In game number four, Wisconsin's first-team offense, a unit that had not yielded a turnover all season, watched first-hand the turnover tide swing the opposite direction.
Tyler Donovan committed two turnovers – a fumble and an interception - and freshman David Gilreath coughed up the opening kickoff of the second half, but Wisconsin somehow survived its mistakes to defeat border-rival Iowa 17-13.
"We had three turnovers, some penalties that really hurt us, and they played a pretty clean game, didn't turn the ball over and had very few penalties against them," head coach Bret Bielema said. "For us to win that game they way we did [was] a big statement about this football team."
Senior quarterback Tyler Donovan had been well-above average all season long running the Badger offense, completing nearly 63 percent passes for six touchdowns and no turnovers. That changed quickly on the Badgers' first drive, where middle linebacker Mike Klinkenborg came untouched through the middle of the Wisconsin line and put a big hit on Donovan, resulting in Donovan coughing up the football to the Hawkeyes near midfield. Fortunately, no harm was done on the scoreboard against an Iowa Offense that went 0-for-5 on third-down conversions in the first quarter.
For Donovan, Iowa's front four, the heart-and-soul of the Hawkeye defense, was unlike anything the senior had seen all season long.
"They're very physical and determined up front and weren't going to back down from anything," Donovan said. "You can see that in their eyes from play one. That's definitely the most physical front four we've seen. It was a good test for us and my hat goes off to those guys because they played a heck of a football game."
Donovan wasn't as fortunate on his next turnover. Looking more and more uncomfortable as the game progressed, Donovan attempted to force a ball into heavy coverage for his No.1 receiver Luke Swan. Instead, Donovan found outside linebacker A.J. Edds, giving Iowa prime field position at the Wisconsin 46, which ultimately led to the first score of the game via a 41-yard Iowa field goal.
"That's something I need to learn from and press forward from," Donovan said. "We were trying to do some more crosses and they jumped it."
But it was Wisconsin's third turnover that looked like it was going to be the killer. David Gilreath fielded the opening kickoff of the second half, but was nailed head on by Iowa's Jayme Murphy, jarring the ball loose and falling right into the hands of Iowa's Bradley Fletcher on the turf. Suddenly, Iowa had first and 10 on UW's 24 with already a three-point lead.
Luckily for Gilreath and the Badgers, the special teams were able to get through the line and blocked Daniel Murray's 36-yard field goal attempt, keeping the deficit at three.
"Every week it seems our defense makes a big play and this week, that was it," cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu said.
In addition to the turnovers, Donovan also struggled running the ball consistently against the Hawkeyes, something he had no problem doing a season ago. Last season in Iowa City, Donovan rushed 13 times for 61 yards. This season, Donovan was constantly under pressure, being forced to scramble more times than he would have preferred. Whenever Donovan did try to scramble, an Iowa defender was right there to halt the senior. By game's end, Donovan only managed 11 net rushing yards.
"They spied me a lot on the ends and had someone watching me to try and take my scrambling ability away," Donovan said. "They did a good job getting ready for this game. In key situations, you have to come up big and they did in a lot of [situations]."
"I think those 11 guys in white jerseys had something to do with it [as well]," Bielema added.
In the end, the turnovers became a mute point because of Donovan's game-management in the second half. After coming off his worst half in a Badger uniform, Donovan only threw the ball four times, but was able to manage the game and pick up the yards when Wisconsin needed it, like his seven-yard scramble on third-and-six to move the chains.
Although the drive only yielded a field goal, the Badgers were able to erase over four minutes of clock on the drive, leaving Iowa under two minutes to score the winning touchdown – a touchdown that, thankfully for Wisconsin fans, never came.
With another win under his belt, Donovan moves to 6-0 as a starter, although this one was hardly as glamorous. Even so, it was a game that Donovan takes away many lessons, as the Big Ten road has just begun.
"Perseverance was a key tonight and what that can do in a game," Donovan said. "If they take something away, you have to be ready to react to the next one. More so than anything, it was good to learn how to win a fourth quarter game. This is a game that is going to make me a better quarterback as the season wears on."