5 goals I want to see Iowa reach vs. Michigan State
It’s been a rough start to the B1G season for Iowa. The Hawkeyes head into their Week 3 matchup vs. Michigan State at 0-2 for the first time since 2000.
To make matters even more challenging, Iowa will be without one of its starting wide receivers. Ihmir Smith-Marsette has been suspended by Iowa after being charged with operating a vehicle under the influence last Sunday.
Iowa’s start has been excruciating: the losses to Purdue and Northwestern have been by a combined 5 points.
To avoid 0-3, Iowa needs reach these 5 goals Saturday (11 a.m. Central, ESPN):
1. Score more than 3 points in the second half!
Iowa’s offense has been virtually non-existent after halftime through the first 2 weeks. Iowa has scored just 3 points combined in the second half. Iowa was shut out in the final 30 minutes last week during its 21-20 defeat against Northwestern.
Quarterback Spencer Petras took accountability for Iowa’s second half woes against a stingy Northwestern defense.
“It was very frustrating. Credit to Northwestern. They had a really solid half and played well,” Petras said. “That’s part of football. It’s very competitive, and I wish we could have done more, but you give credit to Northwestern.”
Without Smith-Marsette, the onus will be on tight end Sam LaPorta to pick up the slack and serve as a security blanket for Petras.
After allowing 38 points in a Week 1 loss to Rutgers, Michigan State bounced back to hold Michigan to 24 points in its victory on Saturday. On the plus side for Iowa, the Spartans did give up 14 second-half points to the Wolverines.
2. Run the ball consistently
The up-and-down nature of the Iowa running game has been baffling. The offensive line didn’t suffer severe losses in the offseason; several experienced guys returned to open paths for talented rushers Tyler Goodson, Mekhi Sargent and Ivory Kelly-Martin.
Yet consistency has been lacking. Iowa doesn’t have a rushing play longer than 21 yards so far.
Iowa amassed 195 yards on the ground against Purdue but regressed to 77 vs. Northwestern. A large chunk of Iowa’s rushing yards vs. Northwestern came on two plays: a 15-yard touchdown jaunt from Goodson and a 10-yard run from Petras.
Michigan State’s run defense has been vulnerable. The Spartans are allowing 129 yards per game and have given up 7 rushing touchdowns.
One-dimensional football won’t work for Iowa this early in Petras’ career. The Hawkeyes need to find some soft spots in MSU’s rush defense and exploit them — consistently.
3. Avoid defensive lapses
With 3 shutout quarters, the Iowa defense has proven in spurts that it can be special.
However, Iowa let Purdue score the final 10 points in the fourth quarter of Week 1’s 24-20 loss, then gave up 3 touchdowns between the second and third quarters in the 21-20 loss to Northwestern.
Junior defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon has been the biggest bright spot, with 18 tackles, two sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
Nixon is using his platform as a leader to implore his teammates to bring intensity from beginning to end.
“I was telling guys we’ve got to finish. I want my guys to be strong and tough. I want everybody as hyped up as we can be,’’ Nixon said.
With quarterback Rocky Lombardi under center, Michigan State is averaging 321 passing yards. Three Michigan State receivers (Ricky White, Jalen Nailor, Jayden Reed) have combined for 4 touchdowns and each has a reception of 50+ yards.
The defense has to bring its A game the entire contest against Michigan State.
4. Win the turnover and penalty battles
Simply put, Iowa has been sloppy.
The Hawkeyes committed 10 penalties for 100 yards against Purdue. Iowa’s 2.5 turnovers per game ranks ninth-worst nationally. One of the teams averaging more turnovers is Michigan State, so whoever better takes care of the ball will likely emerge victorious.
Many of Iowa’s miscues have come at extremely inopportune moments.
An Iowa fumble resulted in Purdue taking the lead for good. Petras tossed 3 interceptions against Northwestern, all in the second half. Petras’ first interception against Northwestern led to the lone points of the second half. Petras’ third interception with 1 minute remaining sealed Iowa’s defeat.
“The bottom line is Spencer is a two-game quarterback right now, so he’s a very young guy,’’ coach Kirk Ferentz said. “This wasn’t a fun experience for him … but he’ll grow from this.’’
On a positive note, Iowa improved to collect only 3 penalties 20 yards against Northwestern.
5. Find some magic on special teams
Kicker Keith Duncan has been strong so far, hitting all 4 of his field goal tries with a long of 47 yards. Including 4 PATs, he’s perfect so far.
Smith-Marsette has posted modest kickoff return numbers. With him out, Iowa will need to find someone else to create a spark. Charlie Jones hasn’t done much either at punt returner.
Whether it’s the steadying presence of Duncan coming through with a timely kick, or someone emerging in the kickoff game to tilt the field position in its favor, Iowa needs an X-factor to walk out of Kinnick Stadium with a victory.