If you had told me before the game that Connor Cook would throw the ball 44 times in this game, I would have been ecstatic. The goal for Iowa was to force Cook and the MSU passing game to beat them, because the evidence suggested that they could not do that. About that... I don't think the evidence lied, per se, but the MSU passing game we saw today was not the MSU passing game that had stumbled through the first four games of the season. Cook looked sharp and made good throws and his receivers, a unit averaging four drops a game, made several clutch catches and big plays. And if that was going to happen, well... game over, man.
Because Michigan State's defense, by and large, lived up to the hype. Iowa gained 266 yards, which is below MSU's insanely low averages for the season, but also well below Iowa's own offensive averages. (64 of those yards came on the final drive, too, when MSU seemed to be playing softer on defense.) Iowa had seven drives end in three and out (eight if you include the drive that began after Morris' interception and ended with a missed field goal). There were exactly three drives worth a damn for Iowa: back-to-back two-minute drives in the second quarter that ended in touchdown passes (and gave Iowa a 14-10 lead at halftime) and the aforementioned late game drive. No other drive amounted to anything. Literally: outside of the eight drives that ended after three plays, two drives ended in early interceptions, and the lone remaining drive was a 6-play, 22-yard drive. Outside of a burst of competence in the second quarter, the new-look Iowa offense was completely stagnant.
The running game was DOA. Michigan State entered the game 2nd in the nation in run defense, allowing 58.3 yards/game. They actually improved on that stat in this game, conceding just 23 yards on 16 carries to Iowa today. For reference's sake, Michigan State's punter had more rushing yards than Iowa's entire team, 25 to 23. (We'll get back to their punter in a minute.) Jake Rudock was Iowa's leading runner, with 11 yards on three carries. Mark Weisman had 9 yards on 7 carries, while Damon Bullock added 6 yards on 4 carries.
And about that punter... punters generally only have rushing yards because their number gets called on a fake punt. Guess what? THEY CALLED A FAKE PUNT. And, just like the previous five (!) fake punts called against Iowa, this one worked beautifully, as their punter cruised to an easy first down (and then some). So yes: through six games this year, Iowa has already been bit by two fake punts and an onside kick. The more things change... wait, nothing's changed. And it is absolutely maddening. The fact that Iowa continues to get killed by plays like this is absolutely absurd. The coaches swear that they're practicing these situations, but based on the results... what are they doing? Iowa also lost the special teams battle in other ways, though -- MSU made a 49-yard field goal, while Iowa missed a 50-yard field goal; Michigan State got an excellent 30-yard punt return (which led to another MSU FG), while Iowa's return game was non-existent; and Michigan State made 4/5 field goals, while Mike Meyer missed his only opportunity.
In order to win this game, Iowa needed to win the field position battle, they needed to avoid giving up big plays, and they needed to win the turnover battle. They lost on all three fronts. Only the fact that the defense was able to frequently hold Michigan State to field goals kept the game from being a complete rout.
To add injury to insult, the injury bug -- which Iowa had done a pretty good job of dodging so far this season -- hit fast and furious today. At various points during the game, Iowa was without its best RB (Weisman), best WR (Kevonte Martin-Manley), best OL (Brandon Scherff), best LB (Christian Kirksey), and two of its best DL (Carl Davis and Dominic Alvis). Iowa can afford to lose, oh, precisely none of these players. Several of them returned to the game after sustaining their injuries, so hopefully none of the injuries were too serious; we'll find out soon, I'm sure.
And so Iowa falls to 4-2, the exact same record that they were at after six games last season. Last year, the season imploded in spectacularly ugly fashion at this point, losing six in a row and looking barely competitive in a few of those games. Iowa can't afford to let that happen again, but they're also going to have to play an even tougher schedule the rest of the way. A trip to Columbus in two weeks is up next. Gulp.
- The teams combined for 13 punts, although that was less than I would have expected after the furious pace of punting the teams established in the first quarter (they combined for four punts in that quarter).
- Connor Kornbrath punted the ball eight times for 354 yards. For a while in the second half, I thought he was going to end up with twice as many punting yards as Iowa's offense had total yards.
- Good things happen when you throw to C.J. Fiedorowicz in the red zone!
- Tevaun Smith made a brilliant, leaping catch along the sideline and had his best day in an Iowa uniform (6 catches, 59 yards).
- Damon Bullock ended up being a big part of the passing game as well, catching five passes for 71 yards and Iowa's first touchdown of the game. Maybe the much-talked about "Bullock to slot WR" move should actually happen.
- B.J. Lowery is capable of absolutely breathtaking defensive plays on one snap... and just as capable of getting burnt to a crisp by a receiver on the next snap. He's not always getting a lot of help from the safeties, but the secondary remains a pretty big area of concern for the Iowa defense.
- Finally, it was not a banner day for the officials -- they seemed to let several holds, blocks in the back, and other borderline calls go (MSU, as expected, played to the edge of the whistle... and occasionally a bit beyond) -- but they were far from the main reason Iowa lost this game. Iowa's