No. 5 Michigan St faces tough test at No. 18 Iowa

No. 5 Michigan State has come face-to-face with the two most

dreaded words left on its 2010 schedule.

At Iowa.

The Spartans are 8-0 for the first time since 1966. A Big Ten

title and perhaps more are still possible.

But the Spartans (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) have their skeptics, and the

team that played its first game away from the state of Michigan

just last week are underdogs for Saturday’s game at No. 18 Iowa

(5-2, 2-1). The Hawkeyes saw their outside shot at a run to the

national title game dissolve with a crushing 31-30 home loss to No.

9 Wisconsin last week.

”The next step is probably what we thought going into the

season, one of our bigger challenges: going on the road to play at

Iowa,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. ”When you look at

playing in Michigan, when you look at playing at Florida Atlantic,

that’s a different away game than when you look at playing at

Kinnick Stadium.”

A year ago, it was an unbeaten Iowa team that visited Michigan

State, winning 15-13 on quarterback Ricky Stanzi’s 7-yard TD pass

to Marvin McNutt as time expired. That was one of four wins by

three points or less for the Hawkeyes, who saw its miracle season

end at 9-0 after Stanzi hurt his ankle early in a loss to

Northwestern.

The breaks haven’t gone Iowa’s way this season. Picked along

with Ohio State as the top contenders for the Big Ten title, the

Hawkeyes have lost twice in part because of shoddy special teams

play. It burned them against No. 15 Arizona and against the

Badgers, who last week surprised Iowa with a fake punt to keep

their game-winning drive alive.

Perhaps no team in the nation has been synonymous with trickery

than Michigan State, which won a pair of games with plays called

”Little Giants” and ”Mousetrap.”

Iowa fans have a name for its special teams, too. It’s just not

one you’d want the kids to hear.

”We need everybody to play better. I probably need to coach

better, too,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

The Hawkeyes can take some comfort in familiarity this week: The

Spartans, much like Wisconsin and Iowa, win behind a stingy defense

and an efficient, balanced offense piloted by experienced

quarterback.

Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins ranks 12th in the nation in

passing efficiency and is completing 75 percent of his passes in

the second half and overtime. The Spartans have a backfield that’s

nearly as good as Wisconsin’s, too, as running backs Edwin Baker

and Le’Veon Bell have combined to rush for 1,353 yards and 15

touchdowns.

But the Spartans have been known to let up yards through the

air, and Stanzi has blossomed into one of the nation’s best

quarterbacks. He has thrown at least two touchdown passes five

times this season and trails only Boise State’s Kellen Moore in

passing efficiency.

The loss to Wisconsin certainly wasn’t his fault, either, as he

threw for 258 yards and three scores.

”You’ve got move on and just go on to the next game. That’s all

you can do,” Stanzi said.

A perfect 12-0 season seems possible for Michigan State if it

beats the Hawkeyes. The Spartans next host Minnesota and Purdue and

close out the year in Happy Valley against a Penn State team that

just isn’t as good as its been in the past.

The Spartans haven’t won in Iowa City since 1989. If they snap

that streak on Saturday, it’ll be hard for anyone to doubt them

anymore.

”I do believe that our football team is special,” Dantonio

said. ”I do believe that we have leaders. I do believe we’re on

the edge, that we have an edge to us. That edge to us exists

because we’re winning, we’re confident, and we have a belief in how

we’re doing things.”