Badgers running back James White, bottom, dives in for a touchdown during the fourth quarter underneath linebacker Christian Kirksey of the Hawkeyes. (Matthew Holst / Getty Images)
Iowa City, Iowa — Wisconsin didn’t need a monster game out of Melvin Gordon to beat Iowa.
The Badgers converted a pair of second-half interceptions into touchdowns that turned a close game into an easy win over the Hawkeyes.
James White ran for 132 yards and a pair of late TDs as 22nd-ranked Wisconsin beat Iowa 28-9 on Saturday for its third straight win.
Joel Stave added two touchdown passes for the Badgers (6-2, 4-1 Big Ten), who are bowl eligible for the 12th year in a row.
“The turnovers were huge for us. I’m proud of the young men of this program for how they played,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. “They kept on fighting and battling and we were fortunate to get some points out of it.”
Wisconsin’s Pat Muldoon intercepted Iowa backup C.J. Beathard at the Hawkeyes 25-yard line with 7:43 left, setting up an 11-yard TD run by White. Stave also found Jared Abbrederis for a 20-yard touchdown after Jake Rudock was intercepted in the third quarter.
White added a 2-yard touchdown with 1:35 left for the Badgers, who won despite a season-low 62 yards rushing from Gordon.
Not that Gordon — a former verbal commit to Iowa — minded being held under 140 yards for just the second time in eight games.
“Overall, man, we just needed this win just as a team,” Gordon said.
Rudock had 109 yards passing for the Hawkeyes (5-4, 2-3) before leaving the game in the third quarter with what coach Kirk Ferentz said was a sprained left knee.
Ferentz said he thinks Rudock should be fine for next week’s game at Purdue.
Iowa’s offense failed to score a touchdown for the first time this season despite three trips deep into Wisconsin territory.
“If you’re going to play a good team like Wisconsin, you’re not going to beat them if you don’t capitalize on those opportunities,” Ferentz said.
In a game where field position and ball security was crucial, Iowa made its first huge mistake midway through the third quarter.
The Badgers made the Hawkeyes pay a play later.
Rudock threw a terrible ball into coverage that was picked off by Darius Hillary at the Iowa 20. Stave then found a wide-open Abbrederis for a touchdown and a 14-6 lead — Abbrederis would subsequently leave the game with a chest injury.
“I definitely think that was a momentum shift for us. It gave us a lot more energy and then for them it was the exact opposite. They kind of shut down a little bit. We thrive off of that,” Hillary said.
Iowa was still down 14-9 when Beathard, in the first meaningful action of his career, threw a pass that bounced off the head of one of his linemen. Muldoon caught the deflection, and White essentially clinched the game three plays later.
Beathard had 70 yards on just 4 of 16 passing.
“It’s a tough situation to go into,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We’re not in desperation mode but it’s a pretty tough uphill climb at that point — and playing against an excellent defense. It’s a tough way to go.”
Iowa couldn’t get much going on the ground either, even though Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland was held out because of a strained hamstring.
Starters Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock combined for just 21 yards rushing.
The wind and a pair of strong rush defenses were major factors as both teams struggled to move the ball early.
The Badgers erased nearly two quarters of offensive futility with one big play.
An unpressured Stave found Jacob Pedersen alone near the Iowa’s 5-yard line, and Pedersen strolled into the end zone for a 44-yard TD grab and a 7-6 Wisconsin lead with 1:49 left in the first half.
It was the first time Iowa had trailed at the break all season.
The Hawkeyes certainly had their chances, though.
Iowa got inside the Badgers 12-yard line three times, but had to settle for field goals of 28, 22 and 29 yards from Mike Meyer. The Hawkeyes were held to just three points in the second half by an opportunistic Wisconsin defense.
“The turnovers played a key role in this football game. When these two teams play for years to come it’s going to be just like that,” Andersen said.