IOWA CITY — They’re big, they’re brass. That’s all you have to know about Bret Bielema.
Fourth-and-4 from Wisconsin’s 26. Down six points. Around six minutes left.
The Iowa Hawkeyes dropped off in a punt return. Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman pulled the ball down and burst up the middle for 17 yards and a first down.
That spark eventually lit the fuse for Montee Ball’s 8-yard TD run and for No. 10 Wisconsin’s 31-30 victory before 70,585 fans Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Bielema is Wisconsin’s special teams coach. He put it all on himself with the fake punt that kept the Badgers (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) in the Big Ten title conversation.
“That was awesome, that was one of the reasons I came here,” Wisconsin linebacker Blake Sorensen said. “That doesn’t surprise me at all. He’s not afraid. That’s a coach you love to play for.”
No. 13 Iowa (5-2, 2-1) had it chance. The Hawkeyes didn’t seem to know what to do with it.
The fateful moment came with 14 seconds left. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi had just plunged ahead for a first down. Iowa was down to its last timeout. Stanzi made the “spiking” motion and then dropped back into shotgun.
He looked over to the Iowa sideline for what seemed to be forever. There was some confusion and Iowa ended up burning its last timeout.
“We felt we could’ve spiked it or could’ve taken the timeout, we chose to take the timeout,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “If we spike it, we probably burn three seconds there. I think the fake punt was probably a bigger play in the game than that decision.”
After the non-spike timeout, Stanzi was flushed from the pocket and just shoveled the ball forward to running back Adam Robinson. He instinctively caught it, saw a couple Wisconsin defenders around him and bolted for the sideline with about 4 seconds left.
He didn’t make it.
“Helpless feeling,” said Robinson, who rushed for 114 yards and a TD. “Looking up and seeing no time, it was just a helpless feeling.”
Fake punt or the non-spike timeout disarray, there’s your debate.
“Both plans can be positive and both plans can be negative,” said Stanzi, referring to Iowa’s spike-or-timeout fire drill. “It’s hard to say one thing was bad and one thing wasn’t. You just live with what happened.”
Wisconsin players rushed to the Iowa sideline and secured the Heartland Trophy, a bauble they hadn’t touched since 2007. They get to keep it now until at least 2013. Because of Big Ten expansion, Iowa and Wisconsin won’t meet the next two seasons.
By the way, the Bull is made out of bronze. Either way, the Badgers covered all the metallics that began with “B” on Saturday.
The game came down to one point. That one point can easily to traced to Iowa’s special teams, an unmitigated disaster Saturday.
Pick your poison with Iowa’s speical teams, penalties, field position allowed, penalties. The Hawkeyes did leave four points on the Kinnick Stadium turf — UW defensive end J.J. Watt blocked Iowa’s first PAT and a high snap cost Iowa a 31-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter.
“To me, the story of the game was our special teams play and penalty situation,” Ferentz said. “. . . We lost a lot of field position.”
Bielema said he saw something on film with the fake punt. The Hawkeyes sent two rushers on both ends into three upbacks in front of Nortman. The rest of Iowa bolted down field in block mode. The Badgers sold it beautifully.
“We had seen that they had gone with two edge pressures and were covering down,” Bielema said. “We made the call once I saw them sned out the punt return unit.
“Great execution, great faith.”
For the first time in forever, Iowa’s defense buckled.
No, the Badgers didn’t put up gigantic numbers, but quarterback Scott Tolzien was lasik eye-surgery accurate, completing 20 of 26 for 205 yards, a TD and an interception. Running back John Clay was held to 91 yards, but did score two TDs.
In the fourth quarter, the Badgers were down all-star tight end Lance Kendricks (ankle), running back James White (knee) and center Peter Konz (ankle).
Still, Wisconsin answered every Iowa volley. Down 13-10 at halftime, the Badgers went up 17-13 on a 2-yard run by Clay and that set off a teeter-totter second half where it seemed the last time with the ball would win.
Stanzi hit wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for 45 yards and a 20-17 Iowa lead. Clay scored again from 2 for a 24-20 UW lead. Stanzi, who completed 25 of 37 for 258 yards and three TDs, hit Marvin McNutt for a 6-yarder and a 27-24 lead.
Safety Brett Greenwood’s interception set up the Hawkeyes at Wisconsin’s 26. Iowa drove 3 yards on four plays and set up Mike Meyer’s 40-yard field goal with 8:35 left. That was an uh oh. First down at UW’s 26 and Iowa only squeezed three out of it.
“We were looking for points and seven would’ve been nice, but we got three out of it,” offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde said. “It was one of the 50 things we can look at that changed the outcome of the game.”
Wisconsin’s last score came from Montee Ball, the Badgers’ No. 3 running back. He ran through linebacker Tyler Nielsen and cornerback Micah Hyde at the goal line, reached over and broke the plane by inches.
Iowa’s defense broke. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn broke down after the game. He paused, left the interview room and came back with tears in his eyes.
“The defense didn’t step up when we needed it,” Clayborn said. “We had two three-and-outs. That’s unacceptable.”
They have a week to fix it.