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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
”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.”