IOWA CITY — Michigan State’s punter had more rushing yards Saturday than Iowa’s entire team.
That says all you need to know about two of the three units of both squads in the Spartans’ 26-14 win over the Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. Then when you’re told MSU passed for 277 yards and had the ball for over 37 minutes, you know what kind of dominance this was. Namely, total.
Everything Iowa did, the Spartans did better. In the battle of sophomore quarterbacks, MSU’s Connor Cook outplayed the Hawkeyes’ Jake Rudock. When it came to overall offense, MSU had 412 yards. Iowa had a mere 264, and just 23 by rushing.
“The defense helped out,” Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio said in an understatement. “They usually do.”
It may be the best defense in the nation realistically as much as statistically. Iowa certainly won’t face a better one. But the Hawkeyes will see offenses as capable as MSU’s, starting with Ohio State in two weeks. So that doesn’t bode especially well.
“It’s kind of unfortunate that sometimes to understand what your failings are, or your shortcomings, you need to be exposed to those areas," Iowa linebacker James Morris said. "I think that maybe we got exposed a little bit today.”
But the real statements were made on the field. Cook’s fourth career start was a revelation. He made the throws, and did so without facing the pressure recent opposing quarterbacks met against Iowa.
“I just felt like I had all day to throw,” Cook said, “and pretty much did.” It apparently was a day for understatement all around.
The Spartans came here billed as half a team, all “D” and no “O.” They left with great efforts from their quarterback, receivers and blockers.
We’re still waiting on that “Bullies of the Big Ten” thing for the Hawkeyes against a good team. Iowa snapped off a two-touchdown flurry in the last five minutes of the first half, but the fight was a mismatch otherwise.
Twenty-three rushing yards? Eek!
“We didn’t think we’d come in getting 280 on these guys,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “But we were hoping that we could run it effectively.”
The sooner MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi gets a head coaching job, the better for Iowa and the Spartans’ other Big Ten opponents. Dantonio knows it.
“I can’t say enough about Coach Narduzzi, his staff, what they do, and how they do it,” Dantonio said.
Iowa’s defense has made clear progress from last year. The Hawkeyes have allowed 10 touchdowns in six games, which isn’t bad. But all 10 have come on passes, with an average distance of 33.7 yards. Cook had TD throws of 46 and 37 yards.
And there was this: Leading 20-14 and seemingly about to punt on 4th-and-7 at its 37, the Spartans instead ran for something they call “Hey Diddle Diddle.”
Why “Hey Diddle Diddle?”
“Sadler up the middle,” said Dantonio.
Few have associated ultra-intense Dantonio with slapstick comedy. But Chico of the Marx Brothers called this play in 1932 classic “Horse Feathers” when he was quarterbacking Huxley College to a win over Darwin that featured banana peels and a horse-drawn chariot.
“Hi diddle diddle, the cat in the fiddle, this time I think-a we go up the middle!”
Laughter didn’t exactly pour out of the Kinnick stands 81 years later when Michigan State executed its version to perfection. Punter Mike Sadler darted for 25 yards on the fake. Four plays later, kicker Michael Geiger made the third of his four field goals for a 23-14 MSU lead.
As you may have heard, this isn’t the first time an Iowa team has been duped by a fake punt in the last few years. The joke has gotten pretty stale in Hawkeyeland.
“We may never try to return one again,” Ferentz said. He was being facetious.
But the funny stuff, like everything else this day, was handled better by the Spartans.