When the Big Ten added Maryland and Rutgers and separated into East and West divisions, it seemed like the biggest loss to MSU fans was the series against Wisconsin. And for good reason; the games against the Badgers from 2007 through 2012 were epic, headlined by the two games in 2011.
But the loss of a regular game with Iowa was an underrated loss for MSU's schedule. I mean, check out the MSU/Iowa Winsipedia page! Iowa owns the overall series 23-20-2, but MSU has generally been the superior program in terms of wins and winning percentage (though Iowa's got a Heisman winner). When I started to think about the Spartans-Hawkeyes games under Mark Dantonio, I found that I had specific memories of each game. I thought it might be fun to share them and recap each game, before the Big Ten Title Game on Saturday:
"The Ghosts of JLS"
2007 (Iowa City): MSU 27, Iowa 34 (2OT)
Fun Fact: this game was played on my 17th birthday, just one week before the "Little Brother" game against Michigan. I was in high school and had not yet become obsessed with Spartan Football (that would change when I got to campus in 2008). I distinctly remember seeing MSU up 17-3 on a TV at my birthday lunch with family and thinking it was in the bag. Not so fast, my friend.
MSU did hold a 17-3 lead heading into the half but eventually needed a Brett Swenson field goal to send it into overtime; MSU would go up 27-20 in the first OT but eventually lose 34-27.
"The Adam Decker Stop"
2008 (East Lansing): MSU 16, Iowa 13
This was actually the closest I ever came to not attending a home football game once I became a student. Let's just say that the night before I'd a few too many pops. But a bratwurst and a water from the food cart outside the student section set me right and the weather turned out to be beautiful.
Onto the actual game. Iowa came into this one 3-2 after close losses at Pitt and to Northwestern; after losing this one they would only drop one more game all season. MSU would take a 16-3 lead in the third quarter but Iowa came storming back behind Shonn Greene and Ricky Stanzi to get to 4th-and-1 at the MSU 21 with just over 2 minutes left. I assumed that they'd kick a field goal to tie it up but instead they went for it, and Adam Decker got the game-clinching run stuff.
Underrated element of this game: after the 4th down stop, MSU still needed one first down to salt the game away. After two running plays, Brian Hoyer fumbled the snap forward on third down but managed to recover. It was a first down, and the game was over.
"Seven Got Six"
2009 (East Lansing): MSU 13, Iowa 15
This was the first night game I'd attended at MSU, since they weren't so commonplace at the time. Iowa came in undefeated and #6 in the country, while MSU had rebounded from a 1-3 start to win three straight Big Ten games.
It was honestly a pretty boring game until late in the fourth quarter: it was MSU 6, Iowa 3 headed into the final stanza and then 6-6 until about three minutes left. Then the infamous Colin Sandeman hit:
As an MSU student at the time, of course I thought that was clean. Upon review... I'm not so sure. The flag does come down insanely late, however.
Anyways, that led to an Iowa field goal to give them the lead 9-6 (nice) and put MSU in desperation mode. Kirk Cousins hit Charlie Gantt who executed the perfect lateral to Blair White to convert a 3rd-and-19. And one play later Cousins hit White to put MSU up 13-9.
MSU allowed Iowa to drive down to the 15 with 30 seconds left. Defensive holding wiped out a game-sealing Chris L Rucker interception. Three Stanzi incompletions, and then heartbreak:
"The Reality Check"
2010 (Iowa City): MSU 6, Iowa 37
I actually did not watch this game live; I traveled to Washington D.C. for the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert "Rally to Restore Sanity" and ended up watching on a DVR after getting back to a friend's apartment. My phone was buzzing like crazy, and I assumed that was either a great sign, or a horrible sign. Yeah.
MSU came into this game 8-0 and ranked #5 in the country after an underrated home win against Wisconsin, and an overrated road win at Regular Michigan. Some cracks had started to show the previous week, when MSU needed a furious rally to overcome a 17-point deficit against Northwestern in Evanston. Iowa was #18 at the time but had a disappointing end to the year, finishing 7-5.
As far as the game goes, it feels sort of unnecessary to say much about it. Iowa was up 17-0 at the end of the first quarter and 30-0 at the end of the first half.
