So as it turns out, my one big factor wasn't quite as big of a deal as I thought it would. Maybe I vastly underrated Michigan State's defense or overrated Iowa's offense. But, with the exception of 2 quick drives in the second quarter (which was the loudest and most fun Kinnick has been in a while...so kudos fans), the offense couldn't move the ball at all. I think the Mark Weisman injury had something to do with it and MSU's D did too, but Greg Davis abandoned the run early and tried to rely on Jake Rudock. In the second quarter, before MSU adjusted to the pass heavy threat, it worked. But in the second half, the Spartans were ready to defend the quick passing game and Iowa had no answer.
Anyway, let's review the whole "make MSU try to sustain long drives" that I thought would matter more.
Win field position
Neither team was able to consistently sustain long drives, but Michigan State did a much better job of putting together at least a couple of first downs every time they got the ball and were able to flip field position. Iowa's average starting spot with its own 25, while Michigan State's was over ten yards better at its own 36. Those extra few yards allowed MSU a short field to get in field goal range again and again and again.
The other field position factors turned out to be pretty even...though Iowa gave up a long punt return that led to another field goal and had two interceptions (that luckily MSU didn't capitalize on, though Iowa didn't capitalize on its interception either).
Don't give up big chunks of yards
Iowa kept the Spartan rushing game under wraps, but did give up a big chunk of yards on the group via the fake punt. The pass defense though... I knew the secondary would be exploited badly at some point this season, but I didn't expect it to come via the arm of Connor Cook. Granted he had all day to throw, but he was able to punish Iowa's secondary whenever they made mistakes. The Hawkeyes gave up 3 passes of 20+ yards and two of them went for touchdowns (MSU's only TDs on the day).
Take care of the football
Jake Rudock threw the same interception twice. His receivers were different, but the same thing happened each time. He was trying to hit fade routes on the outside one-on-one with Darqueze Dennard...both were underthrown and Dennard made a better play on the ball than the receivers. They can at bad times and Iowa was lucky that the Spartans failed to score off of either turnover (a missed FG and a punt).
Keep up the good work
The stats weren't bad. Michigan State averaged 3.7 yards per carry and converted on 6 of 19 third downs. That would probably be okay numbers if Iowa's offense was having a decent day. The defense did a good job of shutting down drives when they got a chance, but too often gave up long plays on first and second down, and didn't get a stop until MSU was already in FG range.
Iowa's identity as a physical team that can win with stout defense and a pounding rushing attack took a major hit on Saturday. Michigan State was more physical and completely shut down any resemblance of a rushing attack.
What worries me, is that it felt like when things were starting to go bad in the second half, Iowa went back to defaults from last year. The defense stopped being aggressive and mostly sat back in coverage and the offense went back to the Greg Davis horizontal offense. All that progress from the first 5 weeks...gone. Kinnick was amazing in the second quarter, but the second half felt a whole lot like last year. By the end of the game most of the fans had already wandered out and it was pretty quiet in there.