The wrong game. I don't want to step too much on Patrick's toes here, since this is his territory and all, but it's utterly mystifying why Kirk Ferentz calls a game the way he does.
Let's move past the mere aesthetics of punting from inside the 40 or other conservative play-calling. Sure, it's more exciting when teams go for it, but it's also just sound strategy. It's great that Kirk Ferentz had faith in his defense and his special teams, and that faith was mostly rewarded on Saturday—Wisconsin was held to about two-thirds of its normal offensive output, and that's with a full sixty minutes of effort from the Badgers, who have often dialed down their offense in blowout wins. Sure, Wisconsin ended up with 28 points on the day, but you'd like to think the Iowa defense did its job, all things considered. If Wisconsin scores 28 on you, fantastic, because that means a victory's at least plausible.
But Kirk Ferentz didn't coach like it was going to take 29 points to win the game. He coached like something in the high teens would do just fine.
On Iowa's very first possession, which started in Wisconsin territory after an interception, Iowa took the momentum and went incomplete pass, short pass, short scramble, punt from the 42 on 4th and 3.
That decision paid off*, remarkably, and Iowa got the ball back on another short field with another shot at putting the ball in the end zone, which was a necessity against a high-powered offense. Ferentz went for it on 4th and 1 at the 20 and converted easily... then seized the opportunity with two short runs and a throw short of the sticks that went incomplete anyway. Three points.
*to the extent that we know, anyway; had Iowa gone for it on its first 4th down and converted, it would have been better (and potentially much better) than where Iowa got the punt.
Iowa finished off the fourth quarter with yet another short field after yet another horrendous Wisconsin punt into the wid, and Kirk Ferentz marked the occasion by performing the Hawkeye National Anthem: rush, rush, throw short of the sticks, punt. Iowa's punt on this drive came from Wisconsin's 35-yard line, which only could have made sense if Ferentz believed that the first-quarter woes of Wisconsin—who came in averaging about 40 points a game—would continue in perpetuity.
[Quick aside: Let's talk about Iowa hurrying its punt in that first quarter so Connor Kornbrath wouldn't have to fire off his pooch punt (which again, couldn't go further than 35 yards) into the wind. Kornbrath deserves credit for putting the ball at the 8, but seriously, what the hell? Kornbrath had just sent a punt 54 yards into the end zone with that same wind, and now you're expecting him to hurry into a successful pooch punt? It worked, but jeeeeeeesus.]
From there the game got no better; Iowa's mistakes were quickly capitalized upon by Wisconsin, who recognized the value of a short field and made the most of its scoring opportunities. Meanwhile Iowa took seven trips into Wisconsin territory, six of which came in plausible field goal range and four of which reached the red zone, and got nine points out of it.
Ferentz had a 4th and goal at the 4 and kicked a field goal. He had a 4th and 5 at the 12 and kicked a field goal. He had a 4th and 7 at the 11 and kicked a field goal. That's great if you're playing a team that's not going to score on you, but frickin' Wisconsin? The second-toughest opponent on Iowa's schedule and a scoring machine? Utterly inexcusable. Iowa doesn't have the talent to play for field position against Wisconsin. It needs touchdowns. Everyone needs touchdowns against the Badgers, and lots of them. When coaches pretend otherwise they catch an L for it pretty much every time.
[Worth noting: Ferentz did go for it on 4th and 1 at Wisconsin's 8-, 20- and 35-yard lines. Had he kicked on any of those we'd be in jail by now. As it stands we're just disappointed—especially because the Hawkeyes converted on the first two, then took zero shots into the end zone en route to field goals anyway.]
So whatever game Kirk Ferentz was watching and calling plays for, we hope he had fun. But that was the wrong game, and as a result the Hawkeyes were taken out of position to win by their coach's recklessly conservative decision-making.