Five keys to Iowa beating Michigan State in B1G Championship
Some have gone so far as to say that Iowa doesn’t have a chance against Michigan State in the B1G Championship.
But I’m not Paul Finebaum.
Here’s what Iowa has to do to knock off MSU and advance to the College Football Playoff:
–Get an opening series stop
Sounds simple enough, right? But last time I checked, the last thing you want to do is give the team that just scored 55 points even more momentum. Michigan State did just about everything right against Penn State. They established the run and the pass, got short fields and capitalized on mistakes. One could argue that nobody in the country played better than Michigan State the last two weeks. A fast Michigan State start would put Iowa in unfamiliar territory. The Hawkeyes haven’t trailed in their last 397 minutes of football dating all the way back to the Illinois game. Falling behind early would be a somewhat foreign hurdle to tackle, and an especially difficult one against a team like Michigan State.
-Capitalize on Connor Cook’s jump balls
The Michigan State quarterback is one of the best in the country, but he also puts a lot of trust in his receivers to go make plays. Aaron Burbridge, Macgarrett Kings and R.J. Shelton can all climb the ladder. Luckily for the Hawkeyes, so can Desmond King. The Walter Camp Award finalist is tied for the national lead in interceptions because of his ability to win 50-50 battles. He and Jordan Lomax will both get opportunities to make game-changing plays. That’s not to say Cook is wild by any stretch. The guy only threw for four interceptions this year. But he takes plenty of shots, and it’ll be up to the Iowa secondary to take advantage of them.
-Avoid the big MSU turnover
I know Michigan State only allowed 132 yards to Ohio State, but the Spartans actually gave up their fair share of yardage this season. It’s amazing that MSU only out-gained Penn State by 18 yards last week. But do you know why that was a 39-point game? Turnovers. The Spartans forced four turnovers and returned two of them for touchdowns. They look like one of the nation’s best when they get takeaways because they have an offense that can capitalize on a momentum swing in a hurry. Both of these teams are in the top four in the country in turnover margin. C.J. Beathard hasn’t thrown an interception in his last five games. Against an MSU defense that ranks third in FBS in defensive touchdowns, Beathard needs to keep that streak rolling.
-Roll with the hot hand at RB
One of the great things the Iowa coaching staff did this year was mix up its tailbacks interchangeably. The Hawkeyes utilized three different tailbacks this year in feature roles, all of whom found success. Behind Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh up front, the Hawkeyes became the first FBS team in 18 years to have three different guys record 195-yard games in a season. Jordan Canzeri has been on fire lately. It would be natural to assume he’ll get the lion’s share of the carries, but if the coaching staff senses Daniels is running with the edge he showed against Minnesota, he’ll have to take over. Who knows? Maybe Akrum Wadley leads Iowa in carries by game’s end. It’s certainly not a bad problem to have.
-Give Beathard a chance in winning time
Despite Iowa’s inexperience playing from behind, Beathard has been plenty clutch this season. The Iowa quarterback fueled go-ahead fourth quarter drives against Iowa State and Pitt, and he converted late to fend off upset bids from Indiana and Minnesota. One of the big reasons Iowa has been so upset-proof — even more than Michigan State — is because Beathard always makes the big play late. He doesn’t panic if his first read isn’t open, and he has the mobility to run for a first down if there aren’t any options downfield. In the last 20 years, Beathard is one of just three quarterbacks — Cam Newton and James Winston are the others — to win his first 12 games as a starter. Both Beathard and Cook are the guys you want when the game is on the line. If Michigan State leaves the door open for a go-ahead score late, Beathard and the Hawkeyes have to like their chances to stun the college football world.