MADISON, Wis. — Jonathan Taylor can make any defense look average.
Wisconsin’s Heisman Trophy candidate did it again.
Taylor added to his lengthy resume on Saturday, running for 250 yards — 135 in the fourth quarter alone — against the sixth-ranked defense in the country, and Danny Davis scored two touchdowns to lead No. 16-ranked Wisconsin to a 24-22 victory over No. 18 Iowa on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
The Badgers (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) remained two games behind Big Ten West leader Minnesota (9-0, 6-0), which hosts Wisconsin in the regular-season finale on Nov. 30. The Golden Gophers visit Iowa (6-3, 3-3) next week.
“It’s November football. It’s championship football,” Davis said. “Everybody in the locker room knows that, so intensity is flowing and we’re ready to get after it.”
Wisconsin, which began the day ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense and fourth in scoring defense, stopped Hawkeyes quarterback Nate Stanley about a yard short of a potential game-tying two-point conversion with just more than 3 minutes left, then burned the rest of the clock to beat the Hawkeyes for the fourth straight year.
Wisconsin has won 7 of 8 in the series. Iowa, which was ranked sixth in the country in total defense and third in scoring defense, fell to 0-3 against ranked teams this season, including 0-2 on the road.
“We knew going in it was a heck of a defense we were facing,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “Guys played well. We had a good plan for them, but you have to execute it. J.T. was big.”
Big might be an understatement. Taylor nearly took care of Iowa’s yardage average himself, averaging 8.1 yards per carry.
He is the first player since at least 2000 to run for 250 yards against Iowa. Michigan State’s T.J. Duckett was the last to approach that mark, running for 248 yards in 2000.
“Taylor is an elite football player. From everything I hear about him he’s an elite person on top of it, which is really good for college football,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “One observation I made during the course of the game, whether it’s his first carry or 20th carry, he’s the same guy every run. Unfortunately, we saw that tonight, too.”
Taylor tallied his third career 250-yard game and the 29th 100-yard game of his career — trailing only Ron Dayne’s 33 among Wisconsin backs.
He has run for 5,430 yards in his career and needs just 167 more yards this season to break the record for most yards through a player’s junior season, set by Herschel Walker (5,596) from 1980-82.
“He’s a great running back,” Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa said. “He doesn’t run into gaps foolishly. He’s able to see things happen before they happen and make smart decisions, and that’s what he did all night.”
Epenesa helped Iowa take an early lead, sacking Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan and forcing a fumble that teammate Cedrick Lattimore recovered at the Wisconsin 16-yard line.
But the Hawkeyes settled for one of Keith Duncan’s three field goals and their only lead of the day.
Duncan, who entered the week tied for the national lead with 19 field goals, connected on kicks from 24, 40 and 39 yards — with the last breaking the program’s single-season record of 21 held by Rob Houghtlin (1987), Nate Kaeding (2002) and Kyle Schlicher (2004).
Duncan is now 22-for-25 for the season.
Davis scored on a 17-yard run in the second quarter, then caught a 4-yard touchdown from Coan with 14 seconds left in the half as the Badgers took a 14-6 lead into the break.
“We knew we had to take some of the pressure off J.T. this week, so we just tried to attack the ball in practice and make those plays in practice so when we got to the game it would be easy,” said Davis, who caught four passes for just 19 yards.
Coan found Quintez Cephus for a 52-yard gain late in the third quarter, then found the wideout again for a 27-yard score to put the Badgers up, 21-6, with 2:16 left in the third quarter.
Cephus caught five passes for 94 yards and the touchdown. Coan was 16 of 25 for 173 yards with an interception.
“So many guys made plays, and big plays. And kept battling against a really good Iowa football team,” Chryst said. “It wasn’t perfect, but they kept battling and found a way to win.”
Stanley threw touchdown passes to Nico Ragaini (3 yards) and Tyrone Tracy (75) in the fourth quarter. Tracy caught five passes for 130 yards.
But the Hawkeyes finished just 1 of 9 on third downs for the game and are 1-for-22 on third down in their last two trips to Madison.
Stanley completed 17 of 28 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns, but fell to 0-3 against his home state team. Iowa running back Toren Young, from nearby Monona Grove, led Iowa with 44 rushing yards on nine carries.
“It sucks, but we know that we can’t hang our heads,” said Stanley, a Menomonie, Wis., native who was stopped a yard short on a potential game-tying two-point conversion following Tracy’s touchdown. “We’ve got another tough game next week and we know we just have to come back, learn from it and get ready to go next week.”