Now they're Cook-ing
Spartans win first Big Ten game against Iowa, 26-14
Senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard intercepts a pass in the first quarter of the game against Iowa on Oct. 5, 2013, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. The Spartans defeated the Hawkeyes 26-14. Khoa Nguyen/The State News
Iowa City, Iowa – Mike Sadler was MSU’s most valuable player through its first three games as the Spartans were frustratingly ineffective on offense, leaning on Sadler time after time to get them out of a jam.
Even as MSU had its best offensive showing of the season in a 26-14 win at Iowa to begin Big Ten play, the junior punter played the hero role once again.
Clinging to a six-point lead, head coach Mark Dantonio pulled one of his trademark special teams gambles and called for Sadler to take off on a fake punt early in the fourth quarter.
Twenty-five yards later, MSU (4-1 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) had a first down, and four plays later freshman kicker Michael Geiger nailed a 49-yard field goal to keep Iowa (4-2, 1-1) at a manageable two-possession distance away.
“I just sort of felt like if we got the time, if we got the moment, if the moment was right we’d do it,” said Dantonio, who revealed the play’s name: Hey Diddle Diddle, Send Sadler Up the Middle.
“I just want our players to know they’re at risk on the football field. They’re gonna be at risk … sometimes the coach has to take the risk, too. I wanted to step out there and do that.”
Sadler’s gallop looked awfully similar to another fake punt the Spartans ran against Michigan last season, but that wasn’t by design. Instead of taking it through the middle as it was drawn up, Sadler adjusted on the fly to an extra defender coming at him and turned it loose down the sideline.
“Did you see the run? I didn’t read anything. I was just trying to get to the sideline and not die,” Sadler said. “But everything worked out really well.”
In addition to Sadler’s highlight, the Spartans found many of the missing links they had been searching for at Kinnick Stadium.
Receivers were catching balls, highlighted by senior Bennie Fowler’s career-best nine grabs for 92 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Macgarrett Kings Jr. tacked on his third touchdown in as many games along with 94 receiving yards.
The stable of running backs ran well – including true freshman Delton Williams who was impressive in his first action of the season. The offensive line continued to successfully utilize different combinations.
Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook was poised and accurate, throwing for a career-high 277 yards, a pair of touchdowns as well as his first interception of the season.
“We all know what we’re capable of,” Cook said. “We have the athletes, we have the great defense we can rely on. I’m not really surprised that we’re making plays like this because we should, because we have the guys to do it.”
The defense backed up its No. 1 national ranking, holding the Hawkeyes without a first down on their first five possessions. Iowa, known for its smash mouth running attack, was limited to just 23 yards on the ground and 264 total yards.
With the Hawkeyes running game virtually erased, they turned to the air, allowing senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard to snag his first interception of the season – and then a second later in the game.
“It’s just a great feeling,” Dennard said. “And it’s an even better feeling that we all haven’t reached our ceiling. We can even play better.”
After opening with a three-and-out, MSU came away empty-handed from two prime opportunities inside Iowa’s 25-yard line in the first quarter. The first failed when junior running back Jeremy Langford was stuffed on 4th-and-1. The second, made possible by Dennard’s first interception and 29-yard return, ended with Geiger missing a 36-yarder.
Geiger atoned for the misfire on MSU’s next drive, though, drawing first blood on a 27-yard kick. Kings gave the Spartans their first 40-plus yard play of the year, with a 46-yard catch-and-run to put MSU up 10 midway through the second quarter.
Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock responded by orchestrating a pair of touchdown drives in the final 4:19 of the half, giving his team a 14-10 lead at the break.
Fowler’s touchdown put the Spartans back on top, and a 35-yard field goal from Geiger made it 20-14 MSU before Sadler’s momentum-swinging run.
Another Geiger field goal, this time from 40 yards, and Dennard’s second pick in the final 5:30 put the game away, and guaranteed MSU would begin it’s conference slate on a winning note.
“It was a game that we pointed to and said ‘Hey, we gotta win this one,‘” Dantonio said. “This was a program win. Coming out of this game (with a loss) we would have been 3-2. So everything was positive moving forward and that’s what happened; we believed.”