Iowa 37, Michigan State 6: Now That's More Like It

Much like Iowa did all day, McNutt made it look shockingly easy on this TD catch and run. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)

Well, that's what we all expected to happen, right?  An easy, dominant win over... which patsy was on the schedule today?  What, Michigan State?  The fifth-ranked team in the nation?  The team Iowa almost never blows out?  Yeah, that one.  As commenter BornaHawk noted in the open thread, a year ago "7 got 6;" this year  Sparty got only six points.  Holy hell. Not only did the win mark Iowa's third straight year with a win over a top-five team (#3 Penn State in 2008, #5 Penn State in 2009, #5 Michigan State this year), it was also their third straight win over teams ranked in the top-five. That's a pretty incredible change of fortune in those games for Ferentz-led Iowa teams, considering they hadn't won any until that PSU win two years ago.  Depending on how what happens between now and Nov. 20, they may get another crack at a top five team when Ohio State comes to Kinnick, too.

* That's the defense we expected to see.  After giving up 52 points in the last five quarters and getting pushed around by the behemoth Wisconsin offensive line last week, the Iowa defense responded with a vengeance yesterday.  They didn't record any sacks until reserve defensive lineman Steve Bigach (!) got a sack late in the fourth quarter, but they did a solid job of pressuring and flustering Kirk Cousins -- which directly led to the poor throws that resulted in three Iowa interceptions and 13 Iowa points.  The defense also completely stifled the Spartan ground game (31 yards on 20 carries).  Part of that was the circumstances of the game -- once Sparty went down 17-0 after the first quarter and 30-0 at halftime, any pretense of a balanced offense went out the window.  But the running game was running into a brick wall dressed in black and gold before the score effectively tore out the rushing portion of the Spartan playbook.  A special tip of the hat to the linebackers, who were much improved from a week ago.  James Morris got the start at MLB and showed exactly why he's going to be so much fun to watch for the next three years -- in particular, his assist on the tackle of Edwin Baker on Sparty's opening possession helped set the tone for Iowa's defense.  And it was very good to see Jeff Tarpinian out there again, breaking up plays and making key tackles -- his experience has been sorely missed.

* Tyler "Motherfucking" Sash strikes again!  Play of the year so far for Iowa?  Yeah, I'd say so.  Maybe it's something about this weekend; a year ago, Sash had the incredible pinball pick-six against Indiana and this year he added the soon-to-be-famous lateral pick-six to his resume.  Not too shabby.  Meanwhile, there was some consternation about the lack of interceptions by the Iowa defense earlier in the season, but they now have seven picks in their last three games -- seems like they're on the right track there.

* 37 points on what the statistics would suggest was a fairly ho-hum offensive performance.  Stanzi only threw for 190 yards and the ground game only chewed up 162 yards -- but a defensive touchdown and good field position (two of Iowa's scoring drives started around the Iowa 40) will do that for you.  The offense largely shut things down after Iowa went up 37-0 (aside from the WTF pass attempt by McNutt), but they were vital in establishing the tone of the game early on.  Iowa marched 80 yards on 12 plays in the game's opening series to open up a 7-0 lead, then marched 64 yards on 10 plays in the next series to get a field goal and go up 10-0.  Those early blows shook Michigan State; the interceptions by Sash and Prater (and the ensuing 13 points) put them down for the count.  But almost lost in the shuffle was the fact that Ricky Stanzi had yet another very fine day (11/15, 190 yards, 3/0 TD/INT), A-Rob was again superb (20 carries, 69 yards, 1 TD; 1 catch, 32 yards, 1 TD), and Brad Herman was a surprise star (3 catches, 80 yards).  And before we move on from A-Rob, a note: he used and abused all-everything LB Greg Jones yesterday on more than a few plays.  Three plays in particular stand out; first, on the opening drive, A-Rob went to his patented spin move to escape Jones in the hole and gain more yards; second, on the next drive, he delivered a crushing block on Jones that freed up Stanzi to make a big run; third, he left Jones flailing at this feet on that 32-yard touchdown catch.

* About the special teams... OK, the missed extra point (again!) was disconcerting, but other than that?  Pretty solid. Meyer again nailed a field goal, the kickoff and punt coverage was vastly improved (no kick returns went for longer than 20 yards), and Donahue drilled three punts inside the MSU 20.  That's definite progress -- now we just need to see them do that consistently.

* And quibbles.  Look, it wasn't all perfect -- the missed extra point, certain starters still playing in the fourth quarter (why A-Rob even saw the field after Iowa went up 37-0 is a total mystery; we wanted nothing but a steady dose of the Coked-Up Werewolf at that point), a couple shaky passes by Stanzi, A-Rob fumbling for the first time all year (though Iowa did recover) -- but c'mon.  It was a 31-point win over a top-five opponent and a better response than we could have ever hoped for after last week's heartbreaking loss.  Dwelling on those few negatives seems horribly misguided (and pointless) right now.  

* There are pretty obviously three tiers in the Big Ten.  There's the upper crust, with Iowa, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State.  There's the middle class, with Illinois, Penn State, Northwestern, and probably Michigan and Purdue. And there's the dregs, Indiana and Minnesota, who may only be able to get wins against one another (unfortunately, they don't play each other this year).  The top four teams are 4-4 against one another -- and 10-0 against everyone else.  There's only one game left between those teams (OSU @ Iowa on 11/20), so if that holds to form, we're headed to a three-way tie atop the Big Ten standings (either Wisco-Sparty-Ohio State or Wisco-Sparty-Iowa) -- and that scenario isn't good for Iowa.  So the question is: can any of the teams from the lower two tiers rise up and knock off one of the top tier teams?  For Iowa's sake, let's hope so; in addition to rooting for Iowa to keep winning, we need to hope that teams like Northwestern, Michigan, and Penn State can do us a solid and knock off the other top tier teams (especially Wisconsin).

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