Oct. 5, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist | @GrinzOnGreen
Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard was three years away from being born in 1987, but that didn't stop him from having a déjà vu Spartan episode in Iowa City.
Twenty-six years ago, MSU went into the locker room at halftime of its Big Ten opener at Iowa's Kinnick Stadium trailing the Hawkeyes, 14-7. The Rose Bowl-bound Spartans' soon-to-be nationally renowned defense came out so angry, it held Iowa scoreless in the second half.
Meantime, new starting quarterback Bobby McAllister continued to establish himself by leading the offense to a pair of third-quarter field goals and throwing the game-winning, 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mike Sargent in the fourth quarter for a 19-14 victory.
On Saturday, MSU's nation-leading defense spotted the Hawkeyes two touchdowns late in the second quarter and the Spartans trailed, 14-10, at halftime. And as if channeling their inner Percy Snows, John Millers and Harlon Barnetts, Michigan State's defenders blanked Iowa the rest of the way while new starting quarterback Connor Cook threw the go-ahead, 37-yard touchdown pass to wideout Bennie Fowler and drove the offense for three field goals in a 26-14 victory.
"Yeah, we gave up too many yards and they had two touchdowns in something like less than four minutes," Dennard said of defense's mood at intermission. "We were all ticked off at each other. We all know what our goals are and how we can play, and that wasn't our way of playing football late in the second quarter."
During one stretch, Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock completed 11 straight passes for 138 yards and his 47-yard touchdown pass to running back Damon Bullock is the longest play allowed by MSU this season.
However, the Hawkeyes had just six first downs the entire second half, and four of those came on their last drive, which ended on an incomplete, fourth-down pass with just over a minute to play.
Earlier in the week, Dennard said the penalties that hurt MSU in its loss at Notre Dame wouldn't have been an issue if he had just played a little better. Against Iowa, Dennard ended a pair of drives with his first two interceptions of the season - one in the first quarter and another in the fourth.
"This is exactly what I was talking about," said Dennard, who led the Spartans with eight tackles. "I felt like I had a good game today. I could have made a play on that one long pass and it could have been a total shutout, but I'll just have to work on my tape-meetings about that."
As a whole, the defense gave up 264 yards, which is off its nation-leading pace of 188.8 yards per game. However, it limited the Hawkeyes, who started the season with five straight 200-yard rushing games and was averaging 244.4 yards on the ground, to just 23 yards on 16 carries. Running back Mark Weisman, who was second in the Big Ten with 123 yards per game on a league-high 119 rushes, had just 9 yards on seven carries.
"We just wanted to make them one-dimensional by shutting down the run game and forcing them to throw the ball," said MSU strong safety Isaiah Lewis. "That's what we did and that's what makes our defense so good - we forced them to do what we wanted them to do.
"It makes you feel good for the future and it gives you a lot of confidence for the next game coming up. Confidence will take you a long way."
The defense also complemented the Michigan State offense, which had a breakout game, by repeatedly getting off the field. Iowa, which was second in the Big Ten and 13th in the nation with a 52.5-percent third-down conversion rate, was 4-for-15 against the Spartans and two of those came on its final drive.
"We got a lot of three-and-outs so our offense could be in good position to do what they do and score," Lewis said. "We don't want to backtrack and have a season like we had last year when we were so close at the end of games and didn't win them.
"When we get a chance to seize that moment, we're going to buckle down and finish the game all the way through. And if we do that, we'll have more wins like we did today."