For three quarters, the Iowa football team played right with nationally ranked Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium.
It’s that fourth quarter that keeps hindering the Hawkeyes from claiming a signature win this season. And another poor effort in the second half Saturday kept Iowa out of the bowl game picture for at least another week as the Badgers handed the Hawkeyes a 28-9 home loss.
“They're a very good football team,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I thought our guys competed hard, played hard. Theirs did as well. And bottom line is we just didn't play well enough to get the victory.” Iowa led 6-0 in the first half before Wisconsin scored a late touchdown in the second quarter to grab a halftime lead. The Badgers though opened up the score when they posted two touchdowns off two Iowa (5-4, 2-3) interceptions in the second half.
And the Hawkeye offense has scored just three points in the fourth quarter of their five Big Ten games.
“I'm not so sure, we weren't exactly ringing them up there in the first half, either,” Ferentz said. “So today it wasn't one of those deals as much. But I'm kind of fixated on the two times we're down there in the first half. We weren't detailed enough to get it done. But they made it tough on us, they're a good defensive football team.”
The difference in the game was the fact that Wisconsin (6-2, 4-1) turned its opportunities into points, while Iowa had chances early in the game that it failed to cash in on.
The Badgers were 3-for-3 in the red zone with three touchdowns. Two of those drives were started inside the Iowa 30-yard line. The Badgers made it 14-9 when they scored on one play following a Jake Rudock pick in the third quarter. It moved to 21-9 when another interception – this time from backup QB C.J. Beathard – resulted in a three play, 25-yard drive.
“That gave us more momentum going into the second half,” said Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen of the late TD that gave the Badgers the halftime lead. “The turnovers were huge for us. I’m proud of the young men of this program for how they played today. They kept on fighting and battling and we were fortunate to get some points out of it.”
Iowa, on the other hand, was 3-for-4 in the red zone Saturday, but all three scores were field goals.
Iowa’s first scoring drive went 11 plays but totaled just 28 yards. The Hawkeyes’ first four possessions, all in the first quarter, started from the Wisconsin 49, the Wisconsin 39, the Iowa 44 and the Wisconsin 41.
None of those drives resulted in touchdowns and three of them ended up in punts.
“Some of the things that happened early in the ballgame really came back to make it tough for us in this fourth quarter,” Ferentz said. “We had a pretty good field position. We had the wind behind us and ended up with three points.
“We had that opportunity to be down there and come away with touchdowns, to come up short it was a big factor in the game.”
James White led Wisconsin’s two-headed backfield with 135 yards and two scores on 19 carries. Joel Stave was 11-for-19 for 144 yards and two scores in the win.
Iowa’s running game was stuffed all day for the most part. Mark Weisman left the game with an injury but only gained 15 yards on nine carries before that and Damon Bullock had six yards on six carries.
The Hawkeyes gained 119 yards on the ground and 43 of those came on play from Jordan Canzeri, who finished with 58 yards on five carries.
“It was tough to run the ball today for us. And it was really tough for them, too, for about 45, 50 minutes,” Ferentz said. “Obviously I'd like to have run the ball better, I wish we could have, and would have been more productive. But they made it tough on us.”
The box score won’t look too much in Wisconsin’s favor.
The statistics that stick out like a sore thumb are Iowa’s turnovers (2), Wisconsin’s points off turnovers (14) and the Badgers red-zone scoring chances (3-for-3 with three TDs).
Rudock left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury and Weisman left with an upper body injury. Ferentz said both players should be ready to go next week when Iowa travels to Purdue in search of its sixth win of the year and bowl eligibility. … The Hawkeyes have three chances left to collect that sixth win. Purdue is winless in the Big Ten thus far, Michigan got whipped by Michigan State on Saturday and Nebraska needed a hail marry pass to beat Northwestern at home. Translation: The final three games are winnable and if the team gets to eight wins, the fans may forget about the close losses and second-half meltdowns. … Melvin Gordon, who committed to Iowa before changing his mind in favor of the Badgers, had just 62 yards on 17 carries. He came into the game averaging nearly 10 yards per carry.