No. 13 Michigan State faces road test at Iowa

No. 13 Michigan State can make things a lot simpler in the Big

Ten on Saturday.

Beat Iowa on the road and the Legends Division title is Michigan

State’s to lose.

Of course, the Spartans (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) haven’t won at Iowa

since 1989 and they have yet to prove they can be as good on the

road as they are in East Lansing, Mich.

The Spartans will try to snap a seven-game losing streak in Iowa

City and redeem themselves following losses at Notre Dame and

Nebraska earlier this season.

”You have to play through the tough times. You have to play

through the storms,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.

”The more experienced you are at handling these things, the more

opportunities you have to go in, the better you should become. So

we should be getting there.”

It’s easy to forget that Iowa (6-3, 3-2) control its own destiny

in the Legends Division, with games left against Michigan State and

at Nebraska to close the season. Coach Kirk Ferentz isn’t even

pondering such a possibility.

There’s a reason for that.

The Hawkeyes are 6-0 at home but aren’t far removed from a

shocking 22-21 loss at Minnesota, one of only two wins for the

Gophers this season. Though Iowa bounced back with a 24-16 win over

No. 22 Michigan a week ago, Ferentz knows his Hawkeyes are

vulnerable to a bad outing if they aren’t completely focused on the

Spartans.

”We’re really not worried about division standings right now or

Big Ten standings. A week ago it didn’t look like we were going to

a bowl game to a lot of people,” Ferentz said. ”If we don’t play

well, it’ll be a tough day, I know that.”

This matchup will feature two of the league’s best quarterbacks

in Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and Iowa’s James Vandenberg. But

it figures to be more of a classic Big Ten slugfest than a

shootout.

The Spartans have the league’s top defense, allowing less than

250 yards a game, and have been equally strong against the run and

the pass.

”They played the run really well. They’re going to press you up

in the pass game every play and not give you anything easy. They’re

really going to make you put a drive together. They’re not going to

give you that home run play to score,” Vandenberg said.

But Michigan State has yet to show it can score on the road. The

Spartans had just 13 in that loss to the Fighting Irish, 10 in a

close win at Ohio State and were held to just a field goal in a

24-3 loss at Nebraska two weeks ago.

”On the road we’ve seen three pretty good defenses. We critique

everything that we do,” Dantonio said. ”This is a game of chess.

It’s a game of execution. It’s a game of schematics, but it’s also

a game of physical dominance too. So we’ve got to try to right that

situation.”

Against Michigan, the Hawkeyes shelved the no-huddle offense

they went to earlier this season when bruising sophomore back

Marcus Coker and the running game had yet to hit their stride.

Coker, who has blossomed in the past month to take over the

league’s rushing lead with 1,101 yards, will see a physical

Spartans defense.

Michigan State’s long losing streak at Iowa dates back to the

days of former coaches George Perles. None of those were as painful

as last year’s 37-6 blowout to the Hawkeyes, which knocked the

Spartans out of the national title hunt.

Dantonio, sensing the pressure his players are under, barred

interviews with them this week. They’ll have their say on the

field.

A win would put only struggling Indiana and Northwestern between

the Spartans and a date in the Big Ten’s first title game. It would

also help wipe away 22 years of frustration for Michigan State and

12 months of angst.

”We’ve got 40 players who last season went out there with us

when we were undefeated and I think ranked fifth in the nation at

that point in time, so didn’t respond very well. So we’ve got some

things to prove,” Dantonio said.