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Michigan State 26, Iowa 14: Kneejerk Reactions

Quick thoughts after an encouraging win at Iowa City.

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sport

1) Hey, a functioning offense!

The first quarter looked like the same nightmare of wasted opportunities, with a stop on 4th and 1 in Iowa territory followed by a missed field goal from Michael Geiger. But even then, the MSU offense was getting a first down or two before giving up the ball, gradually winning the field position battle. The offense briefly sputtered right before halftime, but the totals for the day are encouraging: 412 yards (just over 5 per play), 7 drives of 30+ yards. Iowa was clearly geared up to stop the run, and did to a fair extent (113 yards on 34 carries after taking out the two kneel-downs and the Mike Sadler fake punt), but the passing game was actually quite effective. Connor Cook was 25 for 44 for 277 yards with two touchdowns of 35+ yards, hitting nine different receivers with Bennie Fowler and Macgarrett Kings leading the way (combining for 14 catches, 186 yards, and two touchdowns).

It wasn't all sunshine on offense; Cook did throw the first interception by a Michigan State QB on the year on a lob that wasn't quite high enough to get over James Morris playing the shallow zone, and converting short yardage didn't go well at all. But the offense took a big step toward "average", and that merits this:

2) Dominance on defense. Again.

Not counting the end-of-half kneeldowns, Iowa had 14 possessions. Only four gained more than eight yards. Iowa's run game was non-existent, with 16 carries for just 23 yards. They didn't get a first down until there were five minutes left in the second quarter. Jake Rudock did put together a couple of quick drives at the end of the second quarter to give Iowa the lead, and their first drive of the second half picked up 22 yards before punting. After that:

3 plays, 2 yards, punt
3 plays, 7 yards, punt
3 plays, -1 yard, punt
3 plays, 1 yard, missed FG
1 play, interception
16 plays, 64 yards, turnover on downs (with MSU up 12, starting with four minutes to go)

When you can force ten 3-and-outs (or turnovers), you don't need much from the offense to win. Unlike last year, and unlike what we'd all feared after the Notre Dame game, the offense provided.

3) Special teams had a solid day.

Geiger's first kick was a miss from 37 yards which had plenty of distance and looked straight to start but took a sharp turn to the right. May have been the wind picking up and catching it. He recovered from that miss to hit four later attempts, including from 40 and 49. Kings had a solid day returning punts, including a 30-yard return to set up the second field goal. Sadler, in addition to the fake punt run for 25 yards (yes, our punter outrushed Iowa's team), averaged 44.4 on his five punts with two inside the 20.

4) Delton Williams's redshirt is gone.

He came in at running back late and got 9 carries for 32 yards. Small sample size, but I think at this point I'd like to see him used more than Nick Hill alongside Jeremy Langford, especially in short yardage. He seems to have a knack for sneaking through the line where you wouldn't have thought there was room to sneak through.

5) This team can contend in a weak West Division if today's offensive showing was not a fluke.

Nobody in our division has looked like a terror. Nebraska has major problems on defense, Michigan has two near-losses to horrible non-conference opponents, Minnesota got beaten badly by the same Iowa team we just saw, and Northwestern looks like possibly the best team in the division but also has the toughest crossover schedule of the bunch. Cashing in with more touchdowns instead of field goals and improving in short yardage situations would help, but a decent offense and great defense might well be enough to get us to Indianapolis.