Turnovers, slip-ups see Badgers hand Heartland Trophy to Iowa

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WISC-TV / Channel3000.com

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Badgers were their own worst enemy Saturday, squandering possessions and losing to Iowa 24-10.

Graham Mertz matched a season-high two interceptions including one that was returned for a touchdown.

Things started out well enough for Wisconsin. The Badgers forced a fumble on Iowa’s second drive, then turned that possession into a field goal. But things quickly turned sour in the second quarter.

Iowa blocked a punt and recovered the ball on the Wisconsin 17-yard line. Two plays later, Kaleb Johnson marched into the endzone to give the Hawkeyes a 7-3 lead.

The Hawkeyes added to their lead later in the quarter when a wayward pass by Mertz was intercepted by Cooper DeJean and returned 32 yards to the endzone.

The Badgers were able to respond on the next drive when Mertz found Keontez Lewis for a 51-yard touchdown pass to cut the score to 14-10 heading into halftime.

The Badgers received the ball to begin the second half but squandered that possession when Mertz threw an interception on the fifth play of the drive. The Wisconsin defense held strong, however, and kept the Hawkeyes from scoring.

Both teams were kept silent in the third quarter, but Iowa was finally able to extend their lead in the fourth. A 41-yard punt return by DeJean allowed the Hawkeyes to start on the Wisconsin 18-yard line. Iowa would find the endzone five plays later. They would add to the lead with a field goal later in the fourth quarter.

The Hawkeyes rendered Wisconsin’s offense almost completely ineffective. Mertz completed just 16 of his 35 passes for 176 yards. Badger running backs combined for just 68 yards. The Badgers also surrendered 40 yards on 5 penalties. Wisconsin punted the ball nine times, and Mertz fumbled on the Badgers’ final possession.

The defense was the bright spot for the Badgers on the night. Iowa was forced to punt nine times, and the Iowa offense only managed 146 total yards.

Losing the Heartland Trophy always stings, but Saturday’s loss hurts a bit more given the results of other Big Ten games. Purdue managed to knock off Illinois on the Illini’s Senior Day.

Because of that result, had the Badgers beaten Iowa they would have opened up a reasonable path to the Big Ten Championship game. Instead, they will head home to Madison thinking of what might have been, and will likely watch the Championship from the couch.

Wisconsin also squandered a chance at gaining bowl eligibility. The window to earn a sixth win is quickly closing with only two games remaining.

The Badgers are on the road again next week to take on Nebraska. The Cornhuskers have won just three games this season and have lost four straight games, including a 34-3 loss to Michigan on Saturday.