Cooper DeJean’s heroics turned the tide multiple times in the Iowa Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-1) 26-16 victory over the Michigan State Spartans (2-3, 0-2). His interception in the end zone kept Sparty from extending an early lead while his 70-yard punt return touchdown gave the Hawks the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.
The longer lasting storyline, though, was Cade McNamara going down in the first quarter on a scramble which was eerily similar to what happened in Iowa’s only open practice. Deacon Hill performed admirably in relief with a statline which undercuts that sentiment at 11/27 passing for 111 yards, a TD and interception.
Iowa came out as they have in many opening possessions, with McNamara getting the wide receivers involved early for two passes for 38 total yards. They couldn’t get it into the red zone, as drop by Erick All forced Iowa to kick a field goal to go up 3-0.
After the teams traded punts, MSU rode Maliq Carr (he received Noah Kim’s first 6 passes) into the red zone before a personal foul penalty put them behind the sticks. They added a field goal of their own to tie it up but the Hawks didn’t look like past Iowa defenses. Carr was a force and MSU rushed for 7.2 yards a pop in the opening stanza.
MSU continued to take it to the Hawkeye defense after a 3 & out in Hill’s first drive as QB. Their 14-play, 61-yard drive once again stalled short of the end zone and they took a 6-3 lead but the Iowa defense felt incredibly shaky. It’s one thing for Penn State to have that type of success in their home environs and then it’s another for Sparty & company to do it under the lights at Kinnick.
A third straight three and out (Iowa had essentially 7 on the game) gave Michigan State the ball back. They quickly moved the ball down the field but got greedy on a throw into the end zone:
Iowa DB Cooper DeJean calmly covers the double move and gets the INT pic.twitter.com/9UTJblrDj5— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) October 1, 2023
Enter Erick All.
Hill found his tight end on a short crosser All took for an unencumbered 32 yards which turned into 47 due to a roughing the passer penalty (the Spartans finished with 10 for 94 yards including 4 personal fouls). After a Kamari Moulton rush, All snagged another one for 17 yards along the sideline. Another Moulton run and another pass to All. This one, a little screen pass that he very much made the most of:
ERICK ALL LIKE HE'S SHEDDING LITTLE BROTHERS TO THE END ZONE pic.twitter.com/ycyKTbC1tv— Heavens! (@HeavensFX) October 1, 2023
After forcing a Spartan punt, Iowa tried to make the most of a Hill-led two-minute drive but shot themselves in the foot with drops and promptly gave the ball back. Noah Kim found Montorie Foster, Jr for a couple 16-yard passes and eventually moved the ball to Iowa’s 40 yard-line. Johnathan Kim (no relation to Noah) calmly knocked through a Kinnick Stadium-record 58-yarder to close the gap to 10-9 going into half.
On Michigan State’s first second possession, Sebastian Castro picked off Kim before a truly wretched turn of events. Leshon Williams fumbled it into the arms of Cal Haladay who took it straight back for a scoop-and-score. 16-10 MSU.
Iowa showed some spunk on the following drive but Hill got hit as he was throwing, late, into double (triple?) coverage. Spartan ball at their 21. A wild turn of events got MSU to 4th & 1 where they decided to go for it. Bush push, it was not, and Iowa got the ball back.
Unsurprisingly, Iowa went BACKWARDS and forced Drew Stephens to kick a 53-yarder which he did with relative ease. Iowa quickly got the ball back but shortly after, Kinnick got surly. Fans didn’t like the run on 3rd & 7!
MSU was able to move the ball, once again, before stalling out and bringing their kicking unit on the field. DOINK
Naturally, with 38 seconds left in the third quarter, Iowa ran a telegraphed rush play to get to the fourth quarter. NOT. 3 straight passes. 3 straight incompletions. Not really Brian’s fault on that one (major case of the dropsies in this one) but he was the target of fans’ chants.
Both offenses meandered before MSU’s Ryan Eckley (who was incredible up until this point) shanked a punt to give Iowa the ball at MSU’s 38. Iowa got a first down and then got close to another one, with 4th and 1 and a QB with BEEF. I thought they should go for it. But Kirk took the points and Stevens once again knocked it in and tied it up 16-16.
Then Kinnick did what it does. On third down, the noise and defensive line shifts forced two straight penalties. After defending the pass on third, Cooper DeJean lined up to return the punt:
Nick Jackson forced a fumble on MSU’s second play the next drive, recovered by Ethan Hurkett. 5 straight counters later and Stephens added another field goal.
Jermari Harris put dirt on the coffin with an interception.
Winning by any name feels good, especially when it’s on the back of a truly exhilarating play by a phenomenal player, but this happened against a Michigan State team who has plenty of turmoil for them to overcome. Iowa largely looked unmotivated in the playcalling (rollouts are back, though, with Hill) despite making an effort to get wide receivers the ball. The defense has taken a step back from last year but still didn’t allow Michigan State to cross the goal line. It’s wild the standard they are held to, and meet even though it never really felt right tonight.
The best case going forward is that they retool around Hill (it did not look good for McNamara), figure out the drops out wide, and use the pass to open up the run game while the defense continues to be opportunistic. The worst case is tonight was a last gasp a la Iowa’s last non-empty stadium win against Michigan State: 2012. An offense continually struggles to find its footing which allows the defense to take on more and more water.