IOWA CITY — There were no style points in this one.
Stout defenses and strong wind figured mightily Saturday as No. 24 Wisconsin took advantage of turnovers and scored touchdowns rather than field goals to slug out a 28-9 victory over Iowa before 69,812 at Kinnick Stadium.
“There were tough-minded men out there, and the defensive front and offensive lines on both sides played like crazy,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. “There will be some sore men in the morning, that's for sure.”
But Iowa's wounds will hurt just a bit more.
Joel Stave threw for two touchdowns, the Badgers turned two interceptions deep in Iowa territory into second-half touchdowns, and James White rushed for 133 yards and two scores to help Wisconsin improve to 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the Big Ten.
Iowa (5-4, 2-3) kept the Badgers to less than 300 yards of offense until late in the fourth quarter, but produced only 294 itself while losing for the third time in four games. The Badgers finished with 362 yards, with 142 of those in the final quarter.
“(The Iowa defense) really played well,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “... That team (Wisconsin) has great statistics in terms of yardage (513.6) and points (39.9) per game. And we were competing very well with them.
“I don't think we're far away. It's hardly a hopeless case here. But we still have to finish a game on defense and I (also) go back to the offensive part of things. ... When you get down in there you've got to come away with points.”
To a man, Iowa's postgame mantra followed that two-fold assessment. For the offense, execution mistakes in scoring territory have to be corrected. For the defense, it was all about finishing the game.
Despite starting first-quarter drives at the Wisconsin 49, the Wisconsin 39 and its own 44, Iowa managed only three points even though the wind — officially 13 mph but gusting close to 30 mph at times — was at its back.
And even then, Mike Meyer's 28-yard field goal with 6:20 left in the opening quarter came at the end of a not-so-thrilling 11-play, 28-yard drive.
“That's a knockdown for us,” Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff said of the opening quarter. “Whenever we get into the red zone, or close to the red zone, we've got to come out of it with seven points instead of three. But points are points, and we've got to keep pushing for more.”
The Hawkeye defense stayed strong, holding Wisconsin without a first-quarter first down. And once the Iowa offense had to go against the wind, the Hawkeyes methodically marched into scoring position.
But after guard Jordan Walsh left with a right ankle injury, replacement Andrew Donnal promptly false started on third-and-goal from the 3. The Hawkeyes settled for a second Meyer field goal, this one from 22 yards, and a 6-0 lead.
Finally, Wisconsin, which until then had two first downs, came to life. Melvin Gordon gained 13 yards and White picked up 11 as part of a quick drive that set up Stave's 44-yard touchdown throw to tight end Jacob Pedersen, who split cornerback Desmond King and safety Tanner Miller on a deep post.
“We got more yards on that series (72) than we had (the rest of) the entire half,” said Andersen, who was 3 yards away from being correct. “That gave us momentum going into the second half.”
Iowa trailed at halftime for the first time all season. And, on a day when only 10 points were scored going against the wind, the Hawkeyes gave up seven of them as Wisconsin pushed its lead to 14-6.
Darius Hillary intercepted an ill-conceived, jump-ball pass from an under-pressure Jake Rudock at the Iowa 20. Stave hit a wide-open Jared Abbrederis for a touchdown on the next play.
A 43-yard run by fourth-string running back Jordan Canzeri set up Meyer's third short field goal, a 29-yarder with 1:49 left in the third period to bring the Hawkeyes within 14-9.
Rudock, who appeared shaken up after the interception, didn't return despite alternately spending time throwing on the sideline and riding an exercise bike during the third and fourth quarters. Ferentz said Rudock had a sprained knee but is expected to be available for next Saturday's game at Purdue.
The Hawkeyes stayed with backup C.J. Beathard, who previously had played only in the blowout of Western Michigan.
Wisconsin's third touchdown came after an interception by defensive end Pat Muldoon, who leapt in the air to grab a Beathard pass that deflected off the back of Donnal's helmet.
White, who rushed for 84 of his 132 yards in the fourth quarter, all but clinched it with an 11-yard touchdown run to make it 21-9 with 6:29 left. He added a 2-yard score with 1:35 to go.
“We've been working on (finishing) and we're getting better at it,” Miller said. “We got some three-and-outs in the third quarter. But the last 10 minutes of the fourth quarter kind of got us.”