With Utah State down 16-14 and 11 seconds remaining, Aggies kicker Nick Diaz sent a 37-yard field-goal attempt wide right, and Wisconsin held on for its second close-call victory of the year.
Sophomore Kenzel Doe's 82-yard touchdown on an third-quarter punt return helped bring Wisconsin (2-1) back from a 14-3 halftime deficit, as the Badgers avoided their first non-conference home loss since 2003.
"It's easy to say Kenzel's return changed the momentum of the game," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "The crowd became alive, and the crowd went nuts."
Utah State coach Gary Andersen agreed with Bielema's assertion, saying that touchdown flipped the game.
"Obviously, an extremely tough loss, no question about it," Andersen said. "It was a tough, physical game. Special teams play was the difference in the game."
With Utah State (2-1) down by two and facing a third-and-10 with a little over a minute to go, quarterback Chuckie Keeton scrambled right before completing a 36-yard pass from midfield to Cameron Webb. That set up Diaz, who ultimately could not give the Aggies their second straight win over a major-conference opponent. They defeated Utah 27-20 last week.
Senior Montee Ball carried a heavy load for the Wisconsin offense, scoring the team's lone offensive touchdown and rushing for 139 yards on 37 carries. He bounced back after a disappointing 61-yard performance against Oregon State last week that led to the dismissal of offensive line coach Mike Markuson and promotion of Bart Miller to the position.
"There were a lot more opportunities for me to go one-on-one with a player," Ball said. "We didn't expect the new offensive line to turn it around all of a sudden with only one week of preparation with a new coach."
Ball was the key man on Wisconsin's game-winning drive, as he was handed the ball six times on a six-play, 42-yard drive. Ball punched it into the end zone on a 17-yard run with three minutes left in the third quarter.
Keeton led the way for the Aggies, throwing for 181 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for a team-high 75 yards. Williams topped all receivers, hauling in six passes for 78 yards and a touchdown.
Wisconsin was outgained by 74 yards in the game, mustering only 234 yards of offense, a low total that led to a quarterback switch. Joel Stave took over for Danny O'Brien and completed two of his six passes for 15 yards in the second half.
"I said in front of the whole group at halftime, 'I'm going to make a switch. I'm going to pop Joel (Stave) in to start the second half,'" Bielema said, adding he thought it was something his team needed to bring his guys around.
Utah State lost the time-of-possession battle by more than nine minutes in the first half, although the scoreboard did not reflect it. The Aggies were limited to 10:13 of offense compared to the Badgers' 19-plus minutes, yet Utah State led 14-3 at the intermission.
The Aggies opened the scoring with a three-play, 57-yard drive that was capped by a 39-yard touchdown reception by Kerwynn Williams at the 9:17 mark of the first quarter. Williams had shifted over from the backfield to a receiver slot, and Wisconsin's safeties were late to pick him up as quarterback Chuckie Keeton connected with his running back for the score.
Wisconsin was slow to respond, failing to gain a first down in its first three possessions before finally getting on the board with a 19-yard field goal that capped a 10-play, 62-yard drive. It looked as if the Badgers would cut the lead to one in the middle of the second quarter, but Kyle French had another field-goal attempt that strayed left.
With time winding down in the half, the Aggies capitalized on a fumble by O'Brien at the Wisconsin 24-yard line. A five-play drive resulted in another touchdown throw for Keeton, who floated one to receiver Matt Austin for an 11-yard score, giving the Aggies an 11-point lead at the half.
NOTES: The Badgers beat Northern Iowa 26-21 in their opener before falling 10-7 at Oregon State last week. ... Wisconsin's leading wide receiver, Jared Abbrederis, did not play after being knocked out of last week's game at Oregon State due to chest and head injuries. ... The last time Utah State beat an opponent was receiving votes in the AP Top 25 was on Aug. 30, 1997. ... The Badgers committed four penalties in the first half and six in the game after coming into the game leading the nation in penalties, having been flagged only five times.