The Takeaway: Michigan State

Sure, Iowa just squeaked by the Spartans, 15-13. But how much do we really know? What was really important about beating Michigan State? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer.

  Jerelnotworthy_medium
Did we have to jump over the sad Jerel Worthy? Doesn't that seem like rubbing it in? Oh well; at least Micah Hyde didn't sneak in a few rib kicks.


50/50. Going into the game, with the betting line oscillating somewhere between Iowa -2 and MSU -2 (recall that HFMR called it a pick'em and nobody complained), this game was essentially a 50/50 affair. Heads, the Hawks win; tails, we crawl into an oven and have a sympathetic friend turn it to 350 degrees (you'd think as high as it can go, but broiling humans doesn't really do the trick as elegantly; the skin chars too quickly and actually let's go ahead and drop this subject now).

Sure enough, for all the drama packed into the first 59 minutes and 45 seconds, it all culminated in Iowa down four points, ball on the MSU seven yard line, and one timeout. Not a gimme, certainly not impossible. 50/50.

After three unsuccessful throws, the Hawkeyes called time out and Ken O'Keefe called... a fade route. Yes, we know what happened on the play, but KOK called a fade. Let's let Marvin McNutt tell the story:

McNutt told offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe that cornerback Chris L. Rucker lined up on his outside shoulder, giving McNutt, with the steps and technique, an open release to the inside, the quick slant. McNutt told O’Keefe he could win with the fade, but that Rucker was on the outside. 

"If you have a bad release, you’ve got to go to the other side," said McNutt, who played just two plays against Wisconsin the week before because of a jammed thumb . "I came off him. I think they put another DB on me. The last couple times I ran a fade. I told coach that he was playing off me and on the outside.

"I told him I could win on the slant. He trusted me enough to call the play where I was isolated on the slant. And we won."

Just like that, it turns into a play where it's just one man against another, and whoever makes the play wins the game. 50/50. And though it's already a constant staple of coachspeak, there's rarely so vivid an example of how one player can affect one play, one game, and one season.

Happymcnutt_medium
Are we officially calling this play "Seven Gets Six"? Because if so, that's fine, but one more vote here for "McNutts in your motherfucking mouth." Although we guess that one's more of a mouthful. Doesn't roll off the tongue. Pause.

Lest we forget, both McNutt and Ken O'Keefe deserve credit for that play call. McNutt's credit needs no explanation, but KOK listening to McNutt's observation and adjusting the play call instead of pulling a "you're run the play I fucking told you to run"--which a lot of coaches would probably do with the game literally on the line--is commendable.

Further, recall that this would not be the first time an Iowa player has affected the call of a play that ended up deciding the ballgame. Back in Week 1, after these refs were out to get our boys, Jeremiha Hunter told the team that the UNI kicker was firing line drives over the middle. Iowa adjusted to overload the middle and swatted the potentially fatal kick away.

Think about that. Obviously, all teams have smart players and all coaches encourage their players to be observant and everything. But to have a coaching staff that trusts its players enough to change their last calls of the game--twice--is a special situation.

Dacehurt_medium
Ugh.

Fare thee well, Dace Richardson. Broken ankle, says the QC Times, and fuck that sucks. While Dace didn't have the spate of random injuries plaguing him like Tony Moeaki, what he did have was a knee that betrayed him with a drunk ex-wife's malevolence. With that knee healthy, Richardson was back in business this season, and had been Iowa's steadiest, best performer on the line through the first seven games. He was a mid-season All-American, and nobody flinched.

One freak play later, Richardson was on the ground, having been rolled up from behind. Just like that, his regular season's definitely over, and January's completely in doubt as well. In other words, Richardson's star-crossed career with the Hawkeyes may already be over. If so, what a damned shame.

Julian Vandervelde was fine, we suppose, but he's not Dace, and that's just one more area where Iowa's going to have less of an advantage than they would have preferred. Fortunately...

It looks like Bryan Bulaga is back. Maybe it's just because he wasn't facing guys like O'Brien Schofield or Brandon Graham. Maybe it's just because the coaches fixed something in his mechanics coming out of his stance. Maybe that thyroid still had a little bit of recovery to do. Whatever. Dude come to play last night, and thank God--it was agony to see him fall off so badly and struggle against the type of player he would normally eat for breakfast. We didn't get any "put Riley Reiff back in there already" texts this weekend, and it's not only because Reiff's holding it down at right guard.

It's doubly a shame that Richardson went out, because it looked as if Iowa had the front five it had wanted all season long, with this fourth version of the starting o-line (Bulaga, Dace, Rafael Eubanks, Reiff, and Kyle Calloway) starting its third straight week--and, it would appear, its first with Bulaga back to his usual self. Now, we prepare for the fifth iteration.

H_and_l_medium

That hook-and-ladder was awesome. Boo Michigan State and all, but yeah. That's all. Nice call, Dantonio.

And finally, this time the breaks didn't go Iowa's way, and it was still okay. For as much of a dynamic playmaking unit the defense has been all season long, this week served as proof that there is a bit of luck to creating turnovers. Three times, the Hawkeye defense basically had a ball in hand and each time, they failed to turn it into Iowa ball.

  1. Just before the half, Kirk Cousins threw an insanely ill-advised out route, one that bounced off Hunter's hands. If he catches it, it's either six points or Iowa in easy field goal range. Incomplete, and the half ended without incident.
  2. In the third quarter, Adrian Clayborn chases down Larry Caper and strips the ball inside MSU's 20 yard line; though Clayborn falls onto the ball, he doesn't gain possession of it, and MSU eventually recovers. The Spartans would keep this drive alive and kick a field goal to gain a 6-3 lead.
  3. Later in the third quarter, with MSU again inside their own 20 yard line, Cousins lofted a pass under duress; the ball floated on Cousins and hit a diving Shaun Prater in the hands before harmlessly falling incomplete. It would take seven snaps and three first downs for Iowa to get to the field position they'd have had if Prater had caught the ball.
Pratermad_medium
Yes, it would have been the toughest of these three plays, but does this reaction look like Prater had no shot at it?

 

Now, this isn't to say that Iowa deserved to win by bigger or that MSU had no opportunities to force a turnover or whatever. It's just that there were three moments at which the Hawkeye defense had its hands on the ball and couldn't give Iowa (at least) a very short field by hanging on. That Iowa still won is a testament to the mental toughness of both sides of the ball.

Not every team comes away from those missed golden opportunities with a win. And for Iowa, until that clock hit 0:00 with the ball in McNutt's hands, that was a 50/50 proposition.

 

 

[Photo credits: Top: the AP; 2, 4, 6: The Gazette, 3,5: Iowa City Press-Citizen]

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