The Michigan State Spartans turned the ball over way too often and Notre Dame took advantage this past weekend. Mix that in with questionable decisions from the coaching staff, nine penalties and 182 yards allowed on the ground, and the Spartans found themselves on the wrong end of a 38 to 18 score.
Newsflash: This one stings against a rival who Michigan State (likely) won’t see again until 2026. It was a bad game for the Spartans all the way around, but the team cannot let this loss linger and come into the Iowa game with a bad “hangover.”
One takeaway from the Notre Dame game that the Spartans should feel confident in is that they gained 496 of yards of offense, including 345 passing yards. The Spartans continuously shot themselves in the foot with three turnovers — none more devastating than L.J. Scott’s fumble before crossing the goal line, which in my opinion completely turned the game around — but the offense was able to drive down the field with ease on most occasions.
That kind of thing is hard to swallow, knowing that it was your own mistakes that cost you. But hats off to Notre Dame for seizing the opportunity and soundly beating the Spartans. With all of that said, in football, a team must take it one week at a time and have a short memory. Iowa is a tough opponent, as the Hawkeyes just gave No. 4 Penn State a run for its money. If Michigan State comes in down on its luck and flat, the Hawkeyes are going to punch the Spartans in the mouth from the opening whistle and dominate.
Brian Lewerke had a miserable game. He threw for a lot of yards, sure, but bad reads, bad decisions and horrid turnovers on his end were a big reason why the boys in green and white never truly threatened to win this game. A lot of a team’s success begins and ends with quarterback play. That was one of my five points of emphasis in my keys to success piece I wrote last week. Lewereke threw a pick six early on, which kind of set the tone for the game, before the Spartans answered back with a score. Lewerke fumbled later on in the second quarter, which led to another Notre Dame score.
Controlling the trenches was another one of my key points, and the Spartans didn’t do that particularly well, either. They were out-gained on the ground 182 to 151, and while pass protection was better than the run blocking, the Spartans also allowed two sacks — the offensive line had only allowed two sacks in the first two games of the season combined. There wasn’t great push from the Spartans on either side of the ball. Looking back at the play-by-play, I count only seven plays where the Spartans defense held the Fighting Irish to no gain or tackled the ball carrier for negative yardage.
So, that’s a lot of bad for the Spartans. Michigan State players, coaches, fans, media — forget about it. Now. We are in a new week, against a solid opponent that is 3-1. Akrum Wadley hasn’t been spectacular, but he is a very talented and dangerous running back that the Spartans must contain.
Sophomore Nathan Stanley is really coming into his own. He’s not a big threat to throw for 300 yards because Iowa’s offense doesn’t usually work that way (though he did so against Iowa State) but he has a big arm and an impressive 12 to one interception ratio. In his last three games, Stanley has completed 62 percent of his passes for 721 yards (240 yards per game), nine touchdowns and zero picks. That is quite impressive. He may be the best pure passer that the Spartans have had to face so far this season.
The Iowa defense has not been all that impressive, though. Saquan Barkley torched them for 211 yards last week and the Hawkeyes gave up 579 total yards to Penn State. But, Barkley is a superstar and one of college football’s best players, so he is hard to stop. Still, the Hawkeyes, have given up 112 or more rushing yards in three of their four games, including against North Texas. Iowa is currently giving up 146.5 yards per game on the ground, which ranks just 10th in the Big Ten. Michigan State must take advantage of that and HOLD ONTO THE DAMN FOOTBALL.
Iowa ranks sixth in the Big Ten in scoring defense, giving up 19.8 points per game. Its passing defense gives up about 250 yards per game, which also ranks just 10th in the conference. Despite some shaky safety play, the Michigan State passing defense is still atop the Big Ten, allowing a mere 132.3 yards per game. The Spartans are more in the middle of the pack in rushing yards allowed at more than 121 per game. MSU must get better against the run and make Stanley and the Hawkeyes throw against their tough passing defense — but I think Stanley has recently proven he can do that.
The moral of the story is that this Iowa team is good, but the Spartans should be able to move the ball on them. Not turning the ball over, stopping the run and continuing to play tough pass coverage will win the Spartans the game. However, if Michigan State comes in with heads hanging, no confidence and no energy because of the butt-whopping they took against Notre Dame, Iowa will win this game easily.
For the record, I expect Mark Dantonio to have his team prepared, and I think the team will be focused on Iowa and let Saturday’s debacle go. But if we remember 2016, the team played with zero confidence and poor leadership. If that happens again, this season will spiral out of control as well. I am begging you, Spartans, do not come into this game with a Notre Dame hangover.