IOWA CITY, Iowa – If Wisconsin goes on to win the 2018 Big Ten West Division title, Paul Chryst and his players may look back on their game-winning 88-yard touchdown drive Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium as the catalyst.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook capped the championship-caliber drive with a 17-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Taylor, who beat linebacker Nick Niemann down the left seam, with 57 seconds left; linebacker T.J Edwards came up with an interception on a deflection with 38 seconds left; and fullback Alec Ingold rambled 33 yards for a touchdown with 22 seconds left.
That combination sealed UW’s gritty 28-17 victory over rival Iowa in front of a stunned crowd 69,250.
“I think tonight was a great learning experience, not only for the team but for the young guys especially,” said senior safety D’Cota Dixon, who had a forced fumble and fumble recovery on an Iowa punt return. “Just learning how to fight through adversity, learning how to play when things aren’t going your way.
“I think that says a lot about Horni, about his maturity level. I know he gets criticized sometimes by fans…But if it wasn’t for him and our offensive line driving it, we wouldn’t have won the game.
“They won that game for us. We’ve got to be better on defense.’
UW (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) bounced back nicely from its 24-21 loss to BYU with its fifth consecutive victory in Kinnick Stadium.
BOX SCORE: UW 28, Iowa 17
The Badgers also avoided suffering consecutive defeats for the first time under Chryst and improved to 15-1 in road games since Chryst took over in 2015.
Iowa (3-1, 0-1) lost to UW for the fourth time in the last five seasons. UW went on to win the Big Ten West after defeating Iowa in 2014, ’16 and ’17.
Hornibrook finished 17 of 22 or 205 yards and three touchdowns. He completed 5 of 5 passes for 67 yards on the go-ahead drive.
“I thought they gave him time,” Chryst said of the offensive line, which featured Jason Erdmann at center for most of the second half after Tyler Bidasz was injured. “An Alex was on and guys made plays…
“I thought (Alex) was seeing things. He had a good edge about him. I thought he was on.”
Hornibrook’s teammates noted the poise of the redshirt junior in the huddle throughout the 88-yard touchdown drive.
What did Hornibrook remember?
“I’m not sure what I said,” he joked. “It probably wasn’t too complicated. Everybody knew what we had to do and we just locked it in and got the drive going.”
Jonathan Taylor added 113 yards on 25 carries but was supported by Taiwan Deal (six carries, 42 yards) Ingold (two carries, 37 yards, one catch for 33 yards) and Garrett Groshek (eight carries, 33 yards).
Iowa entered the night No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 2 nationally in total defense (209.0 ypg) and second in the league and second nationally in rushing defense (42.0 ypg).
Opponents averaged 1.5 yards per carry in the Hawkeyes’ first three games.
UW used a jumbo package, featuring extra linemen Logan Bruss and Erdmann, to move the ball on the ground effectively when needed. The staff worked on the package during practice knowing tight end Zander Neuville (ankle) was questionable. UW finished with 210 rushing yards and an average of 4.8 yards per carry.
“Big guys just love to get on the field because they put in all this work and do all their reps,” Ingold said. “You have the All-Americans up front and they have a chance that they can really prove that they can do their thing too.”
Quarterback Nate Stanley, a graduate of Menomonie High School, fared much better Saturday than he did last season against UW but in the end, it did not matter.
Stanley finished 13 of 22 for 229 yards and two touchdowns, with the one interception. He completed just 8 of 24 passes for 41 yards, with one interception, and was sacked four times in the 38-14 loss to UW last season.
“Obviously really disappointed,” Stanley said. “We thought we had our chances to win that game
Both teams failed to score on their first drives but it was the UW defense that made the biggest early play.
Iowa drove from its 15 to a second and 6 at the UW 10. Iowa picked up 7 yards to the UW 5 on third and 8, on a pass from Stanley to tailback Ivory Kelly-Martin.
Stanley tried to sneak for the first down on fourth and 1 but got nothing and UW took over with 4:41 left in the opening quarter.
