clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Only Q&A: Breaking down MSU-Iowa with Black Heart Gold Pants

Let’s get to know the Hawkeyes

Big Ten Championship Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

With just days to go until Michigan State’s matchup against Iowa, we figured we should get to know the Hawkeyes.

And, of course, what better way to get to know them than to talking an Iowan himself? Max Brekke of Black Heart Gold Pants was kind enough to answer 11 scorching hot questions about this weekend’s showdown, and he gave some solid insight into what to expect on Saturday.

First off, I'm so sorry about Saturday's loss. I really do feel bad bringing it up, but it's the elephant in the room. What's the consensus after the game -- happy you guys hung with a great team? A fluke performance in front of a great home crowd at night? Still feel like you guys should have beat them?

There's definite disappointment in the end result, as there are with all losses, but that one stung quite a bit. The Hawkeyes appeared to go into the game with the game plan to let Saquon Barkley do whatever the hell he wanted, while all but eliminating Trace McSorley for large portions of the game, and it almost worked. While we're all disappointed with the ending, Iowa fans are by no means disappointed with their team - people everywhere predicted Penn State to run the Hawks out of their own building and instead, they were able to make Penn State fans sweat it out until the very end. Moral victories are dumb, in my humble opinion, but if there was ever a time to say there was a moral victory, it was in a game where Iowa hung with the #4 team in the country for four quarters and put yourself in good position to win. Onto the next one.

Let's start on your offensive side of the ball -- what's the strength here?

Run, run, run, short pass, run some more. (Running back) Akrum Wadley described this past weekend's game as "the worst of his career," and he ran 19 times for 80 yards to go along with four receptions for 75 yards, totaling two touchdowns. Those numbers are certainly inflated by a 70-yard reception and a 35-yard run, so he was suffocated by the PSU defense most of that game, but I have a feeling he'll be determined to redeem himself for what has been a relatively quiet season thus far against Michigan State this week.

The guy a lot of people are talking about so far this season is (quarterback) Nate Stanley, and I'll touch on him more later, but he's opened up a passing attack that is lightyears ahead of where anyone thought it would be after losing C.J. Beathard to the NFL.

Penn State v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

And now for defense -- what's the strength here?

Iowa's front seven is the strong suit, particularly the linebacking corps, and they're led by Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year candidate Josey Jewell. Against Penn State, Jewell flew around everywhere, racking up 16 tackles, three tackles for loss, two pass deflections, a fumble recovery, and an interception on his way to B1G Defensive POTW honors.

One thing that Iowa fans hope Iowa can build upon from the recent loss is the stellar defensive line play. The line was extremely hyped coming into the season because of their size and pass rushing abilities, and hadn't really shown that promise until Penn State. Against the Nittany Lions, they combined for four sacks, seven tackles for loss, five QB hurries, and a handful of pass deflections. If they can continue that sort of work, they should be a force to be reckoned with in conference play.

Any players that have been quiet so far this season that are on the brink of a breakout performance?

I already mentioned Wadley as someone who's struggled a bit this season (4.3 YPC, down from 6.4 in 2016), who I expect to come out motivated to have a breakout performance, but on offense, I hope one of Iowa's tight end's can break out this weekend. Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson have combined for 13 receptions, 172 yards, and four touchdowns this season, although both were quiet in the first conference game. It'd be nice to see them get a bit more involved after their collective hot start has sort of slowed down.

On the other side of the ball, true freshman (defensive end) AJ Epenesa has seen very limited time on the field thus far this season but made a big impact when he's played. He played 37 snaps against PSU, by far his most in a game this season, and put pressure on McSorley all day. He also did this to Saquon Barkley, which I have watched no less than 50 times. Iowa fans have been demanding he see the field more this season and after a solid performance, this upcoming weekend might be just the time to do it.

On the flip side, which player has surprised you so far this season?

Nate Stanley has been very good in his first season as the starter. Most of his stats won't wow anyone (64/105 for 846 yards is really similar to Brian Lewerke, but with an extra game), but he's made almost no mistakes. His third pass of the season was an interception, but since then, he's thrown 12 touchdowns and no picks. This is mostly a product of two things - Brian Ferentz has run quick routes to get the ball out of his hands quickly and the offensive line has been pretty solid in pass protection so far, allowing just five sacks in four games. Still, it's impressive for a first-year starter to come in and make decisions as well as he has.

Penn State v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

What about MSU makes you nervous?

Iowa fans are way too confident about this game for my liking. They're just thinking about last season's Spartans team and assuming that this team will be a cupcake in 2017, too. They're ignoring the fact that Michigan State is averaging over 470 yards of offense per game and limiting teams to an average of 250, and that even last year, they gave Michigan and Ohio State fits. Sure, the competition this year hasn't been the stiffest and they were just blown out by Notre Dame at home, but this looks to be a speedy MSU team that will challenge Iowa on defense all game.

We promise we won't tell Kirk Ferentz you answered this -- how do we beat you guys?

The formula for anyone to beat Iowa is to stop the run. The Hawkeyes are always going to be heavily reliant on the ground game as long as someone with the last name Ferentz is at the helm, and if you can stifle them there, there's a good chance at victory. Iowa's shown that they're more than capable moving the ball through the air this season, but it might not matter if Akrum Wadley and Co. can be stopped.

Nebraska v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Are you like me and absolutely baffled MSU is favored by 3.5 points this game? I feel like taking a bank loan out and putting it on you guys.

I think the line makes some sense - it's the second road game of the year for the Hawkeyes and their first outside the state of Iowa, which could provide an interesting challenge for them. Iowa played a few stinkers before they took Penn State to the wire, including a rough game against North Texas and a comeback, overtime victory against in-state rival Iowa State. The cherry on top of it all is that Iowa's defense very well might be broken after the PSU game - they were on the field for 99 plays on a 90 degree day. Kirk said that he's keeping that in mind during practice this week, so hopefully the defense can recover for this upcoming Saturday.

Let's get away from the game here for a second. What's the tailgate drink of choice for you guys?

For Iowans? Probably Busch Light. Actually, scratch the probably. I went to a tailgate this past weekend in Iowa City and I'm not sure anyone at the tailgate brought anything to drink other than Busch Light. 16 million gallons of the beverage are shipped to Iowa each year, which is enough to get every adult in the state a seven-gallon pony keg.

Who wins in a tag team wrestling match? Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio, or Kirk Ferentz and Fran McCaffery? Hates me to say this, but I think Fran's reach can be a game-changer here.

Fran's reach and his wrath would be enough to defeat Izzo and Dantonio in a 2-on-1 handicap match. Michigan State fans undoubtedly remember him throwing a chair a few years back, so if we're going hardcore rules, I don't think he'd be above bringing out a steel chair. Only problem is that he might get distracted by the referee he gets distracted by.


Who wins in a tag team wrestling match?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio
    (59 votes)
  • 70%
    Fran McCaffery and Kirk Ferentz
    (139 votes)
198 votes total Vote Now

Alright, back to the game: What's your prediction?

I'm going to have to go with Iowa in this one. I haven't seen enough Michigan State this year to really have a grasp on who they are, but I think that Iowa generally matches up nicely against Dantonio teams. I expect Iowa's offense to get back on track after some puzzling play-calling last week, and the defense showed they can keep teams out of the end zone.

Nate Stanley tosses a couple touchdowns to his tight ends and one to Nick Easley, while Akrum Wadley cruises into the end zone for one, while Iowa's defense forces a couple turnovers to keep Sparty out of the end zone. Iowa, 31-17.