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Michigan State Spartans Football: Big Ten Championship Five Factors

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Your weekly dive into the MSU box score

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Have we built a Dantonio statue yet? (Big Box Score)

And in graphical form:

[As always, this data is sack-adjusted. Check out Bill Connelly's Five Factors here.]

Dantonio 4, Ferentz 4

An absolute classic in this series. When Iowa and MSU play, just assume the final score is going to be 16-13 and flip a coin for which team wins. And this game was pretty much just inverse 2009, right? In '09, Iowa was winning the field goal battle 9-6 before MSU took a 13-9 lead on a big passing play, followed by a game-ending touchdown drive for Iowa.

Unfortunately, unless we see the Hawkeyes in a future Big Ten Championship game (and that's certainly possible), MSU will only play Iowa once between now and 2020. Thanks, Jim Delany.

The Drive

Statistical absurdity. To put together the longest drive in all of college football for the last two seasons in the fourth quarter of the Big Ten Championship is insane. That single drive accounted for about 15% of total game time, 28% of all the plays MSU ran in the game (22 of 79) and 22% of MSU's total yardage. LJ Scott had 14 carries... on that drive alone. I still haven't fully wrapped my head around it.

Defensive Dominance

Iowa's overall explosiveness stats are badly skewed by the 85-yard bomb from C.J. Beathard to Tevaun Smith. Other than that pass, MSU held Iowa to 3.7 yards per play and just 3.8 yards per pass. That would've made it the second-best performance of the season, behind the 2.9 yards per play in Columbus against Ohio State. The defense was well-suited to stopping the rushing attack from the Hawkeyes.

Neither team did a great job finishing drives, but Iowa was also bad at even getting into position to score. On the game, the Hawkeyes only had first downs inside the MSU 40 three times, and only came away with six points total on those three opportunities. Iowa only crossed midfield one time in the second half, and that was on the long touchdown.

If The Drive hadn't happened, we'd be real upset about that Iowa touchdown.

On Geiger and Going For It

I thought the decisions to let Michael Geiger attempt 50+ yard field goals was totally defensible given the situations: the first one being a 4th-and-15 and the second one being on the final play of the first half. Geiger clearly has the leg for those kicks, and hitting one of those two would've been hugely helpful. Plus, Geiger had a generally good day given that he hit all three shorter kicks and was pretty close on both 52-yarders.

I would've liked to see Dantonio go for it on 4th-and-5 from the Iowa 39 on the first drive of the second half. As it turned out, the punt netted only 27 yards. But I'm picking nits here, and 4th-and-5 is no gimme against that Iowa defense.

Connor Cook Still Isn't Right

I thought that after the 19-for-26, 9.2 yards per attempt outing against a competent Penn State defense that Cook was nearly fully healthy, but he looked off in this one (and I'm not sure why he won the MVP award over L.J. Scott). Before the Maryland game, MSU was averaging 7.7 yards per passing attempt. Since Cook got injured, MSU is averaging just 5.5 yards per attempt. That could be an issue against Alabama.

Credit Iowa here, too. They got more pressure on Cook than I expected and their secondary was the real deal. Even on the longer completions, MSU receivers took big hits from the Hawkeyes. It wasn't easy.

Bottom Line

The Scott touchdown was a perfect microcosm of the game as a whole: clawing and scratching to gain any sort of slight advantage, with MSU coming out victorious at the end. Before The Drive, Iowa had advantages in efficiency and finishing drives which were just enough to give them a 4-point lead. After The Drive, MSU grabbed ever-so-slight advantages in four of the five factors. In Dantonio's parlance, they found the inches.