MADISON, Wis. — Josh Jackson covered more turf in returning two interceptions Saturday than the Iowa offense managed to during an entire football game.
That pretty much summed up how things went for the 25th-ranked Hawkeyes in a struggle-filled 38-14 loss at Camp Randall Stadium that allowed sixth-ranked Wisconsin to secure at least a piece of its third Big Ten West Division championship in four seasons.
"We never got anything going," running back Akrum Wadley said.
The same Iowa team that piled up 487 yards a week earlier in a 31-point rout of third-rated Ohio State totaled 66 yards on the 50 plays it ran against the Badgers.
The offensive output was the lowest by a Kirk Ferentz-coached Hawkeye team, well below the previous low of 100 yards in a 2004 game at Arizona State, and the first time Iowa finished with fewer than 200 yards since collecting 171 yards in a 2009 game against Minnesota.
"First, it felt like it, and second, with the same players out there you can’t explain it," Ferentz said of the Hawkeyes’ offensive struggles that came on the heels of the team’s most productive performance of the season.
"We played clean football last week. We didn’t do much to hurt ourselves, and for us to be successful, we have to play a pretty clean game. We didn’t come close to that this week."
Jackson did his part.
He returned interceptions 43 and 52 yards for touchdowns, the second pulling the Hawkeyes within a field goal at 17-14 less than four minutes into the second half as part of a defensive effort that forced four Wisconsin turnovers.
"Early on, we held them down and were able to get some turnovers to keep things close until the offense got going," said Jackson, who also forced a fumble and broke up another pass in addition to the two he picked off.
The Badgers did finish with 382 yards, including 157 on 29 carries by freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, but it was an Iowa turnover that helped Wisconsin seize control of the game.
In the midst of an 8-of-24 passing performance, quarterback Nate Stanley was unable to field a snap with just over six minutes left in the third quarter, and the Badgers’ Leon Jacobs scooped up the ball and returned the fumble 21 yards for a touchdown.
"The ball just came out so I took my knee off the ground so I wouldn’t be down, and I ran with it," Jacobs said.
His score fueled a run of 21 unanswered points that allowed Wisconsin to maintain possession of the Heartland Trophy and ended a string of six straight wins by the road team in the border rivalry.
Iowa turned the ball over on two of its next three possessions, drives that ended with an interception by T.J. Edwards and another Jacobs recovery of a Stanley fumble on the last of the Badgers’ four sacks in the game.
"Going into the game, we had a simple plan that was just kind of guys flying around and being comfortable in what they’re doing," Edwards said. "Our offense struggled a bit early, but we had their back."
Iowa was in no position to dispute that.
The Hawkeyes mustered just one first down and 20 yards of offense in the first half as Wisconsin rode an aggressive, blitzing defensive approach to a 17-7 halftime advantage.
Already dealing with poor field position created by Anthony Lotti punts of 59 and 62 yards, the Badgers held the Hawkeyes to minus 2 yards on 15 plays during the second quarter to overcome an early deficit.
Wisconsin (10-0, 7-0 Big Ten) limited Iowa to one play of 10 yards or more in the game, held Hawkeye tight ends to one reception and collected six tackles for a loss.
"They kept coming after us. It wasn’t anything we didn’t prepare for. The handoff would happen and it seemed like they were right there," said James Butler, who led Iowa with 30 rushing yards on eight carries.
Iowa’s defense helped the Hawkeyes (6-4, 3-4) to a 7-3 lead after one quarter, intercepting two Alex Hornibrook passes.
Jackson ended the Badgers’ first possession of the game with his sixth interception of the season, the first of his two pick sixes in the game. He returned it 43 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Iowa lead 90 seconds after kickoff.
When Hornibrook attempted to go deep on Wisconsin’s third series, Jake Gervase picked off the pass at the Iowa 6-yard line.
"We felt like there were some plays to make," Gervase said. "We came out ready. We just weren’t able to sustain it."
Wisconsin answered Jackson’s first score with a 14-play, 75-yard drive that kept the Hawkeye defense on the field for 7 minutes, 40 seconds, but settled for a 23-yard Rafael Gaglianone field goal.
The Badgers moved ahead to stay in the second quarter with a pair of quick drives that ended with Kendric Pryor rushing for the first score of his career and catching his first career touchdown pass for the Badgers.
The redshirt freshman receiver scored on a 25-yard reverse to move Wisconsin ahead 10-7 with 8:55 to go in the half, then caught a 12-yard scoring pass from Hornibrook with 1:19 remaining in the second quarter.