Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 11/12/11

The Spartans (8-2, 5-1) had the game that everyone was hoping for but no one wanted to predict, against Iowa (6-4, 3-3) on Saturday.

B.J. Cunningham catches one of his two touchdowns on the day. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

After last year’s humiliating loss in Kinnick Stadium, Michigan State marched into Iowa City in 2011 with a similar goal: win and move a step closer to a Big Ten championship.

In what was easily their best start to a game this season, the Spartans used their 31-point first half to hold of the Hawkeyes and propel themselves to what ended as a 37-21 victory.

This win was the first for the Spartans in Kinnick Stadium since 1989 and put an end to Iowa’s two game winning streak in the series.

Despite seven penalties and a few cases of mishandled snaps, Michigan State played a relatively clean game, giving up no turnovers and executing a very balanced offensive attack.

Le’Veon Bell got the start at running back today, and although he and Edwin Baker did split time, Bell was the workhorse of the day. Bell finished with 112 yards on 20 carries and scored one touchdown, while Baker received 13 carries for 59 yds.

The successful run-game had a huge impact on the passing attack and allowed Kirk Cousins to throw for 260 yards and three touchdowns – two of those going to B.J. Cunningham.

Everyone was involved in the Spartan offense, which made it extremely difficult for the Iowa defense to key in on Cunningham or any other individual. It was exactly the kind of performance that everyone has been anticipating from MSU, but hadn’t seen against a quality opponent until now.

The defense played an extremely polished 1st half as well, but didn’t have a strong showing in the last two quarters.

Two things were unnerving in this game for me. One was the inability of the defense to stop Marvin McNutt who caught eight balls for 130 yds and a touchdown. The other was the huge number of injuries in the 2nd half.

McNutt was the only effective offensive weapon that the Hawkeyes had the entire day, everyone in the stadium knew he was going to get the ball and the defense still couldn’t seem to stop him. He made a couple of great catches, but for the most part it appeared that he just beat the coverage and was running in open space.

But part of the reason that the defense may have had a tough time tracking him could be attributed to the way it seemed that almost everyone on the MSU defense came out of the game with an injury. At one point Trenton Robinson, Darqueze Dennard, and Kurtis Drummond were all out of the game at once. William Gholston and Jerel Worthy were also out at one point, as well as Joel Foreman who left in the 4th quarter and didn’t return.

These are both things that coach Mark Dantonio will need to address over the next week, but a win is much easier to move forward from than a loss.

This win was very big for Michigan State football. The program has had huge problems with winning games in must-win scenario and winning on the road. This game embodied both and the Spartans were able to overcome both weaknesses to get a win.

As Dantonio has been emphasizing lately, the Spartans are treating the end of their season like a playoff bracket. If Michigan State wins out, there is nothing that can stop them from representing the Legends division in the Big Ten championship game.

The Spartans’ remaining schedule looks like this: Indiana in East Lansing next weekend and then Northwestern in Chicago the following weekend.

Indiana may seem like the easier of the two games, but MSU can’t afford to take anyone lightly at this point.

As Spartan fans witnessed against Minnesota, even the teams that everyone else has beaten can’t be overlooked in the Big Ten. Michigan State will be heavily favored against Indiana, but any team can have a bad day and so the Spartans need to prepare for the Hoosiers like they’re playing in the Rose Bowl.

If they continue to win, they won’t have to pretend for long.

 

Follow @jon_coffey

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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