The Takeaway: Michigan State

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sport

Sure, Iowa just dropped a home game against Michigan State, 26-14. But how much do we really know? What was really important about losing to the Spartans? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer.

Football seasons are not linear. They are not logical. Progress has fits and starts, to say nothing of regressions, and a bad game can follow a good game for reasons no more complicated than "it happens."

Which is to say there was no cause for Rose Bowl dreams after Iowa smacked around Minnesota last week just as there's no cause for "let's fire the whole dang team" this week after Iowa's 26-14 loss to Michigan State. Sure, it sucked to watch the life squeezed out of the Iowa offense by the best defense in the nation (and make no mistake, Michigan Stata absolutely lived up to the hype there) but there are better offenses out there that have gotten shut down worse. Sometimes, you just have to tip your cap and move on to the next week.

I know, I know, that sounds like Kirk Ferentz wrote that paragraph, and no, I'm not happy about it. But if you're Iowa, what are you going to do? It's on the coaches to keep the players motivated, especially with an extra week to dwell on the unenviable position of looking across the line of scrimmage and having no idea where the next first down is going to come from, and hopefully nobody in that locker room is thinking anything like "well Michigan State just beat us by 12, season's over."

Make them work for it. I think the defense generally had an all right day; Michigan State was held to 135 yards rushing on 37 carries, and Connor Cook and his receivers played on a level that was substantially higher than we saw from them all year (and for the receivers, all of last season too). The Iowa defense isn't on MSU's level, obviously, but at the very least it forces the opponents to execute under pressure and the Spartans did a better job of that than just about anyone expected.

That being said, the Iowa defense hasn't particularly picked up on the idea of subterfuge very well yet, and thus on one key play the task of beating the coverage for a touchdown was made all too easy for Cook and the Spartans.

On Michigan State's first touchdown of the game, Iowa FS Tanner Miller was up at the line of scrimmage, telegraphing a blitz. A move like that indicates centerfield should be wide open, to the point that it's practically an invitation to the quarterback to throw the ball in that direction.

Lo and behold, Miller came on the blitz just as expected, and the tailback picked him up with ease since he (and everyone else in the stadium) saw Miller coming. The middle of the field was indeed wide open for a score, and with inexperienced corner Sean Draper left alone on an island and not protecting inside position, the post route to Macgarrett Kings Jr. (should probably be named Macgarrett Princes) was a comically easy pitch-and-catch, and Kings turned it into six with the run after catch.

Look, a successful modern defense is complicated and you have to make opposing offenses account for everybody on the field on every play—and defensive players' roles have to be varied enough to reflect that. We get that. But if you're sending Miller, you're leaving guys like Draper without a safety net if you just go straight man behind him, and that's making it too easy for a young quarterback. That's a read you're expected to make in Madden or NCAA Football on the varsity level. And frankly, Iowa's not nearly athletic or talented enough in the back seven to be daring opposing offenses to beat it one-on-one like that.

Bye the power of Greyskull. Iowa gets a bye week this week, and while it seems like bye weeks are referred to as "much-needed" far too often, considering the relative lack of success that comes with them, for Iowa it's certainly welcome.

As Ross noted in his recap, Iowa had a veritable buttload of important players go down with injuries over the course of the game, and an extra week to get guys like Kevonte Martin-Manley and Brandon Scherff back as close to 100% as possible is crucial as Iowa heads into Columbus. That game may not be close even if Iowa's healthy everywhere, but Northwestern proved that even a lowly have-not can stick with the mighty Buckeyes for four quarters, so if Iowa's fully loaded there's always that chance. Going into OSU limping, though, is basically a death warrant.

So yes, we're happy to see Iowa's name off the schedule this week.

What are you, commentariat, going to do with your bye week?

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