After a sloppy and sluggish performance against Notre Dame the week before, the Michigan State Spartans were suddenly in a pivotal point in their season. Welcoming in Big Ten cross-division foe Iowa for the league opener suddenly became a much more important game.
The Spartans bounced back in a big way against the Hawkeyes and answered some, not all, questions moving forward. In doing so, they collected their first win at home over Iowa since 2008.
Here are the three biggest takeaways from MSU’s 17-10 win over Iowa.
3. KEEP IT CLEAN
The Spartans entering Saturday had the worst turnover margin in the Big Ten at -6. Much of that came the week prior against Notre Dame when three MSU turnovers led to three touchdowns for the Fighting Irish.
Against the Hawkeyes, Michigan State not only took care of the football themselves, but they forced some turnovers of their own. MSU forced two fumbles, including one when Iowa was in the red zone.
While MSU didn’t turn those takeaways into points, they effectively kept the Iowa offense out of scoring range for two drives and milked more than eight minutes of game time in doing so. The Spartans have made sure to control the clock this season, ranking ninth in the nation in average time of possession this year, second only to Wisconsin in the Big Ten.
In a more perfect world, MSU cashes in big time on those Iowa turnovers and extends the lead. But it’s the ability to control the clock, in addition to our next takeaway, that make it manageable, for the most part.
2. DEFENSE GETS IT DONE AGAIN
With the exception of being able to take the ball away, the Michigan State defense, by and large, has been very good early in the season. Even against a run-heavy Notre Dame team that ranks top-10 in rushing yards per game, MSU was able to neutralize them to a certain degree.
The defense’s latest test was containing Iowa tailback Akrum Wadley. The senior was averaging over 141 yards from scrimmage entering the game vs. MSU. The Spartans’ defense held Wadley to just 47 total yards, making him a non-factor in the game.
Iowa as a team was held to just 19 yards rushing on less than one yard per carry.
Michigan State now this season is allowing under 250 yards of offense per game, good for third in the Big Ten. There will be plenty of bigger challenges for the Spartans moving forward, beginning with next weekend in Ann Arbor against in-state rival Michigan. But it’s a huge confidence boost for a largely young defense.
1. NEED MORE GROUND N’ POUND
It was a good, old-fashioned Big Ten slugfest between these two on Saturday, a head-to-head series that historically consists of close games. We documented Iowa’s struggles to run the football, but Michigan State did not fare much better.
Sparty carried the rock 42 times for 88 yards, by far their lowest total of the season. An anomaly? Perhaps. MSU still ranks fourth in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game. But the Spartans have personnel to be better than that. And a lot of that yardage is inflated by some jet sweep run plays by wide receiver Darrell Stewart.
Quarterback Brian Lewerke is being raved for his ability to be a dual-threat guy under center. In fact, Lewerke currently leads the team in rush yards. No disrespect to the redshirt sophomore, but when a team has a supposed lead tailback in LJ Scott with above-average complementary tailbacks in Madre London and Gerald Holmes, the quarterback should not be leading in rushing.
It speaks to Lewerke’s ability and production thus far to give opposing defenses problems. But Michigan State has a golden opportunity to really open things up on offense and get their three-headed monster in the backfield going. And it starts with Scott, who has had ball security troubles early to start the season.