Eons ago, when Adam Rittenberg was just a lowly reporter for ESPN's Big Ten Blog, he caught up with Mark Dantonio prior to Michigan State's November 12th game at Kinnick Stadium in 2011. At the time, Michigan State was 7-2 (4-1), with their only conference loss being coming at Nebraska. Iowa had just upset #13 Michigan in Iowa City and sat at 6-3 (3-2), but their second conference loss was to out of division Penn State, so both teams effectively controlled their own destiny in the Legends Division. That, and the recent history of the matchups between the two opponents led Rittenberg to ask:
Rittenberg: When did Iowa first come to mind as a program you wanted to model Michigan State after when you took over in East Lansing?
Mark Dantonio: When I was here before, toward the tail end of my time here as an assistant, Kirk Ferentz had just been hired [as Iowa's coach]. They were a football team that for the first couple years struggled a little bit, but over the course of time, when we played them when I was at Ohio State, and also when I was at Cincinnati, they made their way in this conference. They gradually continued to get better until they were at the top of the conference. And they've been there pretty traditionally since then. Always in contention.
So when I became the head football coach here, I looked at football programs that have some similarities to ours in terms of what challenges they may have, those types of things. And I thought, 'Here's Iowa, good defensive football team, built on toughness, built on stability, continuity on their coaching staff, good fan support, but not one of the programs that were set up for the ages, I guess.' So I felt like that was a program to try and emulate, and we went about our business to try and do those things.
Iowa was the type of program Michigan State wanted to be like. Maybe that's why they play a similar brand of football. Maybe that's why the games are always contentions, hard hitting, knife fights in a phone booth. It might come as a surprise to some that Kirk Ferentz actually has a winning record against Dantonio at 4-3, but four of the games were decided by a touchdown or less. Let's take a trip down memory lane.
2007 - Iowa 34, MSU 27 (2OT): The Kirk Ferentz Loses His Shit Game
The Iowa football program wasn't in the best shape when I attended from 2005-2008. '05 was a letdown, '06 was a steady descent into hell and '07 was the era of CBI. In the midst of a four-game losing streak and sitting at 2-4, Iowa some upset #19 Illinois (LOL ILLINOIS WENT TO THE ROSE BOWL THAT YEAR) and it felt like there was a glimmer of hope that the season would turn around. Then Curtis Painter and Purdue took them behind the woodshed and with 5-3 Michigan State coming to town, there wasn't a tremendous amount of excitement surrounding the matchup. I know I didn't think it was going to be the best game when I walked through the gates of Kinnick and into the student section.
I was wrong. Most of you remember this as the "Albert Young Game" and it deserves to be called the Albert Young Game because Albert Young was insane. He carried the ball 34 times for 179 yards and two touchdowns. And those were not easy yards. Young was absolutely punishing tacklers and refusing to go down at first contact. Iowa's use of Young was out of necessity as Jake Christensen was...ineffective. By ineffective I mean he finished the day with five completions and 53 yards. That's seemingly unpossible.
But it wasn't Young's performance that sticks out the most to me this game. It was Kirk Ferentz absolutely, positively, losing his shit right before halftime. If I recall the play correctly, Iowa got the ball back with just under two minutes before half, down 17-3. The Hawkeyes went conservative their first couple plays but then Christensen aired out a long pass to Colin Sandeman directly in front of Iowa's bench. Sandeman was either pushed out of bounds or blanketed and the crowd screamed for a flag. There was none.
Iowa ended up punting, Michigan State kneeled and took at 17-3 lead at the half. But Ferentz wasn't going to let that no-call go. He went out onto the field, pulled a Lou Piniella and got the entire stadium in a tizzy. We were ready to riot by the time Ferentz had given that referee a piece of his mind. (This video has a few highlights, including Ferentz going bonkers).
Iowa scored two touchdowns in the third quarter, tying the game at 17 and eventually took a lead in the fourth. A 29-yard field goal by Brett Swenson as time expired sent the game to overtime. Fast forward to the second overtime. Iowa is up 34-27 after a Jevon Pugh touchdown run and Michigan State is facing a 3rd and 6 on Iowa's nine-yard line, driving into the south end zone. I'm right there. The students are going crazy. Mitch King is waving for the crowd to get even more involved. We do. I can't feel my face.
Hoyer snaps the ball, the pocket collapses and a relatively unknown redshirt freshman by the name of Adrian Clayborn brings him down. We lose it.
Now Michigan State is down to one play and needs 13 yards to get a first down or 16 to potentially tie the game. Same story. King waves, we get loud, Hoyer takes the snap and throws a short pass to Devin Thomas, who is soundly tackled by Drew Gardner. Ball game. It was first of a three-game winning streak that would set the Hawkeyes up to go 7-5 if they could just beat Western Michigan. Welp.
2008 - Iowa 13, MSU 16: WRONG WAY WADE
Here's how it happened. Iowa was down 13-16 with the ball at Michigan State's 21-yard line and could either kick the field goal to tie it up or go for it on fourth and inches to try for the win. Shonn Greene had already rushed for around 160 yards on the day and was averaging approximately five yards per carry so Riverboat Kirk Ferentz gambled and went for it on fourth and short. If I remember correctly, it was an off tackle to the left side of the line. The problem was that the fullback, Wade Leppert, went to the right side of the line and linebacker Adam Decker met Greene in the backfield untouched. Iowa turned the ball over, Michigan State got a first down (barely) and ran out the remainder of the clock.
