Strongmen and beef, Spartans and Hawkeyes

The season gets real Saturday at Kinnick Stadium

Published: October 4 2013 | 9:43 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 9:20 pm in

The weather has been so pleasant for most of this week in Eastern Iowa that San Diego seriously considered moving here.

But maybe it’s fitting that things aren't supposed to be so comfy on Saturday when Michigan State and Iowa hook up for a football fight in Kinnick Stadium.

This matchup isn’t made for 80-ish temps and summer breezes. This isn’t a Pac-12 shootout in the Arizona desert, or any two random juggernauts trying to roar past each other in the warmth of the SEC. This is a turn toward Big Ten weather, and boy, is this a Big Ten football game.

It’s Spartan strongmen and Iowa beef. Something’s gotta give, and probably will via brutality rather than finesse. Although, one well-placed pass to Hawkeye blur Damond Powell, and maybe that storyline changes.

Things get real today. The nonconference stuff is over. The one-sided win at Minnesota last week didn’t live up to its billing only because the Hawkeyes didn’t let the Gophers share the marquee.

But now it’s time to see just how far Iowa really has climbed out of last year’s abyss. This is a truly fine Michigan State defense, the first major ring of fire facing quarterback Jake Rudock and Iowa’s offense.

Rudock and his mates handled the hostile terrain of Iowa State and Minnesota very well. They have owned the line of scrimmage. If they haven’t been overwhelming in putting points on the board, they’ve certainly been effective enough.

Saturday is about not making critical blunders as much as anything. Throwing an interception in the end zone would surely come with more of a cost today than it did when it happened at Minnesota.

But there has to be more to it for Iowa’s offense than mere ball-protection and game-management. Rudock has to play his best all-around game to date. The Hawkeyes have to assert themselves offensively and string together a few scoring drives.

Of course, the same applies to the Spartans. Unlike Iowa’s offense, MSU’s hasn’t been any better than it was last year. And that offense dragged the Spartans down last season. It still bears no resemblance to the offense that decimated the Hawkeyes’ defense the last time it was here, in 2011.

Quarterback Connor Cook seems to have a lot of upside, and the Michigan State offense isn’t a write-off by any means. But it has a long way to go to play to the 11-win standards of the 2010 and 2011 Spartans. This really shouldn’t be a confidence-building venue for a visiting team that has yet to gain 300 yards against an FBS opponent.

The Hawkeyes’ defense isn’t without flaws, but they now look more like scratches than scars. The development of the front four has been everything Iowa fans could have wanted through five games. Against MSU, those men must grow a little more.

It seems hard to believe, but Iowa’s season will be half-over by the middle of Saturday afternoon. This game will determine if the Hawkeyes aren’t quite ready to return to relevance, or if they’re about to be taken quite seriously beyond this state’s borders.

So put the summer garb in the closet. The Big Ten football season is here, in full force.

 

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