MADISON -- On 2nd-and-goal on its first full drive in the fourth quarter, the Wisconsin offense was 1 yard away from taking the lead against rival Iowa.
As redshirt senior quarterback Joel Stave took the handoff, he tripped over the legs of a pulling lineman, fumbling the exchange with running back Taiwan Deal. The ball was recovered by defensive tackle Faith Ekakitie, ending the best chance the Badgers had at a touchdown.
"Obviously, it's disappointing," Stave said. "I thought the defense did a tremendous job continuing to battle, giving us opportunities, you know. We just have to come away with something."
That turnover, along with three other giveaways, stifled any offensive momentum the Badgers (3-2 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) had in a 10-6 loss to the Hawkeyes (5-0, 1-0) Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium.
The Badgers actually out-gained the Hawkeyes in total yards 320-221 and first downs 21-14. Drops by receiving targets and the inability to execute in the run game against an Iowa defense that only gave up 84 yards on the ground coming into the game stymied any steam the Badgers could generate. UW also could not take advantage of two of Iowa's turnovers or starting four of their six possessions in the second half in great field position.
Those turnovers and field position were generated by an energetic and dominant defense, led by senior outside linebacker Joe Schobert. The defense allowed only 77 yards passing and held the Hawkeyes -- who led the Big Ten in third-down conversions -- to a 5-of-15 mark on such opportunities.
Schobert in particular overwhelmed the Hawkeyes' offense, registering three sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. He also forced two fumbles, recovered one and was credited with five quarterback hurries.
Unfortunately, the defense's fine effort wasn't matched on the offensive side of the ball.
"I think with the way they were able to perform and execute today, put us in good positions down the stretch, we got to come away with points, so it's disappointing," Stave said.
Iowa took advantage of two costly Wisconsin turnovers in the second quarter to take a 10-3 lead into halftime. Junior cornerback Desmond King intercepted an errant Stave pass and returned it to the Wisconsin 31-yard line.
Running back Jordan Canzeri rushed for 25 yards on the ensuing drive that ended with an easy 1-yard touchdown pass. Later, quarterback C.J. Beathard found junior tight end George Kittle on a rollout to the right for a 7-3 lead. That was the first touchdown allowed by Wisconsin's defense since the fourth quarter of the Alabama game on Sept. 5 -- a span of 215 minutes, three seconds.
The drive immediately after Iowa's first score, senior defensive end Drew Ott blew past left tackle Tyler Marz for a strip-sack on Stave, forcing a fumble that defensive end Nate Meier recovered. Though they were backed up to their own 15-yard line, the Badgers' defense held, allowing only a 33-yard field goal by senior kicker Marshall Koehn to give the Hawkeyes a touchdown advantage.
"That was poor technique on my part. I got to be better," Marz said of the sack. "I was probably late off the ball or just need to kick vertical. It definitely shouldn't have happened, though."
Beathard led the Iowa offense to convert 4-of-8 third down conversions in the first half, while the Badgers could only convert on 1-of-4 in the first two quarters and only 4-of-13 for the game.
"Offensively, we weren't good on third down," Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said, "and the turnovers, I think all their points came off of our turnovers. Certainly we've got to be better in a lot of areas on offense, and defensively, like I said, I thought they gave us a chance to have a chance and we didn't capitalize on it at the end."
Wisconsin on three occasions drove the ball into Iowa territory with drives of 10 or more plays, but couldn't capitalize on more than six points. Rafael Gaglianone's 46-yard field goal on the first drive of the game generated the only points in the first half.
Schobert and the defense rose up in the second half, holding the Iowa offense to 69 total yards in the final two quarters and only five first downs gained. By comparison, the Hawkeyes rushed for 99 yards in the first half and ended the game with 144 total behind Canzeri's 125-yard effort.
The Badgers forced two turnovers in the second half. Senior safety Michael Caputo intercepted a Beathard pass on Iowa's second drive of the third quarter after -- guess who -- Schobert pressured Beathard. Wisconsin drove 10 plays, and 27 yards later, Gaglianone converted on another 46-yard attempt.
UW's defense forced a trio of three-and-outs and a punt in the second half, not allowing Iowa past its own 40 on the last five drives. It was a huge game for Schobert, but his personal performance was overshadowed by Wisconsin's first trophy-game loss in its past nine attempts.
"Yeah, definitely," Schobert said when asked if he can take some personal satisfaction from his play despite the loss.
"Obviously, the number one thing, the number one goal the team has is to win. When you don't do that, you have a sour feeling in your mouth -- but you got to learn from it. The defense did a lot of good things today, and it's something we can build on. Just take a step forward each and every week. We were able to improve on our side of the ball. We have everything we want out in front of us."
Wisconsin had its chances on offense in the second half. The Badgers' worst field position during that time was its own 31, and four of its last five drives started from at least its own 41-yard line. One silver lining from the offense was the fact the Badgers didn't go three-and-out on any of their drives in the second half, but all six of their offensive drives ended in Iowa territory. Only three points came from them.
Stave's second interception came on the second offensive series of the third quarter. Wisconsin drove to the Iowa 32, threatening to get into scoring position yet again, but Stave hung a pass to senior wide receiver Jordan Fredrick to the left side of the field. King made the play for his second pick of the game and fifth of the season.
Schobert's sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery breathed life into the offense and the 80,000-plus in attendance yet again, giving the Badgers ample field position on Iowa's 27-yard line. Twenty-two yards later, the Badgers were a yard out from pulling ahead despite the inconsistent play during the afternoon.
"We were all supporting each other," said redshirt freshman Jake Maxwell, who made his first start at right tackle for an injured Hayden Biegel. "It just, at that one-yard line turnover, that was deflating. We all stepped up to try to get over it, it just wasn't enough."
Wisconsin had two more drives to capitalize on the defense's stout efforts, proving fruitless. The Badgers' last opportunity presented itself with 2:45 left in the ballgame, but without redshirt seniors Alex Erickson and Austin Traylor due to injury.
Starting nearly at midfield on their own 47, Stave drove the offense to Iowa's 16-yard line in seven plays -- including a huge 26-yard completion to redshirt junior wide receiver Reggie Love to move the chains to the Iowa 24. The Iowa defense stood firm, however, and four plays later, Stave missed redshirt sophomore tight end Troy Fumagalli on a 4th-and-2.
Despite the frustrating offensive performance, Badgers players stood behind their beleaguered quarterback and offense as they looked onward to Nebraska next Saturday at Lincoln.
"We believe in our offense. I believe in Joel Stave," outside linebacker Vince Biegel. "I talked with him after the game. I said, 'Listen to me, Joel, I will go out there and ball for you any day of the week. I'll go out there and take a bullet for you.' We believe in our offense."