Sparty spanks Hawkeyes
IOWA CITY Michigan State’s defense is the real deal. And the Spartans showed they can play a little offense, too.
Beating the Iowa football team in all three facets Saturday, Michigan State abruptly ended the Hawkeyes’ four-game winning streak with a dominant performance at Kinnick Stadium.
The Spartans (4-1, 1-0) out-gained Iowa 412-264, held the Hawkeyes’ top-flight rushing attack to just 23 yards and controlled the line of scrimmage for all but 6 minutes during a 26-14 victory.
“I just thought it was a great team win for our football team and we saw some outstanding things,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “We were tough to run the ball against, maybe that was an understatement, and we came up with two big turnovers at the right times.”
All 14 of Iowa’s points came during the final 6 minutes of the first half. Before that, Michigan State’s top-ranked defense held the Hawkeyes to just 21 yards and zero first downs in their first five possessions.
The second half was much of the same as Iowa (4-2, 1-1) gained just 104 yards in the final two quarters.
“We knew it was going to be a tough challenge. We weren’t nave to that by any stretch,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz on the Spartans’ dominant defensive effort. “We were hoping that we could run it effectively. The way they’re built they make it very difficult to do that, and they’re playing good team defense, period.”
Spartan quarterback Connor Cook came into the game with just 411 passing yards to his name. Before the final seconds had ticked away Saturday, the sophomore signal caller threw for a career-high 277 yards and two scores. He hooked up with Macgarrett Kings on a 46-yard touchdown strike in the first quarter to make it 10-0, and then found Bennie Fowler for a 37-yard score early in the third quarter that ended up being the game-winner.
Freshman kicker Michael Geiger booted four field goals in the victory as well and the Spartans were able to wash away the bad taste they had in their mouth after the loss to Notre Dame a few weeks prior.
“To hold a powerful Iowa offense to just 23 yards rushing is incredible,” said Cook. “We as an offense feel like if we score three touchdowns were are going to win. We didn’t score three touchdowns today, but we feel like our team can hold the opponent to under 17 points every game. We expect to win when they do that.”
The Spartans also executed a fake punt to perfection to make it a two-score game in the fourth quarter.
On fourth-and-seven from their own 37-yard line, Dantonio dialed up a fake punt and punter Mike Sadler sprinted 25 yards to keep the drive alive. They settled for a Geiger 49-yard field goal but that made it 23-14 with 13:28 to play in the game. Geiger’s 40-yarder 7 minutes later put the Hawkeyes even further out of reach.
“It’s all about timing and execution,” Dantonio said of his decision to call a fake punt. “We just felt like we had the time and that it was the right moment to do it. I just wanted our players to know that they’re aggressive on the football field and sometimes coaches need to take a risk too.”
It was the seventh time an opponent has attempted a fake punt against Iowa since 2010. All seven tries were successful and led to first downs.
“We may never try to return one again,” Ferentz said. “It was our thinking – try and get to the return, and to their credit they made a good call and that cost us a field goal.”
To add injury to insult, seven Iowa players went down with injuries. Mark Weisman, Dominic Alvis, Christian Kirksey and Kevonte Martin-Manley all suffered undisclosed injuries and did not return. Brandon Scherff, Carl Davis and James Morris also left the game with injuries but eventually returned to the field.
“The bad news is we certainly had a lot of guys that had to come out of the game, but the good news is it looks like everything is pretty minor,” Ferentz said “Hopefully the bye week probably comes at a good time. Hopefully all those guys will be back at full speed.”
Iowa sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock finished 26-of-46 for 241 yards and two touchdowns but he also threw two interceptions. He completed 11 straight passes during Iowa’s two scoring drives late in the second quarter.
The Hawkeyes registered their initial first down with just less than 6 minutes to go in the half and then Rudock slipped a pass to Damon Bullock in the flat and the junior tailback sprinted 47 yards for the score.
After holding down the Spartans offense, Iowa got the ball back and put up another touchdown in the 2-minute offense. This time, Rudock ended the drive with a 10-yard touchdown strike to C.J. Fiedorowicz with 1:10 to play until halftime.
“First of all we missed a tackle on the corner blitz,” Dantonio said. “We missed a tackle and he split us. They have good players. Bullock is a good player. They split the defense and got a big play.”
The Spartans regrouped in the second half, outscoring the Hawkeyes 16-0 in the final two quarters.
The biggest score of them all came on the MSU’s initial possession of the third quarter. The Spartans marched 75 yards in seven plays and Cook hooked up with Fowler on the go-ahead touchdown. Fowler finished with 92 receiving yards on nine catches, while Kings hauled in five passes for 94 yards.
“That was a statement drive for us,” said Cook. “We showed them that we were here to play and weren’t going to back down.”
Iowa rushed just 16 times in the game and gained only 23 yards after totaling at least 200 rushing yards in each of its first five games.
Iowa will have its first bye Saturday and next travels to Columbus, Ohio, to face Ohio State in two weeks.