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September 22, 2007

Wisconsin hangs on to beat Iowa

Box score

MADISON, Wis. — Needing a fourth-quarter goal-line stand to bolster their upset bid, Iowa's stubborn defense stuffed Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill on two straight plays.

Hill wouldn't be denied on his third try, as he plowed up the middle on third-and-goal for the go-ahead touchdown in No. 9 Wisconsin's 17-13 victory over the Hawkeyes on Saturday night.

"He's always going to ask for the ball, and we're going to give it to him," Badgers coach Bret Bielema said.

Nothing came easy for the Badgers (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten), who gradually overcame the Hawkeyes' stingy defense to extend their winning streak to 13 games - the longest in major college football.

"Obviously, the game came down to the wire," Hawkeyes quarterback Jake Christensen said. "We made them earn it, and they did."

Wisconsin barely moved the ball in the first half, nearly fumbled away its first chance at a touchdown and went into the fourth quarter trailing 10-7.

"I knew it wasn't going to be an easy game," Bielema said.

After getting 50 yards on his first 12 carries, Hill played a central role on the go-ahead drive that began just before the end of the third quarter. He carried 10 times for 43 yards and scored on third-and-goal from the 2, putting Wisconsin ahead 14-10.

"He ran a little bit on us in the second half," Iowa defensive end Bryan Mattison said. "That was the difference."

But the Hawkeyes (2-2, 0-1) weren't finished.

Iowa got a 44-yard kickoff return from Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who earlier caught a touchdown on a one-handed grab in the second quarter. The Hawkeyes' offense stalled, and Daniel Murray hit a 37-yard field goal to cut the Badgers' lead to one with 6:29 left in the game.

Hill's backup, Lance Smith, broke free for a 30-yard gain on Wisconsin's next possession, setting up a 40-yard field goal by Taylor Mehlhaff to put Wisconsin ahead 17-13 with 2:02 remaining.

Iowa had one last chance on its final possession when wide receiver Paul Chaney got behind the defense on fourth-and-8, but the deep ball from Christensen sailed just past his outstretched arms.

"I overthrew it," Christensen said. "I wish I had it back."

It was a rough end to a stormy week for the Hawkeyes, who lost a clunker to rival Iowa State last Saturday and had to deal with yet another player arrest only hours afterward.

"We certainly didn't come up here to play close," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It wasn't our goal. It's disappointing we didn't get out of here with a win."

Iowa had dealt Wisconsin its only two home losses in its past 22 games at Camp Randall Stadium, winning on November 22, 2003 and Nov. 12, 2005.

The Hawkeyes nearly did it again.

"I think starting off (Big Ten play) with a loss would have been very hard," Badgers wide receiver Luke Swan said. "Iowa came out to play and did a great job today, and we were very fortunate to get the win."

Iowa's defense baffled the Badgers and quarterback Tyler Donovan for three quarters, rushing two and three linemen and dropping the rest of their defenders into coverage. By the end of the third quarter, Wisconsin had 10 first downs and 203 yards.

The Hawkeyes' offense was just as sluggish.

After Murray booted a 41-yard field goal to give Iowa a 3-0 lead with 2:28 remaining before halftime, Donovan marched the Badgers into Hawkeyes territory in the 2-minute drill.

Hill took a handoff and charged toward the goal line - but linebacker A.J. Edds poked the ball out of Hill's hands, leading to a scrum in the end zone. Iowa linebacker Mike Humpal nearly recovered the ball before it squirted toward the back of the end zone, where Badgers center Marcus Coleman pounced on it.

A booth review determined that there was an inadvertent whistle on the play, so the ball was given back to the Badgers at the Iowa 3. Donovan then threw a touchdown pass to Travis Beckum on second-and-goal, and the Badgers took a 7-3 lead with 43 seconds remaining.

Donovan was 12-of-23 for 138 yards.

It was a particularly painful way for the Hawkeyes' defense to give up its first touchdown of the season. Iowa had been the only team in major college football that hadn't yet given up a touchdown.

The Hawkeyes answered in the final minute of the half, as Christensen threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Johnson-Koulianos.

Christensen was 17-of-37 for 169 yards, despite playing without most of his top receivers. Iowa already was without suspended receiver Dominique Douglas, and lost tight end Tony Moeaki and wide receiver Andy Brodell to injuries in the first quarter.

"Jake grew up a lot today," Ferentz said. "He played a smart, heady game. It's just a matter of time."

Ferentz said Moeaki broke his hand and dislocated his elbow, and Brodell injured his hamstring. Both players would miss "significant" time, Ferentz said.

For more coverage of Wisconsin, visit BadgerBlitz.com; for more on Iowa, visit HawkeyeReport.com.

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