Many of you probably remember my series from spring Reliving Past Tournaments: Tom Izzo’s Top Wins. Given the lack of football this fall, I will be hitting the gridiron history each week taking a look back at all the wins we enjoyed under former head coach Mark Dantonio’s 13-season tenure. Each week of the regular season (until football officially returns), I will go through and select what I think was that corresponding week’s “best win” out of 13 seasons worth of them and recap the action. I will be pausing the series as the start date for the 2020 Big Ten season approaches, however.
If I am being fully honest, even as a fan, week four was a bit more on the slim pickings side compared to the first three weeks and the rest to follow. Winning is obviously the goal that matters most in college football when looking at results, but not all wins are created equal. I loved beating Notre Dame in 2007 and 2008. Who wouldn’t? I cannot in 2020 sit here and tell you that a soon to be fired Charlie Weis tenure does not take a little bit of the satisfaction out of those wins in retrospect.
Similarly blowout wins over un-noteworthy squads fielded by Western Michigan, Central Michigan, and other non-Power Five programs leave one wanting a little more in terms of overall importance of the win in a recap series like this. So as a result when it came down to it, the Michigan State Spartans’ 2017 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes was the game that gets the nod this week. Do not take my lackluster lead-in as a detraction from the game’s importance itself, however. The eventual 8-5 Hawkeyes team had a quality season including a massive 55-24 upset over then No. 3 Ohio State (before losing to No. 6 Wisconsin the following week after finally being ranked in the AP Poll).
At any rate, for MSU this game was the opening salvo in an important rebound season for the Spartans following the 3-9 nightmare of 2016. It kicked off a four-game win streak to open Big Ten play and helped get the bad taste out of our mouths following a 38-18 loss to Notre Dame. So with that longer lead-in, let’s take a look at the game action!
Iowa at Michigan State
September 30, 2017
Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI
MSU 17-Iowa 10
Michigan State opened the game on offense, and did not hesitate in its opening play of Big Ten action. On the opening play of the drive, Brian Lewerke threw a 31-yard pass to Felton Davis III for an immediate first down. After a two-yard run by Gerald Holmes, a six-yard pass to Davis, and a three-yard pass to Darrell Stewart Jr., it was first-and-10 at the Iowa 33-yard-line. Another pass to Davis, this one for eight yards, and a three-yard run by Holmes and it’s another first down for MSU! Set up on the Iowa 22, Lewerke takes the snap, fakes the handoff to Holmes, rolls out to his right and catches Davis a step ahead of Iowa’s Michael Ojemudia, and hits Davis in stride and it’s good for a TOUCH-DOWN M-S-U!!! Matt Coghlin comes out and nails the extra point to make it 7-0 MSU.
Following MSU’s initial touchdown, play bogs down into a typical Big Ten showcase of field position battles against great defenses. Iowa manages just eight yards on its opening possession before being forced to punt. The Spartans manage 15 yards themselves on their ensuing possession after drawing a roughing the passer penalty on the opening play. Madre London manages another three yards on the next play, but an incomplete pass and then a sack on Lewerke for a three-yard loss erases London’s gain and forces a punt.
MSU special teams flips the field big time on a booming 50-yard punt by Jake Hartbarger as Iowa is forced to fair catch it at its own nine-yard-line. The Spartan defense digs in on this series and Iowa ends up losing two yards on a run by Akrum Wadley, throws an incomplete pass, and loses another yard on a Wadley run before being forced to punt. Despite a respectable 36-yard punt of their own, Laress Nelson returns it 11 yards for excellent field position at the Iowa 31-yard-line.
The Michigan State offense returns to the field and puts together another great drive this time, eating up 4:08 off the clock. LJ Scott rips off a nine-yard run on the opening play. However, Scott and then Lewerke are both stuffed for no gain to bring up fourth-and-one from the Iowa 22-yard-line. Dantonio calls to go for it, though, and Lewerke manages to convert for the first down! An incomplete pass to Davis and one-yard run by Scott follows, but offensive holding on Scott’s run pushes the ball back 10 yards to bring up second-and-19. Lewerke connects to Stewart for an eight-yard pass, and a personal foul on Iowa adds another 11 yards to make is first-and-10 from the Iowa 11. Lewerke grabs another six yards on a keeper on first down to setup second-and-four for MSU. Lewerke makes a pass attempt on the next play, but throws incomplete to Davis. Iowa is called for a pass interference penalty on the play and gives MSU another first down along with three yards. On first and goal, Matt Sokol loses two yards along with the ball on a forced fumble by Iowa’s Josey Jewell, but Sokol manages to recover. Despite the loss of yardage, Lewerke connects yet again with Davis on the next play for a six-yard touchdown pass. Coghlin comes out for the extra point attempt and makes it 14-0 MSU!
