EAST LANSING, MICH. - Just four games in and already it seems redundant. Already, the mistakes seem to be turning into bad habits and the shoulder shrugging into explanation.
A team with very little to offer offered very little Saturday.
No.14 Michigan State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) broke records and Iowa before halftime, thrashing the Hawkeyes, 49-3, before a sell-out crowd of 73,629 at Spartan Stadium.
Looking stagnant and stuck in gear, that would be reverse for the offense, the Hawkeyes (1-3, 0-1 Big Ten) are looking at a Big Ten season that might be one long spanking machine.
"If we play like we did today, we're going to get a lot worse whuppings than Michigan State," defensive tackle Anthony Herron said. "We got whupped up front. We got whupped on offense. We got whupped on defense. If we don't play as a team, Penn State (next week's opponent) is going to whup us even worse than today."
Four games in, and they really do seem to be in reverse. They still can't convert on third downs, collecting six first downs to MSU's 30. They still can't block, rushing 26 times for 7 yards and allowing five sacks. They sprout new holes on defense every week, allowing 511 yards offense and six touchdown passes this time.
And more and more, they just look helpless. And nothing seems to be working.
"I think anybody that's been in coaching has been in that situation before," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It's a frustrating kind of helpless feeling. It's a frustrating, helpless feeling for players, too. They certainly don't like it, but it does happen."
Ineffective is probably the more accurate and fair word. Nebraska is Nebraska, after all. And MSU isn't bad, either. But there's simply no slack in the Big Ten, where ineffective turns into helpless quicker than a 70-yard punt return.
And yes, MSU had one of those, too. Cedric Henry returned a Jason Baker punt 70 yards for the 49-3 margin, Iowa's worst defeat since a 49-3 loss to Illinois in 1993.
No slack and no place to hide in the Big Ten.
"Ask people in Russia and they probably think we can't beat Penn State," said senior strong safety Matt Bowen, who left the game in the second quarter with a hip pointer. "We've got to get something going, somewhere, somehow."
'Single-game record' was the Spartan offense's middle name. MSU tied or set three records, including individual TD passes, team TD passes and TD receptions.
Michigan State quarterback Bill Burke tied an MSU single-game record with four TD passes in the game's first 18 minutes.
Coach Nick Saban — would you believe he's a friend and former co-worker of Ferentz's — put Burke on clipboard patrol with almost nine minutes left in the second quarter.
"We were looking for a game like this where we could be more consistent and really get better as a team," said Burke, who completed 12 of 14 for 150 yards and the four TDs. "This was a perfect week to do it."
With Burke out, more single-game records were still waiting to go boom, or deep, or whatever. Backup Ryan Van Dyke threw two more TD passes. His second, a 35-yarder to Herb Haygood, set a single-game record of six.
Four quarterbacks played for the Spartans. And even the
fourth-teamer - a Matt Botonti, if you're scoring at home - moved the ball against Iowa's first-team defense.
"When the second team moves the ball, when the third team
moves the ball, it's upsetting, obviously," Ferentz said.
Receiver Plaxico Burress set a single-game record, too. His 10-yard TD pass from Van Dyke with two minutes, 39 seconds left in the second quarter tied the single-game record for TD receptions at three.
"A couple of my teammates came up to me and said,
'Welcome back. You're back from vacation,'" said Burress, who had foreheads crinkled in East Lansing with eight
dropped passes this season.
The Spartans rolled up 345 yards of offense to Iowa's 26 while taking a 35-0 halftime lead.
The Hawkeyes picked up a first down on their first play. They didn't earn another until 7:13 of the third quarter, when they crossed midfield for the first time.
"We established nothing of substance," Ferentz said. "I think this was the first time his year the game was
While Michigan State, which snapped a three-game losing streak against Iowa, set single-game highs, the Hawkeyes were counting a bushel of season lows.
Points (3), first downs (six), rushing yards (7), passing yards (100), completions (nine) and total offense (107) - that's six for the offense. Points (49), first downs (30), passing yards (297) - that's three for the defense.
"I don't think they have nearly as good a players as they
had when we played them a couple of years ago," said Saban, who improved his record against Iowa to 1-2. "They probably feel that their players are playing hard for them. But they definitely need more talented guys, especially skill players, if they're going to be more competitive in the league."
Going into Penn State week, the week Iowa moves up the food chain from No.14 to No.2 in the country, the Hawkeyes are hanging their hat on Tim Dodge's 86-yard kick return. The sophomore set up Iowa's only score - Tim Douglas' 30-yard field goal - and gave the Hawkeyes their only thrill.