It wasn’t easy, but Wisconsin hung on for a close victory Saturday in Iowa City, defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes 26-24 despite giving up 405 yards in total offense.
It took a third down scramble from Joel Stave late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory, as Wisconsin (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) stays atop the Big Ten West and can secure a spot in the Big Ten Championship game with a win over Minnesota next week at Camp Randall.
A week after Melvin Gordon set the single-game rushing record, Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine set a new mark (427 yards, 34 carries, 5 TD’s), but Gordon had new records in his sights.
An 88-yard Gordon run in the second half put the phenom over 2,000 yards on the the season, making him the fastest player to reach the milestone in FBS history, on 241 carries.
Gordon finished the game with 200 yards on the ground on 31 carries (6.5 per carry) and scored a pair of touchdowns. Gordon tied Ron Dayne’s single-season Big Ten rushing record at 2,109 yards, and will look to set a new record on his first touch next week.
Gordon also hauled in four receptions for a career-best 64 yards, including two first down catches late in the fourth quarter, setting up Wisconsin’s final touchdown drive.
Stave finished the game completing 11-of-14 passes for 139 yards, adding one key 12-yard carry in the fourth quarter to seal the game.
The battle in the trenches was the story of the game, as Wisconsin struggled to provide a consistent pass rush and Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock threw for 311 yards and two scores.
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Rudock and running backs Mark Weisman and Jordan Canzeri combined for 101 yards on the ground.
Wisconsin forced a fumble on Iowa’s opening possession, and got on the board first on a 50-yard field goal bomb from Rafael Gaglianone. Iowa later tied the game on a field goal from 26-yards out.
McEvoy put Wisconsin ahead on a 45-yard read-option run that saw Gordon tackled in the backfield following a stellar fake, fooling Iowa fans who celebrated before realizing McEvoy had the ball 20 yards down the field. Gaglianone missed the extra point, and Wisconsin led 9-3 minutes into the second quarter.
Gordon poked in a 6-yard touchdown run later in the second quarter, and Wisconsin took a 16-3 lead into the break.
Midway through the third quarter, with the Badgers pinned deep in their own territory, Gordon took the ball and was off to the races on his way to an 88-yard run, putting him over the 2,000-yard mark on the season.
The Badgers couldn’t punch in the score, and Gaglianone hit a field goal to give Wisconsin a 19-3 lead.
Iowa answered on the ensuing drive, going 70 yards in seven plays, scoring on a Kevonte Martin-Manley 20-yard touchdown reception. Jordan Canzeri ran in the two point conversion to cut Wisconsin’s lead to 19-11.
The Hawkeyes then went 6 play, 80 yards on their next possession, with Rudock running it in from three yards out. Iowa went for two, but Wisconsin knocked down the pass attempt and hung on to a 19-17 lead.
The Badgers answered the call, responding with a seven play, 75-yard touchdown drive culminating in a 23-yard dash from Gordon to put Wisconsin up 26-17. Gordon had 33 yards on the ground and 45 through the air on the drive.
Iowa responded yet again, this time with a seven play, 86-yard touchdown drive to pull within two points, 26-24.
The Badgers took control with just minutes remaining and fed Gordon as they tried to run out the clock. On 3rd and eight with just over a minute remaining, Wisconsin dialed up a play action pass and Stave rolled out, and kept it himself for 12 yards. Gordon ran it four yards on the next play, and Iowa burned its last timeout.
Two kneel-downs ran out the rest of the clock, and Wisconsin escaped Iowa City with a two-point victory.
The Badger host Minnesota next Saturday, 2:30 p.m., at Camp Randall.