This was huge. Wisconsin had an opportunity to split the toughest two-game stretch of its schedule by protecting a ten-point lead on Homecoming. Win this game against Iowa and the Badgers would more than likely have been favored in each of their remaining games, which would have meant a reasonable shot at an 11-1 season and a bid in a BCS game. But as the Badgers have done so often under Bret Bielema, they folded like a portable beer pong table and blew the lead because of turnovers and sloppy play.
This was one of Wisconsin's few opportunities on the 2009 schedule to make a statement. Iowa came in 6-0 and ranked 11th in the country. Even if the Badgers now run the table, their remaining games are against mediocre teams, and we won't know how good they really are.
This game was eerily similar to one between the same teams at Camp Randall Stadium in 2005. That year, Iowa beat Wisconsin in what was Barry Alvarez's last home game as head coach. Then, too, the Badgers built a 10-0 lead only to lose 20-10.
Let's take a look at some of the positives and negatives from this go-around:
Running Backs - A bit of a surprise that we would single out this unit for praise after the team accumulated only 75 net rushing yards, though the running backs really did all they could. John Clay got things going early and was the main reason the Badgers built a 10-0 lead. After literally getting bent over backwards and spending several minutes down on the field, Clay was not the same. The fact he even walked to the sideline, let alone returned to the game, is testament to his character. It is tough to blame Clay for losing some of his burst after that kind of injury. Montee Ball made the most of his four carries, averaging 4.2 yards per, and scored his first career touchdown in only his third career game. Wisconsin was without the services of Zach Brown, who suffered a concussion against Ohio State but seemed as though he was itching to play. Clay also caught three balls. Given the circumstances, the running backs held up well in the face of adversity.
Defensive Line - O'Brien Schofield continues to operate in another world. The senior defensive end added two more tackles for loss to his NCAA-leading total and recovered a fumble that should have led to Wisconsin points. His counterpart, J.J. Watt, atoned for a critical offside penalty by recording four tackles for loss and a sack. The line helped limit the Hawkeyes to 65 net rushing yards.
Linebackers - When starter Mike Taylor went down with an injury, true freshman Chris Borland continued his phenomenal debut season by leading the team with ten tackles, recording a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss and forcing a fumble that should have been a lot more significant than the Wisconsin offense made it. Jaevery McFadden and Culmer St. Jean turned in solid performances, though McFadden giving up a catch to Hawkeye tight end Tony Moeaki, even while committing a pass interference penalty, was ugly.
Quarterbacks - Scott Tolzien has now thrown five interceptions and no touchdown passes in his last two games. His three picks Saturday changed the momentum of the game and ended the Badgers' comeback attempts before they could even get going. Tolzien is not balancing his mistakes with big plays, as only one of his pass completions went for over 20 yards against Iowa. Curt Phillips did not prove to be the spark Bielema was looking for when he put the redshirt freshman in the game, getting stuffed after a one-yard gain on third down.
Secondary - The Badgers never found an answer for Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who made eight catches for 113 yards. While Wisconsin held star tight end Tony Moeaki to only three catches, two of them resulted in huge plays. One he hauled in for a long touchdown over Antonio Fenelus and another kept a Hawkeye drive alive on a third-and-17, leading to a dagger of a field goal. Jay Valai's personal foul penalty when it was clear the game had started to slip away from the Badgers didn't do his team any favors.
Coaching - Bielema likes to talk about his teams' outstanding home record and, while it is impressive, it is also overrated. The last three genuinely tough opponents the Badgers have faced in Madison have all walked away victorious. The lack of in-game adjustments this season has been puzzling to say the least, with teams generally outplaying Wisconsin in the second half. Stubbornly sticking to a script by putting Phillips in the game on the third offensive series, after Tolzien had driven the Badgers 92 yards for a touchdown, killed momentum. Anytime a team blows a ten-point lead and is shut out in the second half at home, the coaching could have been better.