For more than 58 minutes Saturday, the MSU football team shut down Ricky Stanzi.
But as the Iowa quarterback’s offense took the field with 97 seconds remaining and 70 yards ahead of them, they saw something they previously didn’t see much of — a three-man MSU defensive front.
Without feeling pressure, Stanzi drove the Hawkeyes down the field and threw a game-winning touchdown as time expired.
Sunday, head coach Mark Dantonio defended the coaching staff’s decision to pressure with three men on that final drive.
“We used a three-man rush periodically the whole game on third down,” Dantonio said. “In a two-minute situation we packed it all back; we wanted to keep them in-bounds and allow the clock to run.”
To Dantonio’s credit, the Spartans used the three-man rush effectively as Iowa went 5-for-15 on third down for the game.
But the Spartans ran the same defense trying to hold late-game leads against Central Michigan and Michigan and lost both of those leads, as well.
“That’s the normal thing to do, I think, when you’re in that situation,” Dantonio said. “We wanted to take the long throw away from them and make them earn it. … We knew they were going to throw the ball, so we needed to have our faster people on the field to be able to get out of that situation.”
The Spartans blitzed on the final four plays, but were unable to affect Stanzi much.
“When you max pressure, you’ve got