2009 - Iowa 15, MSU 13: Seven Gets Six
If there's any animosity between Michigan State and Iowa fans you can probably point to this as the seminal moment:
At the time, I was irate for a few reasons. First off, that was a helmet to helmet hit on Sandeman and seeing his fencing response as he hit the ground horrified me. Second off, I was pretty sure that the Michigan State fans were booing Sandeman's lengthy time down on the field (not shown on the video) and I thought that was classless. In retrospect, I think it had more to do with the late flag for helmet to helmet. I think. These days I'm a little more calm about the whole thing, but I still think it was a chickenshit hit and a flag was appropriate. That's all I got to say about that.
As crazy as the game ended, it's easy to forget that it was an absolute snoozefest until the Sandeman hit. With only a couple minutes left on the clock, Michigan State was facing a 3rd and 18, down 6-9, when Mark Dantonio calls a freaking hook and ladder. Kirk Cousins then hit Blair White with an absolute dart for a touchdown and Sparty took a 13-9 lead. Iowa only had 1:26 to move the ball 70 yards to score a touchdown. It was more than enough time.
Stanzi hit McNutt, Stross and DJK to get the ball to the MSU 15 yard line before Chris L. Rucker (remember this guy's name) intercepted Rick to seal the game for Michigan State. Or not. Because he held DJK...actually...he threw him out of bounds and was called for holding. Iowa was then set up on Michigan State's seven-yard line with four downs. First down: incomplete pass. Second down: incomplete pass. Third down: incomplete pass: Fourth down:
If I recall, Dace Richardson broke his ankle, Greenwood got hurt (?), Sandeman was obviously concussed and it was one of the most physical games I'd ever seen Iowa play. We're actually fortunate someone didn't stabbed.
2010 - Iowa 37, MSU 6: The Chris L. Rucker Game
A bit of background is needed for this one. At the time, Chris L. Rucker was a pretty darn good senior cornerback for Michigan State. He'd had a few run ins with the law throughout the course of his career, including a fight at the academic fraternity that included some other Spartan football players (Including, I believe, Jeremy Ware, who knocked out Sandeman). In early October he was arrested for OWI/DUI and also hit with a probation violation because...y'know...he's on probation for that fight. He ultimately pleads guilty to reckless driving, which is a gift under normal circumstances and serves eight days in jail. He's released a couple days before the No. 5 Spartans take on the No. 18 Hawkeyes and everyone assumed that Rucker would probably continue to be suspended. Wrong.
Despite Mark Dantonio instituting a "zero tolerance policy" a while back, Rucker literally walked out of jail and right back into Dantonio's good graces, as he was reinstated to the team. I don't believe he ever confirmed that Rucker was going to play and was rather elusive about whether or not he'd see any time on Saturday.
Fast forward to the absolute pantsing at the hands of Iowa. I mean, there was the Sash to Hyde interception return for a touchdown. Stanzi couldn't miss. Robinson was running well. So who do you think, as the game is getting out of hand, puts their helmet on trots out onto the field? Chris. L. Fucking. Rucker. I remember bringing this up somewhere, I assume on The Rivalry Esq. and having a Michigan State fan say to me "He served his time." No, literally. He did. He did serve his time. He wasn't suspended for the Northwestern game. He was in fucking jail. There's a difference.
2011 - Iowa 21, MSU 37: Jerel Fall Down Go Boom
Why would I write a recap on the Fainting Sparties when Ross wrote such a good one back in 2011? Basically, Iowa was down 34-14 and driving the ball late in the third quarter when...injuries started mounting up for Michigan. "Injuries." Also known as Jerel Worthy falling down a bunch of times and getting back up and then saying some dumb shit after the game that was basically like "yeah I wanted to slow down their offense so I went down."
And yeah, it was a big hole for Iowa and yeah they would've lost anyway but as Ross said:
They didn't win because they (allegedly) faked injuries. And I'm no doctor: I don't know if they truly were injured or not. But if they weren't and they were faking those injuries (or if not faking them, then milking them excessively)... fuck them and fuck Mark Dantonio. He was already a duplicitous, hypocritical shitbird of a coach; this would just be more fuel for that opinion.
2012 - Iowa 19, MSU 16: Low Stakes
Also known as "the last game that Iowa actually won in 2012", the 2012 matchup was soggy, sloppy and generally awful. The teams tied 13-13 to end regulation and it went to double overtime. Up 19-16, Michigan State needed a field goal to tie or a touchdown to win and Andrew Maxwell's pass was tipped and ultimately intercepted by Greg Castillo. Let us speak no more of 2012.
2013 - Nothing Happened
...no really nothing happened.
What's so interesting about the upcoming Big Ten Championship is that it's one of the few seasons that both teams are actually exceptional. Both were below average in 2007 and above average in 2008. Michigan State wasn't very good in 2009 but was exceptional in 2011 and 2013. Iowa was not. 2012 was just a gross game. The abnormality seems to be 2010. Arguably, that is the only time those teams were actually good. Yes, Iowa finished 7-5. No, Iowa was not a 7-5 football team and painfully underachieved. The Insight Bowl was demonstrative of that.
The short history of Iowa v. Michigan State in the Dantonio v. Ferentz era has been controversial, violent and fun as hell. There's been illegal hits, feigned injuries and guys on ankle monitors playing cornerback. Here's to the Big Ten Championship Game being another excellent entry in the series. Stay safe, everyone.