I love 11:00 A.M. kickoffs. There is none of the all-day fretting that comes with later kickoffs. I just burn three hours distracting my kids and pretending to work on stuff around the house, before I get to find out if I’m going to spend all-day Saturday reading about Iowa’s win or ignoring college football coverage altogether. With aspirations of a Big Ten West title a quickly-fading memory, I was in full-on “please provide me a pleasant distraction” mode against this confusing Michigan State squad.
What do you make of a team that gets rolled by Rutgers but then rolls Michigan? I dunno, but I’m rolling with Michigan just being a shitty football team. Judging by the 6.5 points Vegas gave Michigan State, this was meant to be one of Iowa’s easiest game of the season, but given the previous two games, I was hating on Iowa’s chances to win the game straight up, let alone cover a relatively decisive near-touchdown spread. The nice thing about not knowing what the hell you are talking about is that sometimes you get surprised in really cool ways.
In the most shocking and scandalous of revelations, Iowa started the game out with the ball and audaciously did something with it. Breezily moving the ball downfield, it was like the greatest hits of Iowa’s offense from the last ten years – productive runs, a tunnel screen, play-action rollout, and the sexiest jet sweep this side of Jonathon Parker. The lack of originality was no problem as all of it worked, culminating in a three-yard plunge into the end zone by Tyler Greatson. At this point one does not relax when Iowa takes an early-lead, but damn if it isn’t at least 88.7 times more fun than the first drive three-and-outs from the last two games.
IOWA 7, MICHIGAN STATE 0
Michigan State’s first drive went much the way almost all of their other drives went – badly. To say MSU was recreating Iowa’s second-half offense is an understatement. This was a Gus Van Zant shot-for-shot inferior remake of Iowa’s second half-offense, mustering up 286 yards and three turnovers, including a hilariously inept 32 rushes for 58 yards. Iowa’s excellent defense gets a lot of the credit, but something definitely felt off with MSU quarterback Rocky Lombardi, as in, maybe he wasn’t quite healthy enough to be playing. But whatever -- that’s on the MSU coaches. MSU’s first drive ended with Rocky squirming out of a sack attempt, rolling to his left, and chucking up an arm punt interception to Jack Koerner on a miscommunication with his receiver.
With the ball back, Iowa would drive the ball downfield with more solid runs and two huge third down conversions: On a 3rd and 7 on the Iowa 40, Ragaini sprinted across the shallow part of the field and ghosted the poor linebacker covering him. Petras, seeing that quadrant of the field completely vacated by the defense, fired one of his standard-issue bullets Ragaini’s direction. Petras almost missed him, but Ragaini smoothly reached back for the ball without slowing down and sprinted up the right sideline for a cool 28 yards.
Even better, on a 3rd and 12 on MSU’s 14, after -- *sigh* -- yet another incomplete pass on a screen to Goodson (If Iowa ever manages to run one of these successfully, it is going to work ludicrously well) Petras threw his best pass of the season. Brandon Smith ran a fade to the right corner of the end zone. With Smith single-covered, Petras lofted a floater that would have made Henry Rowengartner’s mom proud. It was beautiful as it softly drifted into the air to Smith’s inside shoulder. Just one of those throws that gave his grown-ass receiver a chance to make a play, and Smith was more than happy to oblige. Adjusting back to the ball, Smith ripped it out of the air and rendered the defender’s attempt at knocking the ball loose futile.
IOWA 14, MICHIGAN STATE 0
Iowa and MSU’s next three drives would combine for a collective one first down and three punts, but the last of those punts would be returned by Charlie Jones for 31 yards. In two games, Charlie Jones has quietly established himself as Iowa’s best punt returner since at least Kevonte Martin-Manley, making savvy cuts and slicing through coverage to get those hidden yards that Ferentz uses for dirty talk. Today, there was nothing quiet about Jones’ performance, returning five punts for 105 yards and a touchdown. He also added two jet sweeps for 38 yards. I don’t know how he is as a route-runner, but he is absolutely a playmaker in space in an offense filled with those guys.
With the ball at MSU’s 47, it would take seven plays and a couple of lucky breaks for Iowa to get the ball into the end zone on a 9-yard Goodson run. The Petras fastball that bounced off Tracy’s hand went to Brandon Smith instead of a defender for a deflating interception. The Smith fumble bounced harmlessly out-of-bounds. Mostly though, Iowa ran the ball really, really well. I share in the collective fever dream of Iowa installing some sort of modern, dynamic offense capable of slicing defenses through the air with a lightning quick and lethal passing game, but the harsh reality under Ferentz is that Iowa’s offense will only ever be any good when it can lean on an effective running game. This is especially true while Petras takes his licks as a quarterback and (hopefully) improves. 41 carries for 226 yards is very much a winning number for Iowa.
