In the first half against the 11th-ranked team in the country, building a 10-point first half lead by establishing the run and controlling tempo, the Badgers seemed fit to make that leap.
The second half showed that the Badgers still have steps to make.
Held to minus-2 yards rushing after halftime and coupled with quarterback Scott Tolzien throwing three interceptions, Wisconsin had few answers against an Iowa team that scored 20 unanswered points to win its 11th game in a row, a 20-10 victory Saturday.
"We're not quite there because we weren't able to win this football game," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "Two weeks in a row we are in position to win a Big Ten game that would put you in position to win a championship down the road, but we weren't able to win the second half."
After watching the Buckeyes return two interceptions for touchdowns last weekend, turnovers were again the dominant storyline for Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) in a brutal second half.
Tolzien was picked off twice by Amari Spievey and once by A.J. Edds on three passes when he tried to force a pass into coverage. What hurt the Badgers the most was the timeliness of Tolzien's picks, as the first two interceptions came on second down with the Badgers needing to tack on points.
"It was a completely different ball game than it was in the first half," Tolzien said. "Turnovers shot us in the foot. I take it all on myself. Protection was good, just bonehead decisions."
It's becoming a growing trend for Tolzien, making just his seventh start, and the Wisconsin offense when the Badgers find themselves up against the tougher defense. In the past two weeks, Tolzien has thrown five interceptions and the longest drive of the Badgers' six second-half possessions against Iowa was only seven plays, ending in an interception.
"It's been frustrating because we know what our offense is capable of," said sophomore running back John Clay, who rushed for 75 yards, but only six coming in the second half. "We just have to stay in rhythm … and count on each other."
While the turnovers were a fitting conclusion, the demise of the Badgers can be traced to a critical 54 seconds at the end of the third quarter.
It started with freshman Chris Borland, filling in for the injured Mike Taylor, forcing a fumble from Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi that O'Brien Schofield recovered on the Iowa 25-yard line, a prime position for UW to erase all the ill wills of the past quarter.
Even with the game tied, the Badgers had dominated the pace of play in building their 10-point lead midway through the second quarter, but slowly watched it flitter away.
It started harmlessly enough, a measly 37-yard field goal nearing the end of the first half, and intensified when Stanzi found his favorite target, tight end Tony Moeaki, for a 24-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 10. But the momentum was going to change with Wisconsin having the ball in prime field position after the Schofield fumble recovery.
But the Badgers, who had turned their eight turnovers in conference play into 42 points, misfired on three plays, including a drop pass from Nick Toon that would have given UW a first down, and watched in disbelief as Welch missed his sixth field goal of the year.
The Hawkeyes took their good fortune and ran with it, going 79 yards in seven to take a lead it wouldn't relinquish, giving the visitors a 17-10 lead with 13 minutes, 15 seconds left to play.
"I don't think we approached it the right way after the field goal miss," said Schofield, who recorded five tackles, two for a loss. "We weren't ready on that drive. There was a lack of focus. You expect guys to make those plays and when it doesn't happen, it can make one guy lose focus."
To compound the problem, Wisconsin saw it fit to shoot themselves in the foot in a critical situation. With Iowa facing a third-and-5 on UW's 30, defensive tackle J.J. Watt jumped offsides on a hard count, negating a two-yard loss and giving Iowa a first down.
It was one of six third downs the Hawkeyes converted on.
"Coming into halftime, we were playing well and coming out of halftime, the momentum changed and we weren't able to get it back," Watt said. "The third-down conversions really killed us, and I am accountable for one of those."
Now the Badgers head into the bye week two games behind in the conference race, having to swallow a bitter pill before they have a chance to take steps back towards regaining a championship form.
"Going into the bye week, we've got to stick with that," senior Chris Maragos said. "I wish we could play right away. You never want to sit there with a bad taste in your mouth, but that's what we're going to have to do."