What a difference a year has made for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
A year after another mediocre finish, Iowa is a perfect 5-0 thanks to a massive road win over a ranked Wisconsin team Saturday, the Hawkeyes marching into Camp Randall Stadium and beating the Badgers, 10-6, to keep their record unblemished and capture the Heartland Trophy.
Things started in rocky fashion for Iowa, which missed out on scoring opportunities early. A turnover on downs with the ball inside the 10-yard line and a missed field goal with the ball up close had the Hawkeyes in a 3-0 hole early.
But Wisconsin gave Iowa life with a missed field goal of its own and a Joel Stave interception. After Desmond King's fourth pick of the season, the Hawkeyes took over at the Badgers' 31-yard line, and C.J. Beathard capped a short drive with a one-yard touchdown pass to give the visitors a lead.
Stave turned the ball over again in the second quarter, fumbling, a giveaway that led to an Iowa field goal.
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It was a defensive battle in the second half, with another King interception of Stave resulting in no points. Michael Caputo picking off Beathard ended in a Wisconsin field goal.
The Badgers had one final chance to take a lead in the game's last minute, driving from midfield into the red zone. But on a fourth-and-two play with 40 seconds to play, Stave's pass was incomplete, and Iowa hung on for the win.
It was a struggle of an offensive day for both sides, obviously. Wisconsin's top-five defense held Beathard to just 77 yards passing on nine completions. But running back Jordan Canzeri, a game after his sensational four-touchdown performance, went for 125 yards on the ground. Iowa gained just 221 total yards on the game.
But Iowa's defense stood tall, as well, holding Wisconsin to just 86 rushing yards and keeping the Badgers out of the end zone. Stave completed 21 passes for 234 yards but also threw a pair of interceptions.
Despite the low score, both teams showed a lot in this one. Iowa gets the major props for the victory, of course, but Wisconsin maintained its stellar defensive start to the season in a losing effort. Both teams had a lot to prove after amassing wins against lowly competition, and this game between two good teams allowed both sides to pass the eye test.
Iowa should enter the top-25 rankings Sunday for the first time since late in 2010.