October 17, 2009

Inconsistent offense dooms Badgers in loss

MADISON - Iowa came into Camp Randall stadium as the Big Ten's lone undefeated team. Though it seemed an entire deck was stacked against them at Wisconsin, after all was said and done, the Hawkeyes remain the only undefeated team in Big Ten play.

Wisconsin jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead early in the first half, but failed to pour it on. Meanwhile, Iowa was resourceful with their attack and consistent on third down and eventually earned a 20-10 win and took the drivers seat in the Big Ten race.

"Obviously we're thrilled to get the victory here today," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, who saw his team jump out to its best start since 1985, said. "It was a very hard fought game from both teams.

"Both teams really competed hard."

In the first half, the Badgers controlled every portion of the game. They had more than double the yardage Iowa had, 10 more offensive plays and control of the clock. But, much like the previous week against Ohio State, UW couldn't carry the momentum into the second half.

"They did make a couple of adjustments by formation (in the second half)," UW head coach Bret Bielema said. "They played better. They definitely moved the line of scrimmage in the second half when it was the other way around in the first half."

For Scott Tolzien, the fall from the top of the world continued in the second half as he threw three more interceptions during critical phases of the game. The picks stopped any offensive momentum and hampered any flow UW may have had.

"He's definitely a guy that I would go to battle with every time," Bielema said. "Just his intensity, his preparation and the way he handles his business. But we just can't have giveaways in critical games."

In fact, Tolzien's fall from grace may have started following UW's best offensive drive of the past two weeks.

Following an 11-play, 92-yard drive that ended with a Montee Ball touchdown run, the Badgers defense held Iowa to a quick three and out. On the ensuing offensive possession, the UW coaches decided to stick with its plan of putting Curt Phillips in on UW's third series.

The result, a quick three and out, an offense that could not function the same way the rest of the game and a completely rejuvenated Hawkeye defense that went on to squash the Badger rushing attack, forcing the pass.

"After watching the film, we thought that Curt and the run game would be a nice change of pace," Bielema said. "We decided on the third series to go with Curt in this ball game. We thought there was a tremendous amount of growth for him during the last couple of weeks to get in and help us win a football game. Unfortunately, it didn't get us a first down."

From that point on, Wisconsin never had any offensive flow while Iowa had more than enough.

Early in the third quarter, UW brought a blitz on Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi. It looked as though Devin Smith had a play on Iowa signal caller, but the sophomore corner took a bad angle and Stanzi broke past him.

He rolled to his right and lofted a nice pass to the back corner of the end zone where Tony Moeaki reeled it in for the game-tying touchdown.

"We called a pressure with Devin Smith coming off the edge there," Bielema said. "He broke contain and that should have been a tackle for loss…We had an opportunity there for a big hit. When we have an opportunity to make big plays and they don't happen, it's just not going to work."

But even with the offense's futility, the Badgers still had an opportunity present itself late in the third quarter when freshman Chris Borland forced a Stanzi fumble. After O'Brien Schofield recovered the fumble, the UW offense took over at Iowa's 25 yard line with a chance to break a 10-10 tie and reestablish the momentum it had lost.

Instead, UW went three and out and sophomore kicker Philip Welch missed a 38 -yard field goal. From that point on, a defense that was solid through three quarters simply fell apart.

"I don't think we approached it the right way after that field goal miss," UW senior O'Brien Schofield said. "When you play defense you've got to expect something like that to happen. You got to be ready and we weren't ready on that drive."

After that missed opportunity, the Hawkeyes, led by Stanzi, marched down the field and capped a seven-play, 79 yard drive with a 10-yard Adam Robinson touchdown run. And with it, the life of the UW football team was completely sucked away.

"We were able to survive our turnovers," Ferentz said. "Defensively with three big stops then the offense took the ball and drove it. That sequence right there is probably where the game turned and it was just two teams playing very hard out there. We're thrilled to get the victory."

For Iowa, the dream season continues.

For Wisconsin, a dream season that once was has completely fallen apart. With back-to-back losses, UW is all but eliminated from Big Ten title contention.

"It's extremely frustrating for us to play so well in the first half and come out in the second half and do what we did," UW sophomore J.J. Watt said. "You want to be able to say your defense played well, but then again when you don't win a game, nothing else matters.

"It's really heartbreaking and it's going to be tough."

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