Iowa running back Damian Sims fends off senior safety Travis Key for a 30-yard gain after being pushed out of bounds by Key in the second quarter. Key had a total of six tackles against the Hawkeyes.
Iowa City — It’s become a recurring Saturday nightmare for the Spartans: Keep the game close until the end, prove the team is capable of winning, but in the end, lose.
Saturday’s 34-27 loss to Iowa recalled that nightmare, but with one variation — this time, MSU didn’t keep it close most of the game. This time, they set the tone with a 17-3 halftime lead — and lost.
MSU amassed 252 yards of total offense in the first half while holding the Hawkeyes to 71 yards.
The second half, though, belonged to Iowa as it exploded for 212 yards — 168 of which came on the ground — after the first half.
While the Spartans out-gained the Hawkeyes 468-283, the loss extended MSU’s losing streak at Kinnick Stadium to six games.
“Give credit to Iowa. They kept playing,” MSU head coach Mark Dantonio said. “It’s very tough in the Big Ten conference, I think, to win away.
“Their players just hung around. And if you keep hanging around and fighting, good things are going to happen. That’s what happened.”
The Spartans have been hanging around the bottom of the Big Ten conference since their 4-0 start. MSU is 1-4 in its last five games, all of which have been in the Big Ten.
The Spartans have hung around in another way, too. They lost the four games by no more than seven points, with a 37-34 loss to Wisconsin, 48-41 overtime loss to Northwestern, 24-17 loss to Ohio State and Saturday’s loss to Iowa in double overtime.
That information gives MSU confidence during this down period.
“We just have to keep our heads up,” senior free safety Travis Key said.
“All the games that we’ve lost have been close. We’re in it to the end, we just have to find a way to get over that hump and finish out the game and get the victory.”
Aside from the Ohio State game, MSU was at least tied in the fourth quarter of its other losses. They have yet to hurdle the hump, but the players don’t believe they’re a special case — teams will lose.
“I wouldn’t call them breakdowns,” junior right guard Roland Martin said. “This is the game of football and everybody makes mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes no matter what goes on in any profession or whatever you do.”
Iowa discovered how to get over the hump after halftime. With quarterback Jake Christensen and his injury-depleted receiving corps held to nine yards in the first half, the Hawkeyes continued running the ball. Running backs Albert Young and Damian Sims kept chipping away at the Spartans, eventually wearing down the defense.
Young broke out for 179 yards on 34 carries, including two touchdowns. MSU running backs junior Javon Ringer and senior Jehuu Caulcrick didn’t match Young’s yard output combined. Ringer had 105 yards on 23 carried and Caulcrick had 45 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries.
Junior quarterback Brian Hoyer contributed 308 yards through the air — 139 of which went to junior wide receiver Devin Thomas — but couldn’t get into the end zone.
The Spartans failed to close out yet another game — but that’s fixable.
“These are short term problems, not long term problems,” Dantonio said. “We’re to the brink — we have to get over the brink.
“Every play matters, but we have to finish the first play and we have to play well on the last play.”