In a way, it feels like the turning point of this game was before the game even began, when the Iowa offense evidently failed to show up in Madison. Like last week, Iowa's offense set records and made history. Unlike last week, none of those records or history were good; Iowa's offense just hit new lows and set records for futility.
Despite the offensive shortcomings -- and "shortcomings" is probably putting that performance mildly, to be clear -- Iowa was still in the game halfway through the third quarter thanks to the performance of the defense in general* and Josh Jackson in particular. With the offense unable to do, well, anything, the defense took it upon themselves to stifle Wisconsin, forcing four turnovers. Josh Jackson decided not just to take the ball away from Wisconsin and give it back to the Iowa offense, but to score himself, too. He ran back not one, but two interceptions for touchdowns. Those two plays were the only times and Iowa player found himself anywhere near the Wisconsin end zone.
But still: Iowa was only down three points with just over six minutes to go in the third quarter and while the offense was still struggling, so long as the Hawkeyes could keep it close... well, you never know. Maybe the offense could fall backward into a touchdown. Or maybe the defense would decide to score another touchdown. But those hopes were pretty well dashed by a play that summed up Iowa's offensive dysfunction as well as any on the day.
On 3rd and 10 from their own 30-yard line, disaster struck. With Nate Stanley going through his pre-snap routine, miscommunication resulted in an early snap; the ball hit Stanley in the midsection and bounced onto the ground. Both Stanley and Akrum Wadley hit the ground in an effort to secure the ball and give Iowa a chance to at least punt the ball away on fourth down and force the Wisconsin offense to move the ball down the field to extend to their lead. Unfortunately, after being solidly in their corner through the first two and a half quarters, the turnover gods turned against Iowa and the ball squeezed through a dogpile of players including Stanley, Wadley, and some Wisconsin defenders, ultimately squirting free and being claimed by Leon Jacobs who scooped the ball off the turf and ran it back for an easy touchdown. Just like that Wisconsin's 10-point lead was restored and the game seemed effectively out of reach.
Given Iowa's offense in this one, a 10-point lead might as well have been a 100-point lead. As long as it was a one-score game, it seemed plausible that the defense or special teams could help Iowa steal another score and have another chance to take the game. But once it became a two-score game... game over, man. Game. Over.
The notion of Iowa's offense scoring once seemed fanciful enough, if (just) inside the realm of plausibility. The idea of them needing to score twice? HAHAHAHAHA no. The rest of the game was just Iowa and Wisconsin playing out the string, with Iowa's offense continuing to be (largely) helpless (and hapless) and Wisconsin's defense feasting on both Iowa's general offensive incompetence and sudden willingness to cough the ball up (Iowa had an interception and a fumble on their next two drives, which led to short-field touchdowns for the Wisconsin offense).
Iowa never really had a good chance to win this game, given their overall ineptitude on offense. But, thanks to Josh Jackson's interception heroics, they at least had a chance, even if it maybe meant that you need to squint a little to see it. Unfortunately, even that glimmer of a chance was extinguished by Leon Jacobs' fumble recovery and subsequent return for a touchdown.
* The defense wasn't quite great in this one -- 38 points speaks for itself, even if only 31 of those were scored against the Iowa defense and even if some of those points were the results of short fields gifted to the Iowa defense by the sloppy and ineffective Iowa offense. The first half featured bending but not much breaking, at least until the last few minutes; the second half featured more breaking all around. And, in general, giving up 247 rushing yards and 5.0 yards per carry is not going to be part of a winning formula for Iowa.