IOWA CITY, Ia. – It was supposed to be a battle of brawn.
As it turned out, Michigan State showed more ingenuity than Iowa.
“I thought both teams were detailed and just played tough and played sound,” Hawkeye linebacker James Morris said, “but in those sticky situations, I thought they were a little better.”
The Spartans improved to 4-1 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten Conference, establishing themselves as a bona fide contender for the Legends Division title.
Not only does Michigan State have a favorable slate of crossover games from the Leaders Division the next three weeks – Indiana, Purdue and Illinois – it also hosts rival Michigan on Nov. 2.
A 5-0 start in the conference is doable.
“We’ve been thinking about our last game,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said of a
Sept. 21 loss to Notre Dame, “how to strengthen ourselves, reevaluating ourselves as a football team.”
For Iowa (4-2, 1-1) the soul searching resumes.
The Hawkeyes were impressive a week earlier in their Big Ten opener, walloping Minnesota 23-7 and rushing for 246 yards.
Michigan State turned the tables, holding Iowa to just 23 yards on the ground and delivering a blow to the Hawkeyes’ hopes of earning a bowl invitation.
They have an off week before an Oct. 19 visit to Ohio State.
“Nobody is going to lay down, just because of one loss,” defensive tackle Carl Davis said. “We’re going to recover, but we’re going to watch a lot of film.”
The Hawkeyes can rewind to the opening moments of Saturday’s second half, when Michigan State seized control with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
Most of the 69,025 spectators at Kinnick Stadium will dwell on a fake punt on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Spartans kicker Mike Sadler took the snap on fourth-and-7, ran around the right side for 25 yards and put Iowa in a psychological headlock.
“It’s all about timing and execution,” Dantonio said. “We just sort of felt like if the moment was right, we’d do it.
“The players are going to be at risk on a football field. Sometimes, the coach has to take a risk, too.”
Dantonio’s gamble led to Michael Geiger’s 49-yard field, putting Michigan State ahead 23-14 with 13:28 remaining.
From that point on, the outcome was never really in doubt.
“We may never try to return (a punt) again,” Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said in frustration.
The Spartans seemed to outmaneuver Iowa at every turn.
In the early stages, the Hawkeyes were effective with a series of blitzes that hurried Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook.
But after Cook threw a 46-yard touchdown to Macgarrett Kings in the second quarter – the Spartans’ first offensive play longer than 40 yards this season – the pressure subsided.
“That was kind of the first spark we had,” said Cook, who finished 25 of 44 passing for 277 yards. “They kind of stopped blitzing, stopped bringing more than one guy.”
When Iowa began picking apart Michigan State’s defense with mid-range passes, the Spartan started smoothing Hawkeye receivers.
“We did a great job adjusting at halftime,” Dantonio said. “We’ve been together for so long that when something is broke we can adjust and we can fix it.”
The Hawkeyes will spend the next two weeks tweaking and regrouping.
Give offensive coordinator Greg Davis credit for mixing things up in the second quarter. And give Jake Rudock credit for being able to follow through. The sophomore quarterback completed his last 10 passes of the first half. It was almost enough to make you forget Iowa didn’t earn a first down until 5:49 was left in the second quarter.
The Spartans were supposed to have a quarterbacking controversy, but sophomore Connor Cook looked comfortable in the starting role Saturday. He directed the opening drive of the second half, culminating with a 37-yard touchdown that put the Spartans ahead for good, 17-14. Cook had a career-high 221 yards just a little more than 3 minutes into the second half.
There was no excuse for allowing a fake punt on the opening play of the fourth quarter. The Spartan coaches had several minutes to talk it over and work out the details. How could Iowa’s coaches not see it coming, especially when you consider what’s happen in recent years.
NO SELLOUT: Saturday’s announced crowd of 69,025 was the largest of the season, but not a sellout. Kinnick Stadium holds 70,585.
Despite the loss, Iowa has still not allowed a rushing touchdown this season. Michigan was the only other team in the nation to make that claim entering play Saturday.
DECLINING AVERAGE: Iowa’s Damond Powell entered the game with four catches, and had two more for 19 yards Saturday. But his per-catch average dropped from 51.5 yards a catch to 39.5. Powell has six catches for 225 yards this season. Last season at Snow Community College in Utah, Powell led the nation with 30 yards per reception.
THIRD-DOWN ISSUES: Iowa entered Saturday’s game 13th nationally with a third-down conversion rate of 52.5 percent. Michigan State was third nationally in third-down conversion rate defense at 21 percent. The Hawkeyes went three-and-out on four of their first five possessions and finished the game converting on third down just four of 15 times.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football