Whether or not the Michigan State Spartans needed 14 days to think about their heartbreaking road loss to Notre Dame, thanks to an interestingly placed bye week, that’s what they got. Now, the challenge will be shaking off any rust in time for another tough road trip to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes.
The last time the Spartans went to Kinnick Stadium, they won convincingly. In 2011, they had plenty of offense to support a solid defensive effort, though. Last year, Michigan State’s downfall started in a torrential rainstorm at Spartan Stadium, as Iowa pounded out an overtime win predicated behind stopping Michigan State’s ugly offense all day. This time, on the road, the Spartans will have to prove they’ve found solutions, or they’ll face a rough start to the Big Ten slate. From the Spartan Sideline breaks down one Big Ten opener which figures to be short on offense.
Michigan State’s Key To Victory: Stop the run.
Last season, Mark Weisman ran for 116 yards and a touchdown which tied the game late. He had 26 carries, as well, meaning the Hawkeyes were comfortable to take their chances pounding the line and did so with success. This time around, the Spartans have to do a better job containing Weisman and his faster teammate Damon Bullock, because the only way Iowa’s passing game will get anything at all against Michigan State is if they can have success on the ground. Should the Spartans shut down the ground game, they can attack Jake Rudock with the defensive line and defend the pass. The game might turn ugly for Iowa if that happens.
Iowa’s Key To Victory: Throw the ball with some success.
Defensively, Iowa should find it tough to run and operate against Michigan State in the trenches. That means Rudock will have to be accurate finding Kevonte Martin-Manley and Damond Powell down field. If Iowa gets the passing game going along with the threat of some runs, it will be hard for the Spartans’ offense to win in a shootout away from home. Michigan State isn’t going over 20 points on the road, so in order for Iowa to win, they’ll have to get their offense in gear through the air.
Michigan State And Iowa’s Players To Watch: Macgarrett Kings Jr. and Kevonte Martin-Manley
Kings Jr. was the highlight offensively against Notre Dame, especially when he made his fantastic touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone over his shoulder. As the season has worn on, Kings has looked like Michigan State’s most dependable big play receiver. Considering Michigan State’s leading receiver against the Hawkeyes last year was Aaron Burbridge with 89 yards, someone is going to have to exceed that and score a touchdown in order for Michigan State to win on the road. Considering his big game last weekend, Kings is a safe bet to find the end zone again.
Similarly, Martin-Manley needs to help out his quarterback and make some big plays. This season, he’s only caught one touchdown pass and has 225 yards through the air. That’s not enough for Rudock, who badly needs a play maker to step up in order for the Hawkeyes to get their offense going. Martin-Manley has this ability and has proven that in the past, but he has to get going again for Iowa.
Intangibles: The bye week.
This bye week can either become a blessing or a curse for the 2013 Spartans. Perhaps over the week and subsequent weekend off, Michigan State was able to find a way to get their struggling offense going a bit in practice. Maybe they were able to iron out some inconsistencies and help the confidence of Connor Cook. Conversely, perhaps the Spartans will come out ice cold on game day, looking even worse than they have before, considering all the time off when compared with Iowa being ready given their victory last weekend.
Prediction: Had Michigan State opened the Big Ten against anyone else, they might find more trouble. Instead, they find their body double in Iowa, a team predicated on running the ball behind a limited offense, playing solid defense and having quality special teams. When teams like this play, there’s plenty of wiggle room for big plays to break games open. Cook has more ability here than Rudock from the quarterback position, and that shows a few times Saturday, helping the Spartans score a big road win. Michigan State takes down Iowa with a few clutch plays late. Michigan State 20, Iowa 14
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax