Preview and prediction: Michigan State vs Iowa

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Connor Heyward scores in the flat against Michigan LB Josh Ross/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Jared Ramsey, Football Beat Reporter

The Michigan State Spartans head to Iowa City to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes after their huge victory against Michigan last weekend. The Spartans will face a winless Iowa team that has had a very disappointing start to the season with losses to Purdue and Northwestern. Rocky Lombardi has thrown for over 300 yards in both of Michigan State’s games so far this year, and this game is personal for him. Lombardi grew up in Clive, Iowa, 50 miles from Iowa City, and said this game is the one he has been looking forward to in his entire career. Lomardi said he will not allow MSU to have a letdown game following their massive victory against Michigan. 

Michigan State

Coming off of Mel Tucker’s first win at Michigan State, the team is susceptible to having a letdown game. This is a big game for Tucker to prove that last week was not a fluke, and show the rest of the Big Ten that he will have MSU ready to play week in and week out. Lombardi said that he is extremely excited to play in his home state for the first time, and should have the offense ready to roll on Saturday.

Michigan State has relied on their passing attack through two games, with Lombardi throwing for at least 300 yards and two touchdowns in each game so far this year. Ricky White emerged as yet another electric option for Lombardi at wide receiver after his record-breaking performance against Michigan last week, along with Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed. Expect more of the same on Saturday from the MSU offense, as Iowa has shown they are susceptible to being beat through the air through their first two games this year.

The defense has been the strongest unit of the team so far, and have a favorable matchup against the Iowa offense. Through two games, Iowa has aired the ball out more than any other team in the Big Ten, throwing the ball 89 times in total. Despite that, Iowa did not have  a lot of success moving the ball against Purdue and Northwestern, and will struggle against an MSU secondary that had a great performance against Michigan. MSU will deploy five defensive backs, as they have done all season, and force Iowa to commit to the running game. This will allow their defensive line to apply pressure on Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras.

Iowa

After a tumultuous off-season for the Hawkeyes football program, Iowa has started the season 0-2, and Kirk Ferentz finds himself on the hot seat. This is a must-win game for Ferentz, who is coaching for his job for the rest of the season. Iowa has underperformed on offense, and relied on a strong defense to keep them in games so far this season. After blowing a 17-point lead in the second half to Northwestern last week, Iowa should come out motivated to show they are better than the product they have put on display so far this year. 

On offense, Iowa has abandoned their traditional style of three yards and a cloud of dust mentality and decided to air the ball out. Spencer Petras leads the conference in pass attempts and is top-three in passing yardage, but that has not translated to points for the Iowa offense. Petras has only one touchdown through two games, and has thrown three interceptions. Iowa ranks second-to-last in scoring offense in the Big Ten (excluding Nebraska and Wisconsin) and have struggled to move the ball consistently against two objectively average defenses in Purdue and Northwestern. Petras will also be without his top receiving target, Imhir Smith-Marsette, who was arrested this week for an OWI. He was suspended for this game and that will hinder Iowa’s anemic offense even more. 

Like Michigan State, Iowa’s defense has been their strongest and most consistent unit so far in 2020. Iowa ranks fifth in the Big Ten in scoring defense and third in overall defense through two games. They are led by their defensive line, and defensive tackle Chauncey Gholston, who is an absolute menace in run defense. Iowa will rely on their defensive line to get a consistent push all game to stop the run, while dropping the rest of the team in coverage to stop MSU’s successful passing game. Dillon Doyle and Djimon Colbert are a strong linebacker duo and will be instrumental in curbing any offensive efforts by Michigan State. The weakest unit of the Iowa defense, however, is the secondary. That unit is  led by standout corner Matt Hankins, but outside of Hankins, Iowa’s secondary has been susceptible to the intermediate and deep passing attack through two games, where Lombardi has thrived for MSU. 

Game Prediction

MSU will not have the same performance as they did last week in Ann Arbor, but Mel Tucker will have the Spartans ready to play and avoid the classic noon kickoff trap game in Iowa City. Michigan State is more talented across the board compared to Iowa, but Iowa will be playing for their coach’s job and will come out ready to punch MSU in the mouth. This game will be a dogfight and a defensive battle due to the strength of both team’s defenses. MSU has the better offense, and should be able to prevail in a game that MSU and Iowa fans will want to forget after Saturday.

MSU 17, Iowa 13