UW parlayed that turnover into a drive that reached the Iowa 39 at the end of the first quarter.
Then on third and 2, UW went with a jumbo package but Hornibrook went play-action and hit Ingold on a wheel route for 33 yards to the 6.
One play later, UW deployed seven offensive linemen, with Erdmann and Bruss joining the mix, and Hornibrook hit Jake Ferguson (four catches 58 yards) in the back of the end zone with 14:31 left in the half.
After the fourth-down stop, UW drove 95 yards in 11 plays to take a 7-0 lead.
UW’s defense gave up 33 yards of real estate before forcing a punt.
The Badgers moved from their 11 to a third and 2 at the Iowa 46.
Hornibrook went deep on the play to Kendric Pryor but Pryor was unable to hold on near the Iowa 10 after being hit by safety Amani Hooker.
Iowa took over at its 23 after a punt and picked on cornerback Faion Hicks en route to a four-play, 77-yard touchdown drive.
Stanley scrambled away from pressure on third and 9 and found tight end Nate Hockenson for 46 yards to the UW 20.
Stanley then hit tight end Noah Fant, with Hicks trailing in the end zone, for a touchdown on the next play, with 5:15 left.
UW went three and out but Dixon forced a fumble and recovered it on the punt and the Badgers took over at their 45 with 3:31 left.
The offense did not capitalize on this play, however. Iowa took over at its 3 after a punt but ran out the clock.
The Hawkeyes took the second-half kickoff, took advantage of Hicks and fellow cornerback Deron Harrell to drive into scoring territory.
The big play was a 46-yard bomb from Stanley to Hockenson to the UW 6, with Hicks and safety Eric Burrell trailing.
UW held when Ryan Connelly blew up a running play for a 4-yard loss on third and goal from the 2 and Iowa settled for a 24-yard field goal by Miguel Recinos for a 10-7 lead with 10:12 left in the quarter.
UW took the lead back, thanks to a special-teams gaffe by Iowa on a punt.
Reserve tight end inadvertently touched a ball that was not downed and UW’s Travian Blaylock recovered at the Iowa 10.
Hornibrook and Danny Davis hooked up for a 12-yard touchdown with 5:12 left in the quarter, on third and goal.
Rafael Gaglianone’s conversion gave UW a 14-10 lead and stunned the Kinnick Stadium crowd.
Iowa’s offense sparked the crowd by slicing through the UW defense with ease for 75 yards and a touchdown. Stanley completed 4 of 4 passes for 34 yards, including a 1-yard score to Fant. Recinos added the conversion to put Iowa back in front, 17-14, with 1:37 left in the quarter.
UW saw a promising drive end at the Iowa 44 when Hornibrook hit Ferguson near the Hawkeyes’ 30 but the tight end dropped the ball. The Badgers opted to punt and rely on their defense. Iowa took over at its 12 with 11:25 left.
UW’s defense forced a critical three-and-out, however, and the Badgers took over at their 44 after a 37-yard punt.
How would the offense respond? With a brutal three-and-out as Groshek gained nothing on an inside handoff on third and 3 from the Iowa 49.
Iowa took over at its 15 with 8:34 left and picked up one first down before punting. UW got the ball back at its 12 with 5:40 left.
The Badgers mixed the run and pass deftly until Hornibrook stunned the crowd with the 17-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Taylor with 57 seconds left. Gaglianone’s conversion pushed the lead to 21-17.
“We had a couple opportunities to sustain drives in the second half,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said, “but to their credit when they had that opportunity they took it and went and it was a beautiful drive on their part.”
Next it was time for the defense to make a stand. Edwards, who had a crucial interception against Iowa last season, came through again.
Ingold sealed the deal and UW was back on track one week after a stunning loss.
“Extremely proud of this group today,” Chryst said. “We knew coming in, that this was a great Iowa football team, very talented. Always a lot of respect for how they’re coached.
“Wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but it was a great team win for us. I thought all three units played a big part in the win. Guys stepped up and made plays when they had to.
“A lot of guys put it out there, and they had to. I’m proud of the response.”