The Michigan State Spartans were absolutely dominated on Saturday at the hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes, losing 49-7 in Iowa City. It was an embarrassing loss, especially after the Spartans came off an impressive win against Michigan in Week Two. Nothing seemed to go right for the Spartans, and the game was out of reach before they even knew it.
Moving forward, what are the takeaways we have from this game with the Indiana Hoosiers coming next week?
“What Team are we Getting This Week?”
The Spartans have been a rollercoaster through three weeks of the season. A turnover filled, seemingly fluke loss to Rutgers in Week One left plenty of fans scratching their heads and concerned about the future of the season. A bounce back win in Week Two to upset rival Michigan in Ann Arbor behind a turnover free and outstanding performance by quarterback Rocky Lombardi and wide receiver Ricky White. After that win, it looked like the Spartans were maybe going to have something here.
But then came the Hawkeyes, and the Spartans looked gassed from the beginning. Down 21-0 early, the Spartans tried to make something happen, but ultimately gave up a punt return touchdown followed by a pick-six, giving the Hawkeyes a 35-0 advantage at halftime. Linebacker Antjuan Simmons spoke about the different performances each week.
“We’re gonna make it a priority to have this team ready to go Saturday and from here on out, because we can’t be up and down, up and down,” Simmons said, “That’s not how you win games.”
Consistency will be the key moving forward, and with a big game against Indiana coming up next week, the Spartans can make a big statement against a very good Indiana team.
The Defense Takes a Step Back Early
Through the first two weeks this season, I’ve been riding high on defensive coordinator Scotty Hazelton’s defense. The Spartans looked to be a dominant defense through the first two games when they weren’t thrown into bad positions from turnovers.
This week was different. The defense wasn’t clicking for much of the game against the Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes have gotten out to early leads against their opponents, and did so against the Spartans, but the Michigan State defense seemed to be gassed early, allowing Iowa to move right down the field on their first two drives.
The defense settled in after that, though, and after the first four drives only allowed a total of seven total yards until halftime. With the game being out of reach in the second half, combined with a few sloppy mistakes, allowed Iowa to score another 14 points, and cemented the Hawkeyes’ win.
Moving forward, the defense needs to set the tone early, because a 14-0 deficit early in the first quarter doesn’t exactly give your team confidence. Another big game this week can give the Spartans the motivation they need to put on another strong performance, and if the defense comes out with a fire like the unit did against Michigan, we could see the better side of this Spartan team in the remainder of the season.
Miscommunication Strikes Again
Miscommunication was one of the biggest issues from the Spartans’ Week One loss to Rutgers. It resulted in multiple turnovers and killed many drives for MSU as the team tried to get back in the game.
The same thing happened this week. Early, Rocky Lombardi rolled out to keep a play alive, and sailed a ball way downfield right to an Iowa defender, setting up the Hawkeyes with decent field position. Initially, it looked like a whiff from Lombardi, but after looking at the replay, it seemed he thought wide receiver Jalen Nailor was going to continue on his route, which he ended up cutting short, resulting in the pick.
It was reminiscent of some of the mistakes that haunted the Spartans in. the opening game, and put MSU in a bad spot early down 14-0. Those kinds of mistakes weren’t there against Michigan in Week Two, so it was a surprise to see them against Iowa. The Spartans can’t afford to make these mistakes as they get into the thick of the schedule. With teams like Indiana, Northwestern, and Ohio State coming up in the next few weeks, the Spartans are going to have to play their best football if they want any chance of turning it around, and that starts with eliminating the simple mistakes.
Complementary Football is Key
This one seems the most obvious, but complementary football is one of the biggest keys to victory. All three phases of the team have to click at the same time, and the Spartans haven’t done that in their two losses. The special teams were a big problem this week, setting up Iowa with great field position on most of their drives, and allowing a touchdown in the second quarter to expand Iowa’s early lead.
The offense, obviously, can’t turn the ball over, and must at least move the ball if they want their defense to stay fresh through the game and keep them in a position to win. Next week’s game against Indiana will be big, and we’ll see if the Spartans iron out the wrinkles.
The Spartans are close. MSU can be competitive this season. It showed against Michigan. But the team can’t afford to make mistakes like it has in the two losses this season. The Spartans have a quarterback in Rocky Lombardi, and plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. They need to set the tone early and take control of the game, and they can’t do that if they don’t move the ball, let the opponent score, or give up big returns on special teams.
There’s plenty of work to do this week for the Spartans, and with some motivation again for a big game, we’ll see if Michigan State can get it done like the team did for Michigan. If the Spartans do turn it around next week, there’s plenty of reason to be excited about the remainder of the season. But until then, we’ll just have to wait and see.