Storm The Gates
Dantonio and co. fired up after decisive 26-14 road win at Iowa
State News football reporters Stephen Brooks and Dillon Davis discuss Michigan State’s win over Iowa at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It was a brief moment in time. But for Darqueze Dennard, it has been on his mind for weeks.
During the first quarter of September’s 21-6 victory against South Florida, the senior cornerback dropped an easy interception for a touchdown, forced to watch helplessly as a ball well within his grasp fell incomplete to the finely manicured grass.
He read the play, a motion pass to wide receiver Marcus Shaw. It was exactly as he’d studied for. Yet, when the time came, he couldn’t reel it in.
And combine that with four pass interference calls against Notre Dame dame, with two coming against Dennard, and it had the potential for the perfect storm in the Spartan secondary.
However, the Spartans (4-1 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) proved they’re adept at weathering the storm, as Dennard led the nation’s top-ranked defense with two interceptions to go along with 277 passing yards and two touchdowns by sophomore quarterback Connor Cook in a 26-14 win over Iowa (4-2, 1-1) to open up Big Ten play on Saturday.
Name: Hey Diddle Diddle, Send Sadler Up the Middle
Setting: 4th-and-7 on MSU’s 37-yard line at the start of the fourth quarter holding a 20-14 lead
Length: 25 yards
Sadler career rushing yards: 51
Iowa total rushing yards: 23
SOURCE: MICHIGAN STATE FOOTBALL
“I feel like the monkey got off my back and it’s real fun to go out there and play and get two interceptions,” Dennard said. “It wouldn’t have happened without the defensive line and the linemen getting pressure and the other players in the ‘No Fly Zone’ locking up their receivers.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the Spartans jumped to a 10-0 lead in the second quarter, courtesy of a 27-yard field goal by freshman kicker Michael Geiger and touchdown reception by sophomore wide receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr.
Starting the play lined up to the right of Cook, Kings caught the ball across the middle, waited for a critical block by senior wide receiver Bennie Fowler to set up and then gave a quick stutter step to beat the defender before taking it to the end zone. The 46-yard strike now is the longest offensive play of the season for the Spartans, and it set the team up in strong position on the road.
“I saw him out of the front my eye and I was gonna cut straight up field,” Kings said. “If I kept running straight, Bennie wouldn’t have been able to get the block so I set the block up and went outside when I saw him coming, so I just stopped back and (stutter stepped).”
But the Hawkeyes stormed back and ended the first half on a 14-0 run coming on back-to-back touchdown passes by quarterback Jake Rudock, demoralizing the Spartans heading into the locker room.
Returning fresh with adjustments to open the third quarter, Cook found Fowler for a 37-yard touchdown reception to take the lead, which the team never surrendered for the rest of the way.
Clinging to a six-point lead to open the fourth quarter, junior punter Mike Sadler lit a fire under the team they carried to the finish, faking a punt before tucking the ball away and scrambling ahead for a 25-yard gain.
The gain was MSU’s longest rush of the day, while also outgaining Iowa’s overall combined rushing effort by two yards — a fact which Sadler noted through a wide grin in his postgame press interview.
“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.”
Geiger added three more field goals from 35, 49 and 40 yards, respectively, to pad the lead and spoil the Hawkeyes’ homecoming before a crowd of 69,025 fans.
Head coach Mark Dantonio said the experience of the team and its coaching staff allowed for critical adjustments to return strong in the second half — and it ultimately set the Spartans up for the victory.
“It’s pretty unique because we’ve been together so long, so if something is broken, we can fix it and the players understand that as well,” Dantonio said. “It was really a matter of those two plays (to end the first half) and playing better on those situations.”
After the game, much of the talk surrounded the standout performance of Cook and his receiving corps. Fowler had a career-high nine receptions for 92 yards and one touchdown while Kings, sophomore Aaron Burbridge and junior Tony Lippett came up with multiple timely catches all day.
Cook surpassed his previous career high in passing, which came in a 202-yard performance against Youngstown State, and saw his only real blemish on an interception in the fourth quarter.
Asked about how the confidence of the offense is tied to the performance of the defense, Cook said the Spartans have a specific game plan to match the team’s high-powered defense.
“We go into every single football game knowing if we score three touchdowns, we’re gonna win,” Cook said. “We feel like our defense can hold the opponent under 17 points every single game, so our goal as an offense is to come out and score three touchdowns and, you know, expect to win.”
The Spartans now are set to return home Saturday for a homecoming date with Indiana (noon, ESPN2). The Hoosiers (3-2, 1-0) are coming off a 44-24 thrashing of Penn State this weekend, but have yet to venture away from Memorial Stadium in the 2013 campaign.
Dantonio called the weekend’s win over Iowa “a program win,” citing the necessity for the Spartans to gain confidence for Big Ten play.
“Iowa had won four straight and had a lot of positive things going on. We, on the other hand, were sort of getting beat around,” Dantonio said. “We needed to look from within our team and find ourselves.”