IOWA CITY, Iowa — J.J. Watt remembered how the University of Wisconsin football team's defensive players looked at each other after Iowa intercepted Scott Tolzien and put the Badgers' backs firmly against the wall in the fourth quarter at Kinnick Stadium Saturday afternoon.
"We knew that this was our time, that if we didn't stop them here we wouldn't win the game," said Watt after the Hawkeyes led 27-24 at the time and had the ball on the Badgers' 26-yard line after the pick. "So we knew we had to come up with a big stop."
The Hawkeyes gained just three yards in three plays and were forced to kick a 40-yard field goal. After Wisconsin came back to score a touchdown on an 8-yard run by Montee Ball with 1:06 left, Watt and the UW defense stopped the 13th-ranked Hawkeyes again and the 10th-ranked Badgers celebrated a wild 31-30 Big Ten Conference win.
"It says a lot about our defense and the character we have and how hard we are willing to work to get a victory," Watt said of the defense's final two series of the game.
But Watt made plays throughout the game that were huge difference-makers. The first was his block of Iowa freshman kicker Michael Meyer's extra point attempt after the Hawkeyes' first touchdown in the first quarter. That loomed large in the one-point margin of victory.
"In the first quarter you don't see it as a huge play in the game, but obviously as the game unfolds and right in the end there, you realize the extra effort on that play was absolutely huge," said Watt, who also tackled holder Ryan Donahue on a botched field goal attempt in the second quarter. "You have to give credit to Pat Butrym for getting some push up the middle but also just a huge play for a defense as a whole."
UW coach Brett Bielema said the truest test of a defense's character is how it plays on extra-point attempts. "It means you were just scored upon and how are you going to react?" said Bielema. "The reaction was unbelievable and ends up being the difference in the game."
Watt and his Badgers' defensive line mates were quiet for much of the game. The Hawkeyes gained 376 total yards and converted 11-of-16 third-down situations by effectively running at, or passing against, the Badgers on early downs. Most of the time, they were double- and triple-teaming Watt.
But that changed on those last two series. "For some reason I was single-teamed and I was pretty happy about it," Watt said. "I got to pass rush like I know how to pass rush and obviously was pretty effective on one of them."
After the Badgers grabbed the 31-30 lead, Iowa moved the ball to its 49 when Watt broke free and sacked quarterback Ricky Stanzi for an 11-yard loss with 26 seconds left. That effectively killed the Hawkeyes' attempt to get into field-goal range.
"Everybody always texts me before the game that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games," said Watt, who has five sacks this season. "At that moment I knew we needed a sack, we needed some sort of spark and was lucky enough to get it. He was slipping away a little bit but I got my arm on his ankle and he went down. Unbelievable feeling."