IOWA CITY — They rip and tear at each other. It’s a no holds barred free-for-all with winner take all. It’s a game of effort, sweat and tears that leaves one a winner and the other a loser.
And then Iowa and Michigan State play each other in football, too.
Recruiting wars, close, physical games and a certain amount of ruthlessness has made Iowa (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) and Michigan State (7-2, 4-1) one of the Big Ten’s least likely but most intense . . . Well, rivalry probably isn’t quite the right word, but if the earth isn’t scorched, it’s at least well done.
In a 37-6 victory last season at Kinnick Stadium, Iowa called two timeouts in the final seven seconds of the first half with a 30-0 lead. In the fourth quarter, the Hawkeyes tried a reverse pass that Marvin McNutt overthrew at Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. Yes, a Ferentz team threw a long pass off a reverse with a 31-point lead.
“We were trying to score a touchdown,” Ferentz explained. This led to the quickest and quite possibly the most awkward postgame handshake between Big Ten coaches this side of Bret Bielema and former Minnesota coach Tim Brewster.
In 2009, Iowa wide receiver Colin Sandeman took a helmet-to-helmet shot from MSU defensive back Jeremy Ware. Ware received a 15-yard personal foul penalty. Sandeman received a concussion that kept him non-responsive for four minutes. That and a shoulder injury incurred during the play kept Sandeman out two games.
With Sandeman on the field — being worked on by Michigan State and Iowa medical staffs — boos poured from of the Spartan Stadium crowd. Spartans coach Mark Dantonio argued with officials about the legality of the hit. That took place about 15 feet away from Sandeman’s motionless body.
“It’s a tough penalty,” Sandeman said. “You try to be aggressive, and then you get [told] you can’t be ‘that’ aggressive.”
Sandeman’s father, Scott, was on the field. It’s a memory that still leaves him emotional.
“I didn’t really know why the booing was going on,” Scott Sandeman said. “In retrospect, it was unnerving. The whole situation has stuck in my mind.”
Dantonio is 1-3 against Iowa, including a double-overtime loss 2007 in Iowa City, wide receiver Marvin McNutt’s TD catch with no time on the clock for an Iowa victory at Michigan State in ’09 and last year’s defeat that cost Michigan State its first BCS bowl bid since the 1988 Rose Bowl.
Dantonio gave Iowa and Ferentz respect during the Big Ten coaches teleconference this week.
“In terms of a rivalry game, we have a great deal of respect for the way Iowa goes about its business,” the fifth-year coach said. “When you come into a conference such as we did when I came back here as the head football coach, you look around at people and try to emulate some of the things they’ve done.
“You look at them and think, they have some of the same challenges that we have and this is how they did it. I think that coach Ferentz’s football program is one that we’ve tried to say, let’s be like them a little bit. There’s a great amount of respect in terms of how they play the game.”
And then you look at how Dantonio and Ferentz approach the game. Their systems are similar. Both run multiple pro-style offenses. They also run similar 4-3 defenses, with Michigan State adding a twist or two.
Both teams still employ a fullback and aren’t recruiting spread quarterbacks. That pretty much screams the physical approach that is the calling card of strong Iowa and Michigan State teams under their coaches.
“It’s been a nitty-gritty series,” Iowa cornerback Micah Hyde said. “Iowa, we like to think we’re the toughest team in the Big Ten. That’s how we try to go out and play, every weekend. We try to be the toughest team, the hardest-hitting team.
“Michigan State, from what I hear from my brother, they try to be that team, too. Every year when we play each other it’s a hard-hitting, physical Big Ten game. That’s the Big Ten. It’s going to be a tough game every week.”
Yes, Hyde’s brother, Marcus, was a starting safety for the Spartans in 2009-10. So, Micah Hyde is a good place to start the recruiting discussion.
These coaches probably pass each other at Holiday Inn Express breakfast bars throughout the Rust Belt.
This past recruiting season, Iowa and MSU butted heads for defensive lineman Darian Cooper and running back Mika’il McCall. Iowa won out with Cooper just before signing day, fending off a late effort from MSU while Iowa was just emerging from rhabdomyolysis scrutiny.
McCall initially committed to the Spartans, but had his offer pulled after he said he wanted to visit Iowa.
“He was a kid who was committed somewhere else,” Iowa assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson said. “Came to a bunch of our games, so we asked if he was sincerely interested in us. He said he was, so we opened the door to recruit him at that time.”
West Des Moines Valley O-lineman David Barrent committed to Iowa and then changed his mind and went to East Lansing before an injury ended his career. Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis had offers from both schools. Former Iowa linebacker Austin Gray held an MSU offer.
Safety Isaiah Lewis and linebacker Denicos Allen, two of MSU’s better defensive players, held offers from both schools. MSU O-lineman Jack Allen also picked the Spartans over the Hawkeyes.
“Yeah, we compete against them for players, more often than not, probably in a lot of ways,” Dantonio said. “They’re active in the Michigan area. They’ve traditionally recruited players from out east sometimes, we’re out there as well. They’ve recruited Ohio, as well. There are guys who have opportunities to go to either school, so we’ve faced them on the recruiting field as well.”
Micah Hyde never saw himself as a Spartan, even with his brother letting him know how he felt about Michigan State. He committed to Iowa and then he got one last query from East Lansing.
“They called me when I was on my way out here,” Hyde said. “On my way out here, my brother called me and said, if they can’t get this guy, they want to see if you’re interested. I said, I’m going to Iowa for a reason. I like it out there and I’m going to see what’s going on.”
Things got a little chippy during kneel-down time last season, when Iowa’s starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi was still in the game, a game in which Iowa running back Adam Robinson suffered a concussion.
This is the where reverse passes in the fourth quarter up 37-6 are born.
Iowa-Michigan State might not be the Big Ten rivalry that excites TV execs, but the Christmas cards probably have stopped. That’s how it can go with your neighbors sometimes.
“I don’t think anybody in the Big Ten likes anybody,” McNutt said.
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