Iowa comes out on offense following and manages to march the ball down to Michigan State’s 40-yard-line by the end of the quarter, helped along by a 10-yard pass from Nathan Stanley to Matt VandeBerg, eight-yard scramble by Stanley, and 10-yard pass to Noah Fant. That’s a wrap on the first quarter, and Spartan Stadium cues up “the wave” to the Iowa Children’s Hospital to mark the change of quarters just like a home game for Iowa in Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa started the quarter at MSU’s 40-yard line and managed a one-yard pickup, before Stanley connected to Ihmir Smith-Marsette for a huge 32-yard gain. After Wadley loses a yard on the next play, he manages to break through the Spartan defense for a nine-yard touchdown run to make it a 14-7 MSU lead.
The Spartans manage a hard-fought 30-yard drive on the ensuing possession. The longest play on this one was a pass to Sokol for six yards. However, MSU stalled out at the Iowa 45 and had to punt it. Hartbarger hung it in the air to make sure Iowa was forced to fair catch it at its own eight-yard-line.
The Hawkeyes managed just one yard of their own before being forced to punt as well. MSU responded with two yards before a three-and-out forced another punt. This one was fair caught again by Iowa at its own eight-yard-line. The Hawkeyes end up losing five yards on the possession and Colten Rastetter manages just a 33-yard punt that is downed at the Iowa 36-yard-line.
The Spartan offense took the field, but managed just an incomplete pass to Davis and a one-yard sack to open the series. Then Lewerke comes up big with an 11-yard pass to Davis for the first down at Iowa’s 26-yard line. A four-yard run by Stewart and two-yard run by London followed to setup third-and-20 from Iowa’s 20-yard-line. Lewerke throws an incomplete to Davis, and the field goal unit comes on the field. Coughlin boots a 38-yarder between the uprights and it is 17-7 MSU.
Iowa fields the kickoff and Amani Jones manages to pickup 15 yards to begin the Hawkeye drive from its own 40-yard-line. Khari WIllis quickly eats into that with a seven-yard sack. Iowa calls a timeout, then Wadley picks up eight yards and another Hawkeye timeout. Stanley tries for a pass on third-and-nine, but throws incomplete to Nick Easley and elects to punt, which runs out the clock and it’s off to the locker rooms for halftime.
Iowa received the ball to open the second half. The Hawkeyes managed to drive it 62 yards over 12 plays, mostly in small chunks. However, Stanley did connect to Nick Easley for 32 yards and again to AJ Epenesa for 15 yards for big plays. The Hawkeyes proceeded to fumble on third-and-goal at the MSU five-yard line and Joe Bachie recovered it for a MSU takeaway.
Michigan State responded to the Hawkeyes on offense with three straight huge plays. Lewerke connected to Laress Nelson for 23 yards, Cody White for 17 yards, and Felton Davis for 13 yards. The drive stalled out shortly thereafter at the Iowa 30-yard-line as MSU tried to convert on fourth-and-one, but LJ Scott couldn’t find the yard.
Iowa ripped off 40 yards over a five-play drive to follow. Most of those yards were accounted for by a 22-yard pass to T.J. Hockenson. On the very next play, Iowa’s Brandon Smith caught a three-yard pass, but MSU’s Josiah Scott forced the ball out and Chris Frey scooped up and ran it back 11 yards before being tackled.
The Spartans started the drive from its own 44-yard-line and managed to get the ball to third-and-one from the Iowa 30-yard-line. However, on an incomplete pass to Davis in the end zone, MSU picked up a holding penalty and was pushed back to third-and-11 from Iowa’s 30 and failed to convert for the first down as Lewerke threw the ball well past a covered Matt Dotson. Matt Coghlin came out for the 48-yard field goal attempt, but it sailed just a bit too far to the right of the upright.
The Hawkeyes picked up 45 yards on the ensuing drive, using up 4:56 off the clock over eight plays. Big passes to Matt VandeBerg for 16 yards, Hockenson for 13 yards, and Ivory Kelly-Martin for 10 yards were the highlights on this one for Iowa. The Hawkeyes stalled out at the MSU 25-yard-line after Stanley failed to convert on third-and-two with an incomplete to Easley. Miguel Recinos took the field with the field goal unit and the kick was good from 43-yards out to make it 17-10 MSU.
MSU responded with a 33-yard, eight-play drive that stalled out at the Iowa 40-yard-line. Hartbarger came out and punted 33-yards to force the Hawkeyes’ Joshua Jackson to fair catch the ball at its own seven-yard line. The Spartan defense held Iowa to just five yards and forced a three-and-out. The Michigan State offense began its next drive from its own 48-yard-line and managed to advance as far as Iowa’s 37-yard-line before getting pushed back by both loss of yardage plays and penalties to the point where the Spartans ended up having to punt from their own 43-yard-line. Iowa begin the final drive of the game, and proceeded to lose three yards on three plays before the clock ran out. That’s a victory for MSU!
While this may not have been the most exciting game score-wise, it was a classic Big Ten slug-fest and battle of field position. Michigan State started off conference-play with a win and would go on to upset No. 7 Michigan the following 14-10 in Ann Arbor while eventually finishing the season 10-3 and ranked No. 18 in the final AP Poll. It marked MSU’s sixth 10-win season in the last eight years, and was the last double-digit win season of the Mark Dantonio era. Coming off a loss to Notre Dame the prior week made this an important bounce back win for MSU as well.