Physical play defines Iowa-Michigan State series

Ruggid Iowa-MSU series continues Saturday in East Lansing

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April 1, 2014 | 1:47 am

IOWA CITY — Hard hits and physical play has defined the Iowa-Michigan State series over the years, and Spartans junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell doesn’t expect that to change on Saturday.

In 2010, Maxwell took the field at Kinnick Stadium with Michigan State trailing 37-6. Maxwell completed 4 of 10 passes but also was blasted by current Iowa defensive tackle Steve Bigach for an eight-yard sack. It left him with a memory.

“When you get two teams together that pride themselves on toughness, historically the team that’s tougher that day is going to be the team that’s going to come out on top,” Maxwell said. “When we went down there in 2010, when you look at the film, we weren’t the more physical team and we got beat pretty handily and the scoreboard showed that. I think both teams come in with that mindset that the more physical team is going to win, and that’s how you want it in this conference.”

From 2007 through 2009, only a late score separated the programs from one another. In 2007, Iowa won in overtime 34-27 at Kinnick Stadium. In 2008, All-American Iowa running back Shonn Greene was stopped on fourth-and-1 at Michigan State’s 27 to preserve a 16-13 Spartans victory.

Perhaps no game better defined this series than in 2009, a 15-13 Iowa win at Spartan Stadium. Through three quarters Michigan State led 6-3 and Iowa was held to just 123 yards. Iowa punt returner Colin Sandeman was knocked out with a violent helmet-to-helmet hit.

Iowa senior wide receiver Keenan Davis said that experience provided him with the proper context for Big Ten football.

“Very physical game,” Davis said. “My first play was a crack to Micah’s brother (Michigan State safety Marcus Hyde), and me and him went head-to-head. Me being a freshman, not really ready for that type of game, really woke me up.

“We’re going to look at that game a lot. They’re the same type of team, very physical.”

Iowa played 10 defenders that night currently on NFL rosters and won on the game’s final play, a 7-yard slant pass from Ricky Stanzi to Marvin McNutt. It’s the last meeting between the teams at Spartan Stadium.

The programs have built their identities on physical play. Since Mark Dantonio took over Michigan State in 2007, the series has featured hard hits and aggressive defense. Iowa has won three of the last five meetings.

“They had a clear idea what they wanted to be and how they wanted to play, and I think they’ve done a great job.”

Both teams bring high-caliber defenses to Saturday’s game. Michigan ranks eighth nationally, while Iowa is rated 21st. You can count on both teams trying to establish a physical presence from the opening kickoff, Davis and Maxwell said.

“We pride ourselves on being a physical, smart team,” Davis said. “That’s what we’re known for. That’s why I came here. Iowa has always been that type of team, and they know that. We know that they’re physical team, too. So it’s going to be who’s physical the whole game. The best team who’s going to be physical and smart the whole game is going to win the game.”

Maxwell agreed.

“They pride themselves with being physical and being tough,” Maxwell said. “They’re going to play sound, good, fundamental football. They’re going to do it at a high rate of speed and a lot of physicality. It’s going to be a great challenge for us because we’re a team that also prides itself with toughness.

“This is going to be your classic Big Ten, old-school battle. We’re looking forward to that challenge.” 

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