creating a wall of protection, Donovan checked off Beckum and went deep down the left side for Swan. With the swirling wind holding up the ball, Swan was able to adjust, hauling in the 48-yard completion to extend the drive.
"Swanny has got great hands," Bielema said. "Luke has unbelievable hands and the ability to go out and grab the ball. He's a great believer in his own abilities."
"It was tremendous for me and for the team," Swan said. "I'm happy for Coach Bielema to get the win, especially with me going out and making plays."
Iowa wouldn't quit, storming back and capitalizing on a P.J. Hill fumble in Wisconsin territory. Iowa quarterback Drew Tate only needed four plays to regain some Hawkeye momentum, connecting with freshman Trey Strauss for his first career touchdown and once again cut the Wisconsin lead to three. It was the third time this season that Tate passed for three touchdowns in a game, with the previous two coming in Iowa wins.
On Hill's fumble, Bielema decided to use his coaches' challenge to see if Wisconsin originally had position of the football. Although it seemed like a waste at the time, Bielema explained that his hand was forced because of the momentum swing the play would cause and that he couldn't get a definitive answer from the officials on the field.
"Andy Crooks jumped on the football and it was temporarily in his position," Bielema said. "As the play unfolded, I actually took a swipe at the ball rolling around down there on the ground. Nobody could give me a clean answer so I said that I wanted to challenge the position on the field. I knew we fumbled it, but I wanted to see if we maintained possession."
But the Badgers held strong, forcing Iowa to punt and turn the ball over on downs in their last two possessions, with both series ending in drop passes that would have given Iowa a first down in Wisconsin territory. The Badger seniors will take it though, as they can finally say they have beaten every team the Big Ten has to offer.
"It feels good," senior captain Mark Zalewski said. "It's something I can finally check off my list. We've got two more games left to play and hopefully, we can keep it going."
Wisconsin's first scoring drive was set up by Tate's ninth interception of the year. In what has been a season plagued with poor decisions by Tate, he launched the ball across his body deep down the field hoping to make a play. The ball floated into the arms of senior Roderick Rogers, who followed a Badger convoy for a 28-yard return in the 26-yard line.
Working with a short field, Donovan only needed two plays to go the 26 yards for the touchdown, with both passes finding their way into the waiting hands of Beckum, catching the first pass for 22 yards and the three-yard touchdown.
But Wisconsin's momentum was quick to switch back to the Hawkeyes, thanks to a questionable pass interference call on cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu. On second and 18, Ikegwuonu broke up a pass play intended for Troy Strauss, but was called for pass interference as he contacted Strauss at the same time the ball arrived.
"I kinda knew they were running the curl route, I jumped it and he did a good job of shielding me off," Ikegwuonu said. "I got my arm in there and I felt the ball hit my hand. I knew it wasn't pass interference but the ref was at a bad angle, so I understand why he called it. You can't get them all."
Iowa used that break to find the end zone five plays later on a six-yard touchdown Drew Tate touchdown pass to score their first point of the afternoon.
Wisconsin may have been rattled by the call because the Hawkeyes marched right down the field on their next possession. Highlighted by a 30-yard gain into UW territory by Damian Sims, Iowa created huge holes in Wisconsin's bruising defense. Iowa capped their seven play, 69-yard drive with another Drew Tate touchdown to take their first lead of the game at 14-10.
But the Badgers stormed back on the legs and arm of Donovan, as Wisconsin never trailed after scoring late in the first half.
"I tried to stay composed in tough situation and be the guy that gets us through tough situations," Donovan said. "All the credit goes to the offensive line. I just wanted to give receivers a chance to make plays."
With the Badgers proving critics wrong by winning a game many had tabbed a loss when the season began, Donovan deserves the credit, as doubts had been swirling from the Badger land if Donovan would be able to step in and handle the situation. When the clock hit zeros on Saturday, Donovan did something that Stocco never could do in his career, beat the Hawkeyes.
"All week long, we talked about how [we] respond to certain situation determines their success," Bielema said. "[Stocco] made progress throughout the week, but obviously wasn't ready to go today. We told Tyler from Sunday on that the game was in his hands and he prepared to be the number one quarterback all week. He went out there and executed today.
"I don't think you can say enough about a guy starting his first game in a Big Ten finale in a hostile environment," Bielema added. "Some of the plays he came up with today were amazing and was gratifying to watch as a coach."