Today's post is going to be a little different. I think there is one factor to tomorrow's game that is going to tell the whole story. It's going to be wet and windy and a defensive battle. So barring some crazy turnover margin in one team's favor, this is going to be a low scoring, grind it out game.
But it's called Four Factor Friday, so here's what I'll do. We've got my one factor and to get to four, I'll break it down four ways. Okay.
Make MSU try to sustain long drives
This to me is really the key to the game. Michigan State's offense is not good enough to consistently put together double-digit play drives and move the ball the length of the field against Iowa's defense. Their passing game has been a mess with mediocre quarterback play and lots of drops by the receivers. Their run game hasn't been much better. And Iowa's defense has been excellent.
1. Win field position
The obvious thing...the key to making MSU's drives long, is to give them a long way to drive. There has been some stat floating around about the number of punts in Iowa-MSU games lately. I think they're averaging over 12 per game. Which, considering also the slow pace that these teams have played over the past few years, that is extraordinarily high.
With the stout defense, I don't expect tomorrow to be much different. There will be punting and it will be a field position battle. Connor Kornbrath has been very good this year getting punt downed inside the 20 and limiting any returns. So I'm not really worried here. He just needs to stay consistent, especially if Iowa has to punt from deep in its own territory.
Where I am most concerned with field position is on kick coverage. Iowa has been awful and given up big returns at bad times. A long kick returned sparked ISU's late run and similarly gave Minnesota a sliver of hope for a couple of minutes. So, especially in a game where a field goal is going to be a great result for a drive, Iowa can't afford to follow that up with giving MSU a short field.
2. Don't give up big chunks of yards
But I'm still nervous about the possibility of a long passing play due to a breakdown in the secondary. Iowa had a few breakdowns again last week, but Minnesota wasn't able to take advantage of them (thanks to Philip Nelson's terrible accuracy). I don't know that Connor Cook will be much at connecting with wide open receivers, but I'd prefer to not find out.
3. Take care of the football
In the potentially sloppy conditions, ball security could be a factor. Michigan State's defense has been okay in forcing turnovers, averaging 2 per game, but have really taken advantage of them. They have 2 interceptions and 2 fumbles returned for TDs.
A defensive touchdown could be devastating, but really just turning it over and giving MSU a short field is bad enough. And where Iowa has really had problems with turnovers is in the redzone. Of Iowa's 8 turnovers, 3 have been in the redzone. Trip to the redzone will probably be at a premium tomorrow, so finishing those drives with points is critical.
4. Keep up the good work
Iowa's defense has been fantastic this year against the run and fantastic on third down. The two are coorelated...as a good run defense leads to a lot of third and longs. Opponents are averaging less than 80 yards per game and under 3 yards per carry. And converting just 25% of their third downs.
Michigan State has been okay running the ball and not so great on converting third downs (41%). So if Iowa can continue limit the yardage on first and second down, then the Spartans will not be moving the ball very far down the field.
My prediction isn't going to be different than anyone else. This game is going to be a defensive battle. The weather isn't going to help things at all either, and we may be looking at another "ugly" game like last year. i think the difference maker will be quarterback play. class="sbn-auto-link">Jake Rudock has proven he can put together drives in key situations of games, while Connor Cook has just proven he can sit on the bench when the game is on the line. Rudock's ability to extend drives on third downs will help win the field position game and put Iowa is position to score just enough to win.
Final Score: Iowa 17 - Michigan State 10