Fourth down and out: Key plays, turnovers don't go Hawkeyes' way in painful loss

Published: November 20 2009 | 11:59 am - Updated: 30 March 2014 | 2:08 pm in
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It sure was a run play to the left. Kirk Ferentz confirmed that with just a hint of frustration.

Maybe a bit more than a hint.

"Looked like a run play to our left, Shonn Greene carrying," Ferentz snorted.

This wasn't Ferentz's trademark happy snort. This was a snort of frustration. Verbal and sharp, not the kind of snort that stifles a chuckle. Basically, it was the kind of snort you'd expect after Iowa's galling 16-13 loss to Michigan State before 77,526 fans Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

(Originally published 10/5/2008)

Linebacker Adam Decker shot a gap on fourth-and-inches on Michigan State's 21 and belted Greene for a 3-yard loss with 2:10 left in the game, sealing the victory for the Spartans (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten).

"I was pretty worked up and people kept hitting me on the head," Decker said. "It actually started to hurt after a while."

Before that, Greene had 160 yards, a career high. After Decker's linebacker dream play, Greene didn't have a career high and Iowa had a long plane ride home after a third straight week of frustration.

"It's frustrating, it's disappointing," Ferentz said. "There's no solution to it other than pushing forward and see if we can't clean up our play a little bit."

It's frustrating that a winning effort was unplugged by turnovers a second week in a row. Five turnovers doomed Iowa (3-3, 0-2) last week. The number was three Saturday, with sophomore quarterback Ricky Stanzi accounting for all three, including a fumble and an interception inside MSU's 20.

Inside the opponent's 20-yard line is called the "red zone" in football parlance. For Iowa, it was the dead zone, a ghost ship in the Bermuda Triangle.

"(The last play) isn't really a factor if I'm not turning it over three times," said Stanzi, who has five turnovers the last two weeks. "It's hard to come back when you turn the ball over three times."

It's disappointing that Iowa dropped its third consecutive game. It's especially disappointing that Iowa has lost all three by a grand total of nine points. That's eight straight losses in games decided by three or less since the end of 2004 season, which is more than enough to produce a team-wide snort.

It's frustrating and disappointing that Iowa is 6-12 in the Big Ten since 2006.

"We're not going to let a couple losses get to us," senior defensive tackle Mitch King said, wearing the team spokesman hat. "You've got to have your mind right and you've got to keep pressing forward."

After Michigan State (5-1, 2-0) opened the second half with a field goal for a 16-3 lead, Iowa's defense shut down the Spartans and running back Javon Ringer. From there, the Spartans went three-and-out three times with an interception mixed in.

Iowa started its comeback with Trent Mossbrucker's 33-yard field goal with 3:07 left in the third quarter to make it 16-6.

On its next drive, Iowa squandered a third-and-2 at MSU's 27. Stanzi, who finished 15 of 22 for 158 yards, a touchdown and an interception, threw behind wide receiver Trey Stross on third down. On fourth, Stanzi passed on Greene in the flat and hit Derrell Johnson-Koulianos in heavy traffic. He was dropped for a 3-yard loss.

These are the lumps you take playing a sophomore quarterback.

"Yeah, everybody was clamoring for him," Ferentz said with a laugh, "and I'm not arguing that. That's part of the deal. I'm not pinning this on Rick, either, and if anybody wants to, that's just silly.

"It was a factor. That's the downside of youth and inexperience, but on the upside he made a hell of a throw down in the end zone. ... We are seeing growth and he is one of the guys I'm referring to when I say we are moving in the right direction."

It's frustrating that Iowa got another massive effort from Greene, 157 yards on 30 carries, and spit it away with turnovers. It's disappointing that Iowa held Ringer, the Big Ten's leading rusher at 179.4 yards a game, to 91 yards on 25 carries, 88 yards below his average, and didn't cash in on it.

Iowa totally won the stat game again. The Hawkeyes' average starting field position in the second half was their 43. Four shots in the red zone produced two Mossbrucker field goals. Iowa's lone TD was a 31-yard Stanzi pass to wide receiver Andy Brodell, which pulled the Hawkeyes to 16-13 with 8:47 left.

The turnovers took the game back to the Spartans, who sacked Stanzi three times. The turnovers put a sophomore quarterback into desperation mode. The turnovers put the game on Greene's shoulders on fourth-and-inches from MSU's 21 with two minutes left.

Ferentz said field goal attempts were discussed on both fourth down failures in the fourth quarter. Another QB sneak wasn't in the conversation on that final play. A blocking assignment was missed somewhere.

Greene said he didn't see the 6-foot-2, 238-pound linebacker coming.

"By the time I got the ball he was already there," Greene said.

The rest of the season is now a 6-2, 238-pound linebacker with its crosshairs on the Hawkeyes.

The name on the back of the jersey is frustrating and disappointing.

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