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Spartans host Hawkeyes in rematch of 2015 Big Ten title game

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) The last time Michigan State and Iowa played each other, the stakes could scarcely have been higher. It was two seasons ago in the Big Ten title game, with a spot in college football’s playoff at stake.

The Spartans prevailed on a touchdown in the final minute, winning their third league championship in six seasons advancing to play Alabama in the national semifinals.

”How big was it? It put us in the playoffs, put us into one of the top four teams in the nation,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. ”That was a great defensive football game, great drive at the end of the game.”

That win was a crowning moment for Dantonio’s program, but now it’s also a reminder of the heights the Spartans have fallen from. Michigan State went 3-9 last year, and the Spartans enter Saturday’s game against Iowa still trying to re-establish themselves as a credible threat to win Big Ten titles. The Hawkeyes also have work to do if they’re going to return to the spotlight they occupied in 2015, when they were undefeated before the loss to Michigan State.

”It was a tough loss. There was a lot at stake there that day, needless to say, for both teams,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. ”We were both at the last stop in terms of conference play. So that was tough, you know, but the other night was tough too.”

The Hawkeyes (3-1, 0-1) lost 21-19 last weekend to Penn State, on a touchdown as time expired. Michigan State (2-1) is also coming off a defeat. The Spartans trailed almost the whole way in a 38-18 loss to Notre Dame.

Here are a few things to watch when the Spartans host the Hawkeyes this weekend:

INEFFICIENT

Although the final score was close, Iowa was outgained 579-273 last weekend – not a recipe for success.

”You’d rather sustain drives any day. Football is a lot more fun when you’re clipping along five, six yards a pop,” Ferentz said. ”Statistics are really important. You would love to win time of possession, yards per play, all those kind of things. But it’s all about finding a way to win. That’s the ultimate goal.”

MISTAKES

Michigan State turned the ball over three times last week, negating its yardage advantage against Notre Dame. The Spartans have lost six fumbles on the season, including three by LJ Scott.

It was Scott who scored the winning touchdown for Michigan State in the 16-13 victory over Iowa for the league title two years ago.

”Obviously that was one of the best moments I’ve had since I’ve been at Michigan State,” Scott said.

JEWELL OF THE DEFENSE

Iowa LB Josey Jewell had 16 tackles, three of them for losses, in last week’s game. He also had two pass breakups, a fumble recovery and an interception.

QB MATCHUP

Iowa’s Nate Stanley has thrown 12 touchdown passes – the most in the Big Ten – with one interception on the season.

Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke has completed 63 percent of his passes. He’s thrown only two interceptions, but one of them was run back for a TD last weekend. Lewerke has also emerged as a running threat for the Spartans.

TIGHT SERIES

Iowa is 23-21-2 against Michigan State in a series that dates back to 1953. The Spartans have won the past two meetings, both of which came in seasons when Michigan State won the Big Ten.

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Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister