After a comeback win at Indiana, MSU returns to Spartan Stadium for homecoming and a Legends division matchup with Iowa, which will be playing its first road game of the year. MSU is 1-1 against Iowa in East Lansing under Mark Dantonio, with both games coming down to the final play. Both teams have struggled offensively and relied on solid defenses. Saturday is shaping up to be an old-fashioned Big Ten slugfest.
Iowa's season to date (3-2): W 18-17 vs. Northern Illinois, L 9-6 vs. Iowa State, W 27-16 vs. Northern Iowa, L 32-31 vs. Central Michigan, W 31-13 vs. Minnesota
By the numbers:
15.2 - Points per game allowed by MSU, which is first in the Big Ten.
17.4 - Points per game allowed by Iowa, which is third in the Big Ten.
22.6 - Points per game scored by Iowa, which is 10th in the Big Ten.
21.8 - Points per game score by MSU, which is 11th in the Big Ten.
0 - Road games play by Iowa this year. They opened against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field in Chicago.
169 - Yards per game for Iowa running back Mark Weisman over the last three games, including seven touchdowns.
86.0 - Rushing yards per game allowed by MSU this season, which leads the Big Ten and is 10th in the nation.
3 - Turnovers on the season for Iowa, which lease the Big Ten with a plus-seven turnover margin. MSU is plus-two, with four of the seven giveaways coming in the opener against Boise State.
34:17 - Average time of possession for MSU, which leads the Big Ten. It's a surprising number given that MSU is ninth in the conference in rushing and third-down conversions.
100 - Percent chance of rain in East Lansing on Saturday, according to The Weather Channel. Yuck. --
Now, normally I'd list three keys for each team here, but these two have been copies of each other this season. They're right by each other in every major stat. So I'm simply going to list three keys for both teams. I'm not trying to be lazy while watching this Tigers game, I just think the keys are the same for both teams.
Run the ball: This game matches up the two leading running backs in the conference, yet both teams are in the bottom half of the conference in rushing. They're also two of the top three teams in rushing defense. It's no secret these teams need to run the ball to be successful, since they're two of the worst passing teams in the league. Also, take a look at that chance of rain above. Good luck making plays in the passing game. If either team can get something out of the running game, it's going to go a long way.
Turnovers: The numbers are above. Iowa has been the second-best team in the Big Ten at holding on to the ball, while MSU has been very good since the opener. Since most signs point to this being a low-scoring affair, a turnover in your own territory and a short field might end up being the difference. This also plays into the 100 percent chance of rain on Saturday
Punting: Note that this is assuming we play in a downpour, like the weather people are predicting. As mentioned above, field position on a drive or two might be the difference in the game. Mike Sadler is second in the Big Ten with an average of 45.7 yards per punt. The Hawkeyes have had two punters this year with Connor Kornbrath (36.3 yards per punt) and John Wienke (38.0) and Iowa is 11th in the conference in punting. Nick Hill wasn't the starting punt returner on the depth chart, so a rainstorm might be a tough time for a debut from someone else. Look out for a muffed punt, which I guess could also count for turnovers.
Prediction: 17-10 MSU
I went with that score for my Q&A with Black Heart Gold Pants, but that was before I saw the forecast. I have to stick behind that 17-10, but I'm starting to think 9-6 MSU now. This is going to be really ugly. If the rain is as bad as it looks, there might be 10 pass attempts from each quarterback or something. The fact MSU won't have a tight end who can catch will really hurt in this one. Lawrence Thomas won't be lining up at tight end, but if he's good to go (concussion), he might be targeted frequently out of the backfield. I don't trust either offense, but I'll say MSU makes a few more plays on defense and comes up with the win.