IOWA 21, MICHIGAN STATE 0
With a 21-point lead in the second quarter, I assumed that Ferentz was going to give the offense the rest of the game off. He kinda did. Iowa’s next 11 offensive plays would go for a total of six yards, which might be nauseating in a different game, but is an insignificant blip in this blowout. This even included a drive that started on MSU’s 25 because of a weird interception in which Barrington Wade and an MSU receiver were just kind of hanging out by the line of scrimmage and Rocky inexplicably threw the ball right to Wade. In sad news, Keith Duncan’s made field goal streak ended when he missed the kick after this drive. ☹
MSU’s offense stayed in the dumps with the exception of one drive which started on their own 8. Rocky stepped back, his line gave him time and he unleashed a bomb down the left sideline to Jalen Nailor. Riley Moss was stride-for-stride in coverage but seemed to lose the ball in the air and MSU ended up with a 56-yard completion. No worries, as Iowa’s defense would clamp down from its own 36 and MSU’s 48-yard field goal try would go wide-left. No harm done.
Iowa wasn’t done scoring in the half though. In two electric plays, Iowa would eliminate any anxiety about them blowing this big lead. With MSU punting from their own 8 with less than two minutes to go in the half, Charlie Jones fielded the line drive punt at midfield and run to his right before coming to an epiphany, planting his right foot into the ground, transferring his weight to his other foot and sprinted to the sea of open space to his left. He squirmed past a couple of defenders and found his way into the left corner of the end zone. The rout was officially on.
IOWA 28, MICHIGAN STATE 0
On the next drive, Rocky rolled to his left, desperate to make a play for his struggling offense. He didn’t let the fact that nobody was open stop him from throwing the ball. His body seemed to know this was a terrible idea, because he collapsed the second he released the ball, as if his own body was trying to sabotage the throw. Nonetheless, the ball was released, and went directly to Riley Moss, who ran untouched down the sideline for Iowa’s 5th (!!!!!) touchdown of the half, effectively ending the game.
IOWA 35, MICHIGAN STATE 0
With a 35-0 lead, there was little to fret about in the second half. I wouldn’t have blamed Ferentz for shutting it all down. Even when MSU drove down the field and scored a touchdown on their first possession of the half. (Thanks in part to another 57-yard pass to Nailor on a seemingly busted coverage.) There was just no reason to think MSU was going to put together 35 points against Iowa’s defense. I was mostly watching to see if Iowa would end their “No touchdowns in the second half of Big Ten games” streak. And saints be praised, they did.
IOWA 35, MICHIGAN STATE 7
On their next offensive play from their own 25-yard line, Iowa would fake a jet sweep to Charlie Jones and hand the ball off to Goodson on an interior run, who exploded through the hole and streaked down the field, untouched and roaming free down the field like the buffalo. He made a few shifty moves to elude defenders before collapsing under the weight of his own excellence, four yards shy of the end zone. Just a wonderful constraint play that creates the briefest of hesitation for the defense. Makhi Sargent, who has the misfortune of being a very good running back on a team with a great one, got the touchdown three plays later. MSU’s snowball's chance in hell of a comeback was officially melted.
IOWA 42, MICHIGAN STATE 7
From there, everyone was playing out the string. Iowa used the rest of the game to get Petras some much-needed live reps (If Iowa were trying to run up the score, they would have been better served handing the ball off, because the throws were mostly not pretty.) Iowa did still manage to pad their lead on another touchdown run to Sargent in the 4th quarter before the backups formally took over for the remainder of the game. It was all so delightfully uneventful.
IOWA 49, MICHIGAN STATE 7
You probably don’t beat a good team 49-7, but so what? Iowa does not get these complete laughers very often against even bad Big Ten teams. It was Iowa football at its absolute best –competent offense, dominant special teams plays, and absolutely stellar defense. It was several breaths of fresh air watching Iowa streamroll an inferior opponent for the first time in what feels like three or four eons.
Up next is a Friday night match-up against the team Iowa seems destined to battle with for 4th place in the Big Ten West, the Minnesota Golden Gophers. They have playmakers and a suspect defense. How will it play out? I have no clue, but I’m excited. For now, Iowa football is fun again.
* This defense. If you are one of those people that picks nits, you could bring up the two long passes to Nailor for 113 yards. Those plays represented roughly 40% of MSU’s production for the game. Aside from those plays, MSU had 168 yards on 68 plays. That is a simply stunning 2.3-ish yards a play.
* I know Duncan missed his first kick in a long time, but these special teams units are fire. Tory Taylor is so good that I am almost happy when Iowa punts. With the emergence of Charlie Jones and the return of ISM, does Iowa have the best collection of special teams players in the Big Ten? Yup.
* Joe Evans was very disruptive today.
* To put it in polite midwestern terms, Iowa’s passing game is rough. If they can do more to pull their own weight, Iowa could move to elite status, albeit in a season that already feels squandered. At least the very least, figure out how to throw a screen pass to Goodson, please.