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A game of missed opportunities.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

What if?

What if Iowa had kicked the field goal on its first drive, instead of calling the QB sneak? What if, instead of a mishandled punt, the Hawks drive the ball down the field for a touchdown instead of giving up 6 easy points?

The opportunities were there in Iowa’s 28-17 loss to Wisconsin tonight. They were there in abundance. But as Kirk Ferentz would say, the Hawks didn’t execute.

Didn’t execute, indeed.

This was a good game for some 55 minutes. It began with Wisconsin leaning heavily on running back Jonathan Taylor. The Badgers drove down the field and looked like they could potentially score before Geno Stone came up with a solid pass deflection on third down that resulted in a Wisconsin punt.

Ivory Kelly-Martin returned to the field in fine fashion, ripping off a nine-yard run on his first play back. The drive had all the makings of a scoring drive: a Nate Stanley to T.J. Hockenson play action pass for a 24 yard gain, and a Toren Young jet sweep that looked like it was ripped right out of the BYU playbook from last week. Here’s where things started to go wrong: the coaching staff dialed up a QB sneak on 4th and 1 in the red zone that failed miserably. I wish it would have been the only questionable offensive play call.

After one quarter, the game was tied at nothing. Wisconsin came out driving to start the second half, ripping off plays on the ground and in the air. It resulted in a 95 yard scoring drive. Iowa responded on its own drive by marching to Wisconsin territory, and made its second questionable decision of the game by calling a jet sweep on 3rd down that Wisconsin flaked out easily.

I was ready to call the game over if Wisconsin managed to score, but Amani Hooker punched the ball out of a Wisconsin receiver’s hands on 3rd and 2. OK, maybe the game wasn’t over after all.

Nate Stanley found TJ Hockenson for one of multiple big plays between the two of them, and a shotgun touchdown pass to Noah Fant, who had been quiet up to that point, evened things up.

It was a really beautiful play. Here’s another angle:

How do you let Fant get that open!? I’ll take it.

The defense responded to the changed momentum with a really nice series of plays. Golston took down Taylor for a loss on 2nd and 5, and A.J. Epenesa rushed the edge to pressure Hornibrook, who threw the ball to no one on third down.

But they couldn’t capitalize on the momentum. Instead, Iowa’s mistakes turned into a nightmare. After a solid punt return earlier in the game, Groeneweg fumbled the punt return.

The defense came through once again, and Stanley launched another deep bomb to Hockenson. Momentum coming back!

But another bad run call on third and somewhat long failed spectacularly, forcing the Hawkeyes to kick a field goal. 10-7 with 10 minutes left in the third. Another missed opportunity.

The Badgers came out hot in response, with a nice mixture of utilizing Jonathan Taylor and passing by Alex Hornibrook. However, the defense stuffed Taylor on 1st down, and an intentional grounding call made it 3rd and 26 thanks to the Iowa pass rush.

Wisconsin to punt, Iowa with the lead, but everything went wrong again when Iowa accidentally tapped the ball with a foot on a block, which the Badgers pounced on. Hello easy points: Hornibrook beat the coverage on 3rd down and the Badgers took the lead.

Thankfully, Iowa responded on the corresponding drive. A Nate Stanley pass to Brandon Smith, followed by a completion to Fant and a late hit penalty added on an additional 15 yards. A couple Toren Young runs later, the Hawks were in the red zone, and a Noah Fant motion-play on the 1-yard line brought the Hawks the lead again. 8 plays, 75 yards. 3rd lead change of the game. Crisis averted...for the time being.

Wisconsin responded with a nice drive, but on 3rd and short, Ferguson couldn’t corral in the ball. The Badgers punted, and the Hawks successfully called and executed a fair catch. Phew.

But once again, the Hawks could do nothing on the ensuing drive, going three-and-out. I’m losing track of the missed opportunities at this point. Wisconsin did the same, thanks to a great play call by Phil Parker on 3rd down, sending Jake Gervase on the prowl and ending the Badger drive.

Ivory Kelly-Martin takes off for 7 on the first play of the next drive. Stanley connected with Nick Easley in the slot for a big gain, but a bad pass on third down stalled the drive. Punt, 5:40 left in the game, both teams still had all of their timeouts.

Wisconsin responded with a nice drive that included a 28-yard pass where Ojemudia got beaten badly. A questionable first down spot on what should have been a third down stop by Jake Gervase was followed by more Wisconsin success in the passing game while the Badgers marched down the field and the clock ticked closer to zero.

Wisconsin called a timeout with 1:02 remaining and came back with a touchdown right away on a Hornibrook dart to A.J. Taylor. 21-17 with under a minute remaining.

The game ended on a Nate Stanley interception, his only bad play of the day. He looked solid for 3 and 34 quarters, and finished the day with 222 passing yards and 2 touchdowns on 14/23 attempts, and one costly interception. Instead of kneeling the ball, Wisconsin responded with an end-around to the damn fullback that the defense didn’t even bother to cover, and the Badgers got a late twist-of-the-knife touchdown.

This loss hurts. Iowa could have won this game. The team won’t have a chance to avenge this loss for two weeks, and any chance of going to Indianapolis pretty much just went right down the drain.

All hope is not lost for the season, but the fact that this very winnable game got away from the Hawks will really sting for the next two weeks.