IOWA CITY, Ia. Iowa’s ground game through the first five games was vintage Kirk Ferentz football. Smashmouth, grind-it-out, bullies-of-the-Big-Ten football.
Iowa had rushed for more than 200 yards in each of the first five games, the first time that has happened in Ferentz’s 15 seasons as head coach. Iowa was 20th nationally in rushing at 244.4 yards a game.
But Saturday, Michigan State punter Mike Sadler rushed for more yards than the Hawkeyes did. The Spartans came into the game second nationally in rush defense, allowing just 53.5 yards a game. That average will drop. Iowa could never establish the run.
“We didn’t come in thinking we could get 280 (yards) on these guys,” Ferentz said. “But we were hoping we could run effectively.”
It never happened. Iowa had 23 yards on 16 carries. Sadler had a 25-yard carry on a fake punt. It was a humbling day for the Hawkeyes’ offensive line.
Asked if he took it personally that a team had stopped what Iowa does best, left offensive tackle Brandon Scherff had a short, and telling, answer.
“‘Yeah,’” Scherff said, his head down.
Last week, Iowa physically dominated Minnesota at the line of scrimmage in a 23-7 victory. A week later, the Spartans did the same thing to Iowa.
“We have to get better,” Scherff said. “That’s unacceptable for us. They outplayed us and had a great game plan for us. We have to come in, fix those things and continue to improve.”
Center Austin Blythe called it a frustrating afternoon.
“Just the way they played gave us some difficulty,” Blythe said. “We’ll watch film to see what they were doing exactly, and dial it up the way we want to block the next time.”
Michigan State has a tradition of solid defense under coach Mark Dantonio. No team has run for more than 89 yards against them this season.
“It’s tough to run the ball against us,” Dantonio said. “Which maybe is an understatement.”
Iowa ran the ball 12 times in the first half, just 11 in the second, and could move the ball only through the air. Jake Rudock threw 46 passes for two touchdowns, two interceptions and 241 yards. The Spartans stymied them on the ground, something that Ferentz didn’t expect.
“Not to that extent,” Ferentz said.
“We knew they were a tough team to run the ball against. They’ve been that way for quite some time. To try and move the ball effectively on the ground, you’ve got to be mixed and balanced. It was tough sledding out there.”
Rick Brown, a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year, covers Hawkeye football and basketball for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football