The pinnacle of musical accomplishment? In a word: YES.
Big game today, to put it mildly. Should Iowa pull off another win, they've essentially--depending on what happens to the Boys From Columbus between now--removed the second-most difficult roadblock to running the table. Tut and moan all you want about looking ahead, but the remaining opponents are a road test against OSU and three home games against teams with a combined 5-9 record against BCS conference competition. Not that it's ever safe to coast or anything, but those are becoming games where a loss is plainly inexcusable. No pressure
That all said, there is a game on Saturday, and it's hardly a lock that Iowa wins--Michigan State's favored by a point or two, depending on who you ask. But for just about the first time all season, we're feeling good about Iowa's chances. So good we're a little worried.
With Iowa on offense
Greg Jones. Greg Jones. Greg Jones Greg Jones Greg Jones. The driving force of this MSU defense, Jones is put into position to make plays time and time again, and he usually delivers; the linebacker boasts nearly 10 tackles a game, 7.5 TFL, and five sacks. If he gets into the backfield against Iowa's wishes very often, Iowa's offense will probably stall out often.
The reason, though, that we stress Iowa's intent on this one is that last week's halftime adjustments against O'Brien Schofield were a clinic in Coaching Adjustment Judo. So Schofield likes to crash the line? Okay, let's let him run himself out of a play then. Part of Stanzi's second-half success (11-13 passing) was that Schofield was too busy not running at Stanzi, instead doing what he--and the Iowa coaching staff--wanted to do. We'll see if Greg Jones falls into the same schematic traps or if his sheer force of talent will overcome. Probably a mix of the two.
The good news is, as Herr Doctor mentioned, MSU's pass defense against actual quarterbacks (sorry, Juice and Montana State Guy) is a little dodgy, to say the least. Okay fine--they're miserable, and this is about the best shape that Iowa's receiving corps has been in all season. Chaney's gone for the year, but Iowa has four capable wideouts and two tight ends playing out of their minds right now. If Stanzi doesn't end up with at least 240 and 2 TDs, something may have gone quite wrong. That or we pulled an OSU-Wisconsin and just scored on a bunch of returns instead, but that's totally implausible.With Michigan State on offense
Kirk Cousins, he of the Iowa fandom, seems to be entrenched under center (though, whoopee! Keith Nichol plans to play through his injury, and that's when the MSU offensive momentum dies!), and he's a fine quarterback in his own right with a bevy of fine receivers. Blair White, who you'd never guess is white even though it's right there in his name, is the main target and someone jNW was hapless in trying to stop. Then again, they're just Northwestern. If MSU wants to have any success getting White the ball, they're going to have to do one of two things against Amari Spievey:
- Throw to White over the top;
- Get White lined up on the other side of the field.
That's about it, really; only the most masochistic of offensive coordinators would try to throw a hitch or curl at Spievey, and an in route over the middle is begging for a linebacker's helmet buried in White's sternum. This is all not to say that White will be completely shut down, mind you; he's a good receiver and he'll get his targets and catches. He won't really be effective, though, unless the MSU coaching staff get creative--and confusion over week-to-week creativity is what usually spawns game-day disasters.
As for the Michigan State rushing attack, it figures to suffer as badly as (maybe worse than) Iowa's will. With a torn ACL performing aggravated assault on Glenn Winston's season, the Spartans' top two tailbacks are true freshmen. Lead man is Larry Caper, who has yet to break 100 yards (hell, he's topped 63 once, a 95-yard effort against those poor, poor Illini) and who has not carried the ball more than 16 times in a game. If he tops 15 carries and 50 yards, A, we'll be surprised, and B, barring a big run, it won't be by much.
Also in the mix is Edwin Baker, who's taken snaps in precisely two games and has a decent amount of talent. Neither seem like the types who can gash Iowa and move the chains.
MSU might have the best kicker in the conference in Brett Swenson, but Daniel Murray isn't far behind. Punters Aaron Bates and Ryan Donahue are a wash on statistics, though Donahue has more ability to flip field position on a punt, so a slight edge there but nothing major unless Donahue uncorks a 65-yarder or three. Returners... ehh. Unlikely that they decide a game. All square here, really.
So this game's probably going to come down to sustaining drives, limiting turnovers, and good coaching adjustments. Both teams should struggle with the first--though we like Stanzi against the MSU pass defense more than Cousins against the Iowa pass defense; MSU's likely to have problems with the second (Iowa's average turnover margin is about 2 per game higher than the Spartans'); last, a slight edge to Ferentz and the Hawkeyes on the third facet, not out of any disrespect to Dantonio, but just because this has been the staple of the Iowa season thus far. We're calling this one 23-10, maybe 14 or 17 points for the Spartans depending on how they perform in the red zone. This really should be an Iowa win, Vegas be damned, and we don't see a good matchup for MSU outside of rush defense. Should be close, should be fun. Hope the Spartans are ready for sixty minutes of hell, six seconds at a time.