IOWA CITY — Kirk Ferentz made kind of a whip motion with his left hand and then an “up, up and away” kind of deal with his right hand.
“One of our coaches kind of did that with his headset and, unfortunately, half of his headset flew out in the air,” Ferentz said when asked about a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Iowa’s bench. “He didn’t throw it, but just snapping it down like that.
“Kind of fitting to the game. I guess it fit right in with a few other things.”
A lot of stuff broke during the Hawkeyes’ 26-14 loss to Michigan State last weekend at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa’s rushing game, which churned out 244.4 yards a game before the Spartans, was held to 23 yards on 16 carries, the fewest carries Iowa has had in a game since just 10 in a 6-4 victory at Penn State in 2004.
“They came in ready to play and we weren’t,” offensive tackle Brandon Scherff said. “They held us to zero first downs in the first quarter. That’s not what we’re looking for.”
After a couple of weeks with the heat off, Iowa’s defense again broke for a few big TD passes, 46 yards in the second quarter and 37 in the third. And for this sixth time in 3 1/2 seasons, Iowa’s special teams was broken for a fake punt.
“I want to make sure our players know, they’re at risk on the football field, they’re vulnerable,” MSU coach Mark Dantonio said. “Sometimes the coach has to take the risk, too. We stepped out there and did that.”
Iowa (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) went into the matchup with the Spartans (4-1, 1-0) with a chance to be a heavyweight in the Legends Division race. Instead, Michigan State punched through and now faces Indiana (3-2, 1-0), Purdue (1-4, 0-1) and at Illinois (3-2, 0-1) in its next three games.
The Hawkeyes are off this week before traveling to Ohio State (6-0, 2-0), which also is off after winning its 18th straight game at Northwestern, and then back to Kinnick, where they’ve lost four straight league games, for matchups with Northwestern (4-1, 0-1) and Wisconsin (3-2, 1-1).
The physical identity Iowa built in the first five games this season was snapped and twisted into the air against Michigan State. Iowa was held to season lows in rush attempts, rush yards, yards per carry (1.4), third down conversions (4 of 15), total offense (264) and time of possession (22:47). The merit of the time of possession number is up for debate in a college football world that now has a fast-break team like Oregon among its elite, but in a game between Iowa and Michigan State, the number still has meaning.
Iowa finished with the second lowest total time of possession in the country last weekend. Only Wyoming, a 42-21 loser to Texas State, held the ball for less time (22:06).
Iowa pushed around Minnesota two weeks ago and got pushed around by Michigan State. The big-picture read on that isn’t totally clear. Iowa is 4-2 after six weeks just as it was last season, when it finished with six straight defeats. The Hawkeyes are better than they were last season, but have a tougher schedule, which leads them to Columbus on Oct. 19.
“I told our team, let’s not get too global here,” Ferentz said. “We were all pretty happy after the game last week, and we’re obviously disappointed right now. That’s how you feel after games, really good or really bad. We were going to be 5-1 or 4-2, one of those two things, and it really won’t change our approach for the next six weeks.”
Injuries could change everything for Iowa. Wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley (leg injury) and defensive end Dominic Alvis (back/hip) left the game in the first half and didn’t return. Running back Mark Weisman sprained an ankle in the first quarter and wasn’t effective after that. Scherff left the game for a period of time with a sharp pain in his lower right leg, the leg he broke against Penn State last year. Linebacker Christian Kirksey seemed OK after what looked like an ankle sprain late in the game. Defensive tackle Carl Davis missed part of a series with a leg injury.
“Most of the stuff we have is either muscle, mild sprains, those types of things, at least as of now, that’s what I’m hearing,” Ferentz said. “There’s nothing really significant, other than some of these guys have been fighting it for a couple of weeks. The bye week helps us out a little bit.”