The last time Michigan State and Iowa duked it out on the gridiron, it wasn’t the Big Ten opener for the Spartans, it was for the Big Ten Championship and a basically-guaranteed spot in the College Football Playoff. And while this game gets forgotten due to a lack of offense and both combatants getting embarrassed in their following bowl games, this Big Ten title game should be remembered for great defense and a couple of HUGE timely plays.
Iowa and Michigan State were both somewhat surprise participants in the 2015 Big Ten Championship. Iowa was coming off a 7-6 season, and while Michigan State was expected to be good, both they and Michigan were chasing defending national champion Ohio State. The Spartan’s season could’ve gone a few different ways, but a couple of huge comeback wins against the aforementioned Wolverines and Buckeyes set them on the right course.
State could have easily lost both those games and this flashback of a piece would not be happening. But the Spartans survived and earned the right to play for the Big Ten title. For those that do not remember, there was an uneasy feeling heading into that game as MSU-record holder in almost all things quarterback, Connor Cook, was still dealing with a shoulder injury and was not his normal self. And while most had confidence in State’s defense, they were concerned when it came to the offense.
And that’s exactly how this title game played out.
Riley Bullough started things off defensively with a forced fumble that was recovered by Spartan safety Arjen Colquhoun in Iowa territory, but MSU settled for a field goal. On State’s next possession, Cook got picked in their own territory, but then the Hawkeyes settled for a field goal. Iowa added a second field goal early in the second quarter and was looking for more later in the first half.
But the Spartan defense got a little lucky…
Bullough making the namesake proud on this night, jarring another ball free, and laying perfectly still while it sat on his back in the endzone, waiting to be plucked. Despite the great defense, Michigan State could do nothing offensively and trailed 6-3 at halftime.
The third quarter should have a giant spartan stamped next to it, because MSU owned that quarter, holding the Hawkeyes to THREE total yards and ZERO first downs. Yet State leads just 9-6 entering the final frame. And then all hell breaks loose.
While neither quarterback had a great evening, C.J. Beathard undoubtedly had the throw of the game, and after stuffing the Spartans next offensive possession, Iowa looked to be just over nine minutes away from the College Football Playoffs. Until the Spartans turned back the hands of time, went to old-school smash-mouth football, and had the drive of all drives.
Trailing 13-9 with 9:31 left on the clock, MSU took over at their own 18-yardline, went on a 22-play, 82-yard drive that took nine minutes and four seconds before LJ Scott finally found paydirt.
It would be the last great game by Michigan State as of yet, and capped off an amazing 2015 season for MSU, filled with three historical comeback victories over Michigan on the road, Ohio State on the road, and Iowa in a mostly gold-and-black filled Lucas Oil Stadium.
Whenever these two teams get together, it’s defense first, defense second, and a little offense sprinkled in. Expect more of the same when these two meet for the first time since that December night when everything was on the line.