MADISON – If Wisconsin manages to win the Big Ten West Division title this season, the players and coaches might point to their final drive Saturday against Iowa as the key.
UW’s 15-point lead was down to two points after the Hawkeyes struck for a 75-yard touchdown pass with 3 minutes 12 seconds left.
The Badgers’ defense stoned quarterback Nate Stanley’s draw on the two-point conversion play and it was then up to the offense to secure the victory.
Jonathan Taylor ripped off gains of 7, 3 and 42 yards to move the ball to the Iowa 23. Nakia Watson then had carries of 5 and 4 yards and fullback Mason Stokke gained 3 yards on third and 1 from the 14.
Only 1:37 remained and Iowa was out of timeouts.
UW held on for a 24-22 victory in front of a crowd of 78,018 at Camp Randall Stadium.
The Badgers (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) kept alive their hopes of winning the Big Ten West Division title and returning to the league title game in Indianapolis.
Minnesota improved to 6-0 in the Big Ten and 9-0 overall with a 31-26 victory over Penn State (8-1, 5-1) earlier Saturday.
The Gophers travel to Iowa (6-3, 3-3) next week.
Iowa came in allowing just 87.8 rushing yards per game but UW destroyed those numbers. Taylor rushed 31 times for 250 yards and UW finished with 300 yards on 46 carries.
Jack Coan threw a costly interception but had touchdown passes to Danny Davis and Quintez Cephus and finished 16 of 25 for 173 yards.
Stanley came alive after halftime and finished 17 for 28 for 208 yards and two scores.
The victory-securing drive was all ground and pound.
Taylor gained 7 yards to the 32 on first down, pushing his game totals to 205 yards on 29 carries and forcing Iowa to burn its second timeout, with 3:07 left.
Taylor gained 3 yards on the next carry for a first down at the 35.
Taylor then broke free for a 42-yard gain to the Iowa 23.
Tick, tick, tick.
Taylor took a quick break and Watson gained 5 to the Iowa 18.
The Hawkeyes burned their final timeout.
UW faced second and 5 at the 18 with 1:43 left. Watson gained 4 yards to the 14 but was tackled out of bounds and the clock stopped with 1:37 left.
Third and 1.
Stokke got the ball, gained 3 yards to the 11.
Iowa’s defense struck the first blow when A.J. Epenesa forced Coan to fumble and tackle Cedrick Lattimore recovered at the UW 16 with 8:33 left in the opening quarter.
UW’s defense hit back, however, and allowed a total of 2 yards on three plays. Iowa settled for a 24-yard field goal from Keith Duncan for a 3-0 lead with 7:38 left in the quarter.
The Badgers stuck to the ground on their next possession and moved from tier 29 to the Iowa 8. Facing fourth and 2, UW opted to roll the dice but a false-start penalty – the fourth pre-snap penalty of the quarter – pushed the ball back to the 13.
Collin Larsh then missed right on a 31-yard field-goal attempt with 1:38 left in the quarter.
UW’s defense picked up the beleaguered kicker six plays later.
Iowa faced second and 6 at the UW 41 but Stanley dropped the snap from center and linebacker Jack Sanborn recovered the fumble at the 41.
UW then drove 59 yards in seven plays to take a 7-3 lead with 9:44 left in the half.
Cephus drew an interference penalty in the end zone on a deep ball and that gave UW a first down at the Iowa 19.
Two plays later, Davis scored on a 17-yard jet sweep around the left end, thanks in part to a key downfield block by tight end Jake Ferguson. Larsh made the extra-point attempt to give UW a 7-3 lead with 9:44 left in the half.
Iowa moved the ball from its 25 to the UW 22 before Duncan hit a 40-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 7-6. That kick left Duncan 21 for 24 this season.
UW took over at its 24 with 6:22 left after the ensuing kickoff and put together its best drive of the game.
Coan hit 3 of 4 passes for 31 yards and Taylor rushed seven times for 45 yards to move the ball to the Iowa 4.
UW faced first and goal with 20 seconds left and one timeout.
The Badgers came out of the timeout with two wide receivers, two backs and one tight end. Coan faked a hand-off to Taylor and looked right to Cephus, who was covered. He immediately came back left to hit Davis for the touchdown with 14 seconds left. Larsh’s conversion gave UW a 14-6 lead at the break.
The third quarter for the most part was a battle of attrition and for field position.
Iowa’s first three drives began at its 25, 42 and 39. UW’s first three drives began at its 15, 9 and 14. The Badgers finally punched through on the third series, driving 86 yards for a touchdown and a 21-6 lead with 2:16 left in the quarter.
Coan hit Cephus for 52 yards to the Iowa 34 on the first play of the drive and three plays later found Cephus for a 27-yard score.
UW’s defense had a chance to slam the door shut but failed.
Stanley took over at the Iowa 25 and was 6 or 13 for just 40 yards to that point. He completed 6 of 7 passes for 69 yards and a 3-yard touchdown to help the Hawkeyes pull within 21-13 with 14:06 left.
Iowa’s defense made the next big play.
Coan tried to hit Ferguson near the left sideline but cornerback Matt Hankins came off his man and made a diving interception at the UW 47 with 12:42 left.
UW’s defense allowed two first downs but stiffened – cornerback Rachad Wildgoose had a huge pass break-up on third and 7 at the 21 – before Duncan hit a 39-yard field goal with 9:27 left.
The Badgers’ lead was down to 21-16 and it was time for the offense to take over.
UW responded with seven consecutive running plays, including six by Taylor, to move the ball from its 25 to the Iowa 13.
Coan threw incomplete to Taylor near the left sideline on second and 7 and UW called a timeout with 4:13 left.
Coan gained 2 yards on a third-down scramble and Larsh made amends for his earlier miss by hitting from 29 yards for a 24-16 lead with 3:29 left.
Iowa needed one play after the kickoff to strike as Stanley hit wide receiver for a 75-yard touchdown with 3:23 left.
The Hawkeyes went for two but safety Eric Burrell and linebacker Chris Orr combined to stuff Stanley, who ran a draw, at the 1.
UW’s lead was down to 24-22 with 3:12 left.
Time for the offense to take over. It did, with the game and a chance to win the West title on the line.