IOWA CITY — Two steps forward. One step back.
Wisconsin’s 10th-ranked football team stopped Iowa’s forward progress on Saturday, limiting the Hawkeyes to three field goals and 236 yards in a 17-9 defensive Big Ten battle at Kinnick Stadium.
“Too many big pass plays, too many missed chances. It was a frustrating day,’’ Iowa cornerback Desmond King said. “We didn’t do enough.’’
That sentiment extended to the other side of the ball.
“We’ve got to score more than nine points in a game,’’ quarterback C.J. Beathard said. “We’ve got to finish drives and turn those field goals into touchdowns. We didn’t do enough good things.’’
The Badgers reclaimed the Heartland Trophy with the win, the sixth straight victory by the road team in the series and a win which ended a modest two-game growth spurt by the Hawkeyes.
Wisconsin players rushed to the Iowa sideline to grab the bronze likeness of a bull the teams play after turning back Iowa by blending its physical running approach with a big-play passing attack which combined to complement a defensive effort which limited the Hawkeyes’ ground game to 83 yards.
Iowa converted on only 2-of-13 third-down opportunities, something which helped the Badgers build a 14-minute advantage in possession time.
“You’re not going to beat anybody going 2-of-13. We have to be better than that,’’ running back LeShun Daniels said. “That’s the reality of it.’’
That certainly was the reality of things on Saturday as Wisconsin ended its own two-game losing streak by pulling away from a 7-6 halftime lead.
Corey Clement was the Badgers’ workhorse, carrying a career-high 35 times for 134 yards.
His work included a one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter which grew Wisconsin’s lead to 14-6 and a 34-yard carry that set up a field goal which left the Hawkeyes in a 17-6 hole with 1:24 remaining in the game.
“Up until the end when he popped out on the left side there, I think we had them about three yards a carry,’’ Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “… We competed hard and did a pretty good job of keeping him under control, then he popped that one at the end.’’
The gain was 13 yards longer than the Hawkeyes managed on any play they attempted during a frustration-filled effort against the Badgers.
“You can’t win games hitting field goals,’’ Iowa offensive lineman Sean Welsh said. “You give credit to their defense, but we can play cleaner, play assignment sound, play with better fundamentals. There is a lot we need to do better. We need to find our way into the end zone.’’
The Hawkeyes were held without a touchdown for the first time in 40 games, dating to a 28-9 loss to the Badgers at Kinnick Stadium in 2013.
“I felt like our defense played really well,’’ Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “We were tested. Our guys stayed resilient. Offense, defense, special teams, it wasn’t perfect but guys kept playing.’’
Wisconsin, which piled up 423 yards of offense, missed two field goal tries in the game, but never trailed.
Following a scoreless first quarter, the Badgers (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) turned to backup quarterback Bart Houston for a series which led to a 17-yard touchdown catch by tight end Troy Fumagalli with 10 minutes, 6 seconds remaining in the first half.
After a 40-yard field goal by Keith Duncan cut into the Wisconsin lead, the Badgers’ attempt to add to their margin late in second quarter ended when Clement fumbled into the end zone as he tried to jump over a pile of players from the one-yard line.
King pounced on the loose ball and the Hawkeyes quickly went to work, finding success with a tempo approach on offense.
Beathard hit 4-of-5 passes on a drive which began with a 12-yard carry by Akrum Wadley, positioning Miguel Recinos to cut Wisconsin’s halftime lead to a point with a 47-yard field goal as time expired.
Iowa (5-3, 3-2) didn’t manage more than one first down during a drive from that point until the fourth quarter, when Iowa came away without points after moving the ball 60 yards before Duncan hooked a 38-yard field goal try wide right in a 14-6 game.
“Fourth and five against (Wisconsin) isn’t easy, especially down there,’’ Ferentz said. “We didn’t see that as a high probability play. We were going to have to get back there again and score twice, that was the thinking.’’
Wisconsin answered Iowa’s miss, taking time off the clock with a nine-play, 62-yard drive before extending its lead to 17-6 on a 36-yard field goal by Andrew Endicott with 1:24 remaining.
A 77-yard kick return by King positioned Duncan to give Iowa its final points on a 25-yard kick with :43 left one play after Beathard one-hopped a pass intended for Noah Fant in the end zone.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about execution,’’ King said. “We’ve gave up plenty of plays on the back end on defense that we have take ownership of and work to clean up. We all have to take ownership for this. It wasn’t enough.’’