The Iowa-MSU rock fight comes down to execution, and Sparty comes out victorious.
Iowa played its sloppiest game of the year and paid the price. Thanks to two third-quarter turnovers — including one of the most bizarre fumbles we'll see this year — and a slew of mental errors, the Hawkeyes dropped a 17-10 decision at East Lansing. Iowa is now 3-2 (0-2) on the season, and running out of room for error on the hunt for a quality season.
That's Nate Stanley, a pair of snaps after Iowa extended a drive with a pass from the punter to A.J. Epenesa — yeah — trying to throw or pump fake or something and instead delivering the football to Spartan linebacker Joe Bachie, who had one hell of a game (even without this disaster being handed to him). This is about where you'd turn off the XBox in frustration, and maybe go outside for a while.
On the other side, Michigan State Brian Lewerke played one of the best games of his young career, throwing for 212 yards and two first-quarter touchdowns to Felton Davis, giving the Spartans what would prove to be an insurmountable lead.
For the second straight week, Iowa's offense sputtered thanks to an inability to move the ball on first down. The Hawkeyes had 20 first-down plays that went for a grand total of... 29 yards, 16 of which came on one play. Akrum Wadley never got free, finishing with just 47 yards from scrimmage — his worst total since the 2016 Northwestern game, which like this game we have chosen not to discuss in any way, shape or form going forward.
Lewerke also led all rushers with 42 yards, illustrating both the way each team muscled up against the run game but also how much trouble Iowa had with his mobility. Nate Stanley also showed some surprising elusiveness in the pocket, but he struggled to turn it into productivity on a consistent basis. All told, Iowa managed just 231 total yards and 11 first downs on its 11 drives of the game.
And the drops. Good lord, the drops. The big difference in this game is that Sparty's intermediate passing game was simply more reliable than Iowa's, especially on 3rd downs. Iowa's receivers aren't, well, good enough at everything else to make up for poor hands on short throws.
It was this kind of a day for Brandon Smith and Iowa.
It also helped Michigan State that Manny Rugamba was out with an injury suffered at Penn State, leaving the Hawkeyes with Michael Ojemudia starting across from Josh Jackson (who was fine today) and true freshman Matt Hankins holding down the nickel spot*. While the secondary wasn't the source of most of today's mental errors, it also wasn't a source of many clutch plays. It still functions much more smoothly with Amani Hooker at free safety instead of Jake Gervase, at least.
*I'm not calling him nickel back. He doesn't deserve that. In fact let's just take that out of football for everybody's sake.
Miguel Recinos was strong at placekicker again; his 43-yard field goal sailed through with ease. He's been a bright spot. Less so is Colton Rastetter, who again struggled with distance, finishing with under 38 yards per punt. Again, Iowa's just not good enough to be able to brush off a net negative of those hidden yards in the punting game.
The Hawkeyes have a lot of issues to work out, and with Illinois coming to town next week, that's a great time to do some of that work. The first down production has to be a lot better. The execution has to be there. The little things that good teams do, the little individual wins that turn into big team wins on a play — those need to be there.
Iowa's better than this game; we've seen it. We need to see it again, soon.