By Don Lund
There is a reason that Michigan State is rated one of the best defenses in the country... they are really good!
The Spartans held the Hawkeyes to 23 yards on the ground, 13 first downs and Iowa had the ball for only 22:47 minutes. Also, the Hawks didn’t get a first down until about five minutes left in the first half.
Here we go again.
Last year at this time the Hawks were 4-2, 2-0 in the Big Ten and beat Michigan State, 19-16 in overtime.
This year Iowa is 4-2, 1-1 in the Big Ten and lost to the Spartans, 26-14.
Last year Mark Weisman got hurt at the end of the Michigan State game. He finished with 116 yards and one touchdown.
This year, Mark got hurt in the first half and was held to 9 yards on seven carries.
The Hawkeyes also lost Kevonte Martin-Manley with an injury and he had no catches.
Iowa had stayed pretty much injury-free until the game Saturday.
Brandon Scherff, Dominic Alvis, Carl Davis and Christian Kirksey also missed time because of injuries.
I don’t know if Mark and Kevonte could have made a difference, but when you lose your best runner and receiver it doesn’t help.
This week, I’m going to start with the defense.
Iowa held the Spartans to 135 yards on the ground, with 25 coming on a fake punt and the Hawks still haven’t given up a rushing touchdown.
Michigan State was 6-19 on third down conversions which is a good performance by the Hawkeye D.
James Morris and Anthony Hitchens led the way with 12 tackles and James made a great interception to stop a Spartan drive.
“They had a bye week,” said head coach Kirk Ferentz. “I thought their whole football team has gained ground. They played hard over at Notre Dame (they lost) but they looked improved today.”
The Hawkeye defensive backfield is still having trouble giving up big touchdown passes.
Last Saturday, they gave up two that covered 46 and 37 yards.
Sophomore quarterback Conner Cook, who has been inconsistent in his first four games, finished 25-44 for 277 yards and two touchdown passes.
“Their receivers made some big plays,” said coach Ferentz. “They did a good job throwing the football, they did a good job catching it and making some runs afterwards.”
I was a little surprised that Michigan State could shut down Iowa run game as much as they did.
It didn’t help that Mark Weisman was hurt and Brandon Scherff missed some action, but the Spartans had an answer for every running play.
They loaded the box and kept the Hawks off-balance all afternoon.
Jake Rudock threw two interceptions, but at the end of the first half took Iowa on two drives and completed 10 straight passes.
On the first drive, which covered 75 yards, Jake threw a pass in the left flat to Damon Bullock on a Spartan blitz. Damon took it 47 yards for Iowa’s first score.
On the next series, which covered 65 yards, Jake drove the Hawks to the Spartan 10. Jake found C.J. Fiedorowicz in the end zone and Iowa led 14-10 at half.
Jake finished 26-46 for 241 yards and two touchdown passes and two interceptions.
For the season, Jake is completing 60 percent of his passes and has thrown eight touchdowns. Iowa had only seven touchdown passes all last year.
I thought Iowa was in good shape at half, but the Hawk offense was held to 6 yards rushing, six first downs and 98 yards passing in the second half.
Tevaun Smith stepped up when Kevonte went out and led Iowa with six catches for 59 yards.
Damon Bullock had five and true freshman Matt VandeBerg had four catches for 36 yards.
Ten Hawkeyes caught passes Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, which is a season high.
“They’ve been playing good defense for a long time,” said coach Ferentz. “They pretty much do what they do and they did it really well. Obviously, we couldn’t get anything going those first couple of possessions. We did establish some rhythm right before half. We had a couple of nice drives that finished with touchdowns. We didn’t do much in the second half until the end of the game.”
Connor Kornbrath had one of his best days as a Hawkeye. The 6-6, 225-pound sophomore punted eight times, averaging 44.2 yards per punt.
I thought punting, turnovers and field position would be the keys to the game.
Iowa broke even on the punt game but lost on turnovers (Iowa had two, Michigan State one) and field position.
Mike Meyer continued his streak on extra points with 102 straight. That’s the fourth longest active streak in the nation.
Mike did miss his only field goal attempt which was a 50-yard shot that was wide right.
Kirk Ferentz must wake up with a nightmare every night about the other team getting a first down on a fake punt.
It happened at the start of the fourth quarter with the Spartans facing a fourth and 7 on their own 37.
Iowa had a punt return called, rushed only two on the right side and the Michigan State punter ran to Iowa’s left side, picking up 25 yards and a first down.
“It was just one of those things that cost us three points and took some time off the clock,” said coach Ferentz. “Our special teams overall just didn’t seem to be in sync in any areas out there. That doesn’t help. We need to be playing well in all three phases.”
The Hawkeyes have a bye this weekend, which couldn’t come at a better time to heal up the nicks and bruises.
Iowa travels to Ohio State on Oct. 19 and the Buckeyes are still undefeated under Urban Meyer. They also have a bye this weekend.
The Hawks have a tough three-game stretch with home games against Northwestern and Wisconsin following the Ohio State game.
Iowa will probably be underdogs in all three games.
Can they step up?
I’m pretty sure they faced the best defense they will play all season in Michigan State.