Michigan St loss puts Big Ten title in 4-way raceBy LUKE MEREDITH, AP Sports Writer Sunday, Oct 31, 2010
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP)—The path to Pasadena and perhaps the national title game was laid out for Michigan State—if it could win at Iowa.
That turned out to be a much bigger “if” than anyone imagined.
The Spartans unbeaten streak ended with a thud Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes raced out to a 30-0 lead in the first half and routed Michigan State 37-6.
The loss almost certainly ended the Spartans hopes for a national title run and threw the Big Ten race into a four-way battle for the Rose Bowl with the Spartans, Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio State.
“Everybody has been patting us on the backs for quite a few weeks here, so now they will kick us to the curb a little bit,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “We will respond.”
Michigan State (8-1, 4-1 Big Ten) finishes with home games against league also-rans Minnesota and Purdue and a trip to Penn State. The Hawkeyes (6-2, 3-1) were the final major test.
Well, the Spartans failed it.
Michigan State let Iowa drive 80 yards on 12 plays to open the game, and Ricky Stanzi’s 3-yard TD pass to Colin Sandeman made it 7-0. The Spartans followed with a three-and-out, and the Hawkeyes ate up another 4:23 before settling for a 37-yard field goal.
Six plays later, Michigan State was behind 17-0 after one of the more memorable plays in recent Iowa history.
Cousins threw it downfield to B.J. Cunningham, but Hawkeyes star safety Tyler Sash jumped the route and easily picked it off. Sash alertly tossed the ball to Micah Hyde, who took it 66 yards for a touchdown.
The Spartans had rallied from a 17-0 deficit against Northwestern the week before, but the Wildcats don’t have a defense like Iowa.
Cousins threw three interceptions—after tossing just four in the first eight games—and the Hawkeyes held Michigan State to just 31 yards rushing.
“Iowa’s defense is a bend but don’t break defense, and if you’re only getting a few yards at the time and you get a chance to chuck it deep, you always want to force it in there,” Cousins said. “They got the better of me.”
Michigan State defensive back Chris L. Rucker, who missed two games after serving eight days in jail for a probation violation, didn’t start. He entered the game in the second quarter and played sparingly.
Dantonio declined to elaborate on Rucker, but defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi defended him after the game.
“Chris Rucker is a super kid,” Narduzzi said. “That’s coach Dantonio’s decision, but Chris Rucker is a great kid and a great person. I’ll leave it at that.”
For Iowa, Saturday’s win was exactly the kind of bounce-back effort it needed after a devastating 31-30 loss to Wisconsin last week. It was also a reminder of how good the Hawkeyes can be when they put it all together.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz dubbed it the most complete game of the season for the Hawkeyes, and it was hard to argue that point.
Iowa’s offense produced points on its first four drives, with three touchdowns and a field goal. Its defense scored on Hyde’s return and set up another score on Shaun Prater’s interception in the second quarter.
The bruising Badgers were able to push around the Hawkeyes at times last week. But the offensive and defensive lines asserted control early on against Michigan State, allowing Iowa to dictate the tempo of the game.
“You’ve got two ways to respond when you lose a game. Certainly we are all disappointed. You get in the fetal position (or) you come out and start playing again. That’s what our guys did,” Ferentz said.
The win also thrust the Hawkeyes right back into the Big Ten title mix.
Michigan State beat Wisconsin, which beat Iowa, so those three teams all have one league loss against each other.
Ohio State’s only loss in the Big Ten came at Wisconsin, and the Buckeyes travel to Iowa on Nov. 20 for a showdown that looms as a swing game for the league’s Rose Bowl berth.
The league’s rule book could get a workout with all the tiebreakers that could come into play over the next month. But Iowa is the only one of those four with a loss outside the league, after stumbling at Arizona 34-27 in September.
The Spartans leave Iowa City with a better record and their postseason hopes still firmly in their control. But the Hawkeyes made it perfectly clear that they were the better team on Saturday afternoon.
“We are still an 8-1 team, and that’s something we need to recognize,” Dantonio said.