MADISON — Undefeated Wisconsin’s defense keeps getting better as the stakes get higher with every victory.
Imagine how good the Badgers could be if they stopped turning the ball over so much.
Kendric Pryor scored twice, and No. 6 Wisconsin relied on its stifling D to overcome four turnovers and Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson’s two touchdowns in a 38-14 victory Saturday over the Hawkeyes.
The victory allowed the Badgers (10-0, 7-0 Big Ten, CFP No. 8) to clinch a trip to the conference title game as West champions. An overpowering defense is carrying them to Indianapolis.
“It was fun to watch,” coach Paul Chryst said. “Guys all had great energy to them, and, boy, there were some plays made.”
Leon Jacobs recovered two fumbles — one returned for a score — and fellow linebacker T.J. Edwards had an interception for the Badgers, who shut down an Iowa offense that had overwhelmed Ohio State last week.
The Hawkeyes (6-4, 3-4, CFP No. 20) were held to 66 total yards, the fewest ever allowed by the Badgers to a Big Ten opponent, the week after scoring 55 and gaining 487 yards against Ohio State. Iowa went 0 of 13 on third down against Wisconsin.
“They’re a good team ... so we had to prove a point,” Jacobs said.
Iowa had just five first downs all day. A miserable first half ended with just 15 yards and one first down for the Hawkeyes.
But Wisconsin turnovers kept them in the game.
Remarkably, Jackson accounted for all their points. The junior scored on interception returns of 43 and 52 yards, the latter coming with 11:18 left in the third quarter to get the Hawkeyes within 17-14.
“Our defense tried to keep us in the football game,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “But at the end of the day, we just couldn’t do the things you have to do to have any kind of a chance.”
The Badgers’ defense wanted to get in on the fun, too.
Jacobs scooped up a loose ball about 5 minutes later after a bad snap on third-and-10, running 21 yards to the end zone to give Wisconsin another 10-point lead.
“Their defense, better than advertised — not that they haven’t been playing well,” Ferentz said.
League-leading rusher Jonathan Taylor had 157 yards on 29 carries, but fumbled twice, losing one. Alex Hornibrook was 11 of 18 for 135 yards with two touchdowns and the three interceptions. Pryor had a 25-yard touchdown run and a 12-yard touchdown catch.
“I think I obviously could have done better ... and then we made some plays there at the end,” Hornibrook said. “Some guys helped me out, but there is definitely room to improve.”
Iowa: Don’t throw at Jackson, the junior who came into the afternoon leading the country with 20 passes defended. A week after tying the school record with three interceptions in a game, Jackson tied another Iowa record with two interceptions returned for touchdowns in a game.
“I’d rather win. We just want to get back in the film room and execute better,” Jackson said.
Wisconsin: Hornibrook has now thrown 11 interceptions in Big Ten play, which isn’t ideal especially for a run-first offense. Taylor had a second fumble recovered by a teammate near the goal line in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach. The Badgers continue to get bogged down by mistakes in spite of a season-long effort by Chryst to get the offense to cut down on miscues.
“We’re still learning. Coach is going to get after us at practice all week about it, and we’ve just got to continue to strive and move forward,” running back Bradrick Shaw said.
Center Tyler Biadasz left the game in the third quarter with a left leg injury. But he made the highlight reel with an open-field pancake block after pulling left to help spring Pryor free on the receiver’s end-around TD.
Quarterback Nate Stanley had an awful trip back to his home state, finishing 8 of 24 for 41 yards. He was sacked four times and was pressured in the pocket all night. Stanley also lost a fumble on a sack by linebacker Ryan Connelly.
Stanley passed for 226 yards and five touchdowns last week against Ohio State.
“It was two different ends of the spectrum. We want to feel the experience we had last week and not this one,” Stanley said.
Iowa: Hosts Purdue next Saturday.
Wisconsin: The Badgers face another ranked team in No. 21 Michigan at Camp Randall next week.