In retrospect it was clear that 2010 team wasn't quite at a competitive level nationally just yet, after a second demolition by Alabama in the bowl game. But it was getting there, and a share of the Big Ten Championship was pretty nice in year 4 for Dantonio.
"The Revenge of the Fainting Spartans"
2011 (Iowa City): MSU 37, Iowa 21
MSU came into this game at 7-2 and #17 in the country, but had been sleepwalking a bit in road games (as evidenced by losses to Notre Dame and Nebraska). It was kind of the final test for the Legends division before games against Indiana and Northwestern which MSU won by double digits.
MSU controlled the game pretty well from the get-go, leading 31-7 at halftime. Three Iowa turnovers certainly helped things, as well. A fake field goal in the third quarter set up... an easier field goal attempt, giving MSU a 34-7 lead.
Anyways, this game will be forever known as the beginning of the "fainting Spartans." Multiple times the Kinnick Stadium crowd booed Spartan injuries when it was perceived that MSU was trying to slow down the Iowa hurry-up offense. Jerel Worthy didn't help things by saying, "When an offense is moving like that the smart move is to just go down and just take your time and don't kind of rush through it, but that's what we went out, that's what we went out there and did."
Let's level on this one Hawkeye fans: you're Iowa. I am not scared of your offense hurrying up. If there is something I am concerned about with your offense, it is that it's so slow that my team won't see the ball very often. Also, the game wasn't that close! Do you really believe that a couple of these incidents had a major impact on the game?
2012 (East Lansing): MSU 16, Iowa 19 (2OT)
Before I ever started contributing to TOC, I was an avid lurker and read the site religiously. I thought I'd show up to the TOC tailgate on this day, and at least meet these people in person. For those of you familiar with that tailgate, it was 40 degrees and raining, plus KJ had no signage (#FireKJ). I never found the tailgate. I went home wet and changed before going to the game, where myself and two dozen or so students watched the 2012 season die.
MSU had been a little disappointing in 2012 before this game, with a 4-2 record in losses to Notre Dame and the heartbreaker against Ohio State. Those losses were not bad losses, though! The collective feeling of the fanbase was: let's get a win against an Iowa team that lost to Iowa State and Central Michigan and things will be just fine. Things were not fine.
MSU actually took a 10-0 lead in the first half, but a Mark Weisman touchdown with under a minute left in the game forced overtime. The Spartans and Hawkeyes predictably traded field goals in the first overtime, and after an Iowa field goal in the second overtime, an Andrew Maxwell pass was intercepted by Greg Castillo to win the game.
Years later I actually hung out with Greg Castillo, who happens to be a friend-of-a-friend. You know that feeling when you want to dislike someone but they turn out to be really nice, which only makes you dislike them more?
"Connor Cook-ing With Gas"
2013 (Iowa City): MSU 26, Iowa 14
This was the Big Ten opener for MSU, but after the horrid offensive performances against Western Michigan, South Florida, and Notre Dame, it felt like that team could be in for another 2012ish year. Iowa was 4-1 with a loss to Northern Illinois, but if you read the rest of this article you know that Iowa City can be an inhospitable place for MSU. Still, a win in this game would set the Spartans up nicely for a potential run to the Big Ten Championship. Well, whaddaya know.
The week prior against Notre Dame, nascent Connor Cook had been pulled for Andrew Maxwell on the final drive of the game (which went predictably). Cook wasn't happy with that decision, and said as much after the game. So it was going to be very interesting to see how Cook and the coaching staff handled this one.
Though Iowa grabbed a 14-10 lead at the half behind Jake Rudock (lol), Cook tossed a nice 37-yard touchdown to Bennie Fowler to give MSU a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Iowa wouldn't score in the second half, and Mike Sadler's fake punt gave him more yards rushing than Iowa had as a team. Cook attempted 44(!) passes. Jeremy Langford continued his emergence as the lead back.
And that's a great way to end this recap. The last time we saw Iowa, this MSU team was just turning the corner and have since gone 31-3. I can only presume Saturday will be a great addition to an underrated rivalry.