BY THE NUMBERS
7 — Consecutive games Iowa had beaten Michigan State at Kinnick Stadium before Saturday
3 — Iowa turnovers
0 — Turnovers forced by Iowa
14 — Michigan State's points off turnovers
57 — Rushing yards by Marcus Coker
D — They did not lose their bowl eligibility.
D-minus — In a turning-point game, the Hawkeyes went due south.
C — Dan Gable has lost more football games as honorary team captain (two) than he did wrestling duals at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (one).
Iowa WR Marvin McNutt. McNutt celebrated his final game at Kinnick Stadium in statistical style, catching eight passes for 130 yards and a score. His most impressive catch was on Iowa's first scoring drive. McNutt reached behind him on a slant route and hauled in James Vandenberg's pass with only his left hand and raced 30 yards.
"He brings energy to the whole team because he's making catches, he's getting a reverse, he's doing all sorts of crazy (plays) out there," Iowa linebacker Tyler Nielsen said. "It gives the team energy because a guy like that wants to win. He's giving it everything he's got."
Saturday, McNutt broke Iowa's career receiving yardage record with 2,635 yards. He extended his touchdown reception record to 26. He's 20 receptions from tying Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for the Iowa record for most catches (173).
Multiple second-quarter breakdowns by Iowa's defensive backs — both on defense and on special teams — crippled the Hawkeyes' chances for an upset.
Michigan State led 14-7 midway through the second quarter and faced third-and-6 from its 30. Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins lofted a pass to wide receiver B.J. Cunningham along the left sideline. Iowa safety Tanner Miller stepped in front of Cunningham, but failed to secure the ball. Cunningham then raced 67 yards to the Iowa 3. The Spartans kicked a field goal on the drive.
The Spartans punted on their next possession, but cornerback/punt returner Micah Hyde elected to let the ball go over his head, and the ball rolled to the Iowa 2. After an Iowa punt from its end zone, the Spartans took over at the Iowa 35 and scored a touchdown two plays later.
"These punters are good," Hyde said. "They practice punting the ball plus-50 situations and try to make it hit the 2-yard line and bounce back.
"That punter, he had a good day today. I felt that they were going to go into the end zone, but unfortunately they didn't."
On the ensuing kickoff, Iowa safety/kick returner Jordan Bernstine fumbled, giving Michigan State the ball at Iowa 27. Two plays later, Cousins found Cunningham for a 22-yard strike over Hyde, who misplayed the ball. The game went from 14-7 to 31-7 in part because of those mistakes.
"As a defense you've got to put the fire out, and we didn't do that today," Hyde said.
REMEMBERING THE PAST
The previous four meetings between Michigan State and Iowa were memorable for different reasons. In 2007, Iowa rallied from a 17-3 halftime deficit to win in double-overtime. In 2008, Michigan State stopped Iowa running back Shonn Greene on a fourth-and-1 to preserve a 16-13 win.
In 2009, McNutt hauled in a 7-yard pass from Ricky Stanzi on the game's final play to beat Michigan State 15-13. Last year, Iowa rolled the Spartans from start-to-finish 37-6.
"We wanted our respect," Michigan State safety Trenton Robinson said. "Last year I can remember — a lot of guys on defense remember — we were coming off the field and we were No. 5 in the country, and it sickens me to think about it every year. I just remember them yelling, "Overrated" — their fans. That was one thing that really fired us up, to show that we're not overrated and we're here to play football.
"We weren't losing this game."
Iowa leads the all-time series 22-19-2, which dates to Michigan State's entry to the Big Ten in 1953.
"Iowa’s program is a program we’ve tried to emulate since coming here because it’s been built on toughness and effort and continuity," Dantonio said. "That’s what we wanted to do, do it on the same things."
Michigan State wide receiver Keshawn Martin tossed a 28-yard stroke to tight end Brian Linthicum on a reverse pass early in the third quarter with the Spartans leading 31-7. It coincidentally reminded many of a play in 2010 when Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt threw a double-reverse pass to Derrell Johnson-Koulianos early in the fourth quarter with Iowa leading 37-6.
"No, no, no, that game was in question, that reverse pass was just keep the foot on the gas," Dantonio said. "I just kept telling our coaches, 'Play like we're even, don't play like we're ahead. Don't let our players play like we're ahead and keep challenging them to play in the moment and keep playing in the present.'
"I think sometimes you get out ahead and you start watching the clock. We don't want to watch the clock."
Michigan State followed up the play with a fake field goal later that drive. Dantonio said the fake field goal is called "Gold."
Iowa still has an outside chance at claiming the Legends Division title, but the Hawkeyes need almost miracle.
First, Iowa needs to win its last two games — at Purdue, at Nebraska. Secondly, Iowa needs Nebraska to beat Michigan. Thirdly, Iowa needs Michigan State to lose at home to Indiana (1-9 overall, 0-6 Big Ten) and at Northwestern (5-5, 2-4 Big Ten).
If that scenario takes place, Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan State all will be 5-3. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head, and all three teams would be 1-1 against each other. The second tiebreaker is divisional record, and the three teams would be 3-2 in Legends play. The third tiebreaker is competition against the rest of the division, beginning with the next-best team. All three had would have beaten Michigan, which would be fourth. Northwestern, the likely fifth-place team, would have beaten both Nebraska and Michigan State under that scenario, but lost to Iowa. That would give Iowa the championship game berth.
Far-fetched? Absolutely. But as Lloyd Christmas said in "Dumb and Dumber," — "So you're telling me there's a chance ..."
"I've been out here two years in a row, and I'm starting to believe that they practice the jokes they come out here with. They're a great fan base. It's a great atmosphere to play in." — Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy.
UP NEXTIowa plays permanent cross-divisional rival Purdue at 11 a.m. next Saturday (BTN). Purdue is Iowa's third-most played rival (81 games) behind Minnesota (105) and Wisconsin (86).