I'm still drying off from Saturday. And I have no motivation to write this recap.
Credit to the non-student MSU fans. They nearly filled Spartan Stadium at the beginning of the game. They hadn't given up on the season. MSU started fast, but as the weather got worse, the fans continued to leave, and the Spartans unraveled in the fourth quarter, losing to Iowa 19-16 in double overtime. Three losses at home in less than a month. Woodshed, eh?
Are fans jumping ship and moving to the hardwood with basketball season officially underway? Wouldn't blame you. This football season is on the edge of disaster, and for as much as Mark Dantonio's program has come in five-plus years, Saturday provided some terrible flashbacks.
The lasting image of this game in my mind will be the botched field goal attempt at the end of the first half. Not just the attempt, but the odd playcalling and on-and-off urgency on the drive. Andrew Maxwell has been decent this year, but that's a situation where Kirk Cousins takes control and waves the special teams unit off the field last year. Was is the players' faults or the coaches'? It goes all around and represented a clear disconnect that has been evident on an overconfident team.
I go more into the expectation created within the program in Monday's Freep column. But talk of goals ahead need to change to putting together a competent effort on offense. Instead of heading to Ann Arbor with middle fingers in the air, the Spartans' tails are between their legs, and now they're desperate to salvage something to make this season considered somewhat successful.
Also, student section, you suck.
Looking back at my keys to the game:
Run the ball: With the conditions the way they were, passing was going to be hard. Le'Veon Bell had a solid day with 29 carries for 140 yards and a touchdown for a 4.8 ypc. Iowa's Mark Weisman finished with 116 yards on 26 carries. MSU had actually bottled him up for most of the game until a 37-yard run on the tying drive in the final minutes. Take away that run and his ypc drops from 4.5 to 3.2. But that wasn't the case, as MSU missed a few tackles on that carry. Overall, I'll call this a draw.
Turnovers: Heck of a time for Maxwell's interception streak to end. He went 233 passes from the first half of Boise State to the final play Saturday without an interception. The ball was tipped at the line before bouncing off Keith Mumphrey's hands. Hard to blame anyone on the play, but it ended up deciding the game. On the other hand, MSU's interception early in the game led to the Spartans' only touchdown.
Punting: Mike Sadler had a one or two bad ones, but given the elements (and the snapping), he had another solid day, averaging 40.2 yards on nine punts, with a long of 59 yards and two inside the 20. Iowa's two punters also combined for a good day, averaging 39.2 yards on eight punts with three inside the 20. I'd call this a draw.
Now, thoughts on MSU's play
What's left to say? MSU's point totals in the three losses are 3, 16 and 16. That's not going to win you many games. Given the weather, MSU's total yardage of 328 isn't THAT bad. But the field goal debacle and questionable playcalling in the fourth quarter kept the Hawkeyes around. MSU dared Iowa to beat its defense when it mattered most, and the Hawks did.
Andrew Maxwell's numbers were ugly (12-for-31, 179 yards, 1 INT). But from my view in the north end zone. No one was open downfield, ever. It seemed almost every pass was a checkdown. No one was ever open downfield. The blame can probably be shared between the receivers, the playcalling, the weather and Maxwell, but something's got to change.
MSU tried some new things (Mumphrey end-around worked a few times, Connor Cook run didn't), but the downs on which MSU passed and ran were odd, especially at the end of the first half and in the fourth quarter. Kirk Cousins' ability to run a two-minute drill was vastly underappreciated, but that was some ugly stuff at times from MSU.
It was a positive sign for Bell to have a solid day against a good rush defense, but all the optimism coming out of the Indiana game regarding the passing has quickly disappeared.
Also the same story. A couple big plays led to Iowa's only touchdown of the game, but otherwise, they were once again pretty dominant. Thirteen points allowed in regulation and just over 250 yards for the game. That should earn you a win most of the time.
Denicos Allen had probably his best game of the season (13 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT) and Max Bullough was very good again (11 tackles, 1 TFL).
Iowa went 6-for-19 third down. Outside of the first quarter against Indiana, these guys have been championship-worthy. I know the opposition is clearly worse, but this year's defense is still giving up fewer yards and points per game (yards per play is the same) (And I'm not saying this year's D is better. It's not). If MSU had any sort of an offense, these guys wouldn't be getting barely any heat, but they've blown second-half leads to Ohio State and Iowa, so criticism will come.
Dan Conroy seems to have found his groove. He went 3-for-3, even with all kicks being 24 yards or shorter. That number is more telling of MSU's continued red zone struggles. Not having Dion Sims hurt that. Sadler and the punting game were mentioned above.
For (I'm pretty sure) the first time all year, Andre Sims Jr. was the punt returner. There were a few short punts, and given the rain, I was fine with him letting a few go. He had two returns for -1 yards. But he didn't fumble, and that was obviously the most important thing in replacing Nick Hill.
What an ugly, ugly game. A Legends division title is pretty much out of reach. Yeah, MSU is mathematically alive, but things are going to have to turn around drastically for the Spartans. Seven games in, we know what the Spartans are: a very good defense with a struggling, and frequently confused offense.
Moving forward, a bowl game is very much in question. The only game MSU fans can feel comfortable about is Minnesota. As for the rest, they could lose any of them, but the defense should keep them in most. Hopes of a special season have turned to hopes of avoiding a disastrous season.
But now the shift turns to Michigan Week. A win over U-M wouldn't to make the season. Times have changed. Now, fans just want some signs to know the program isn't in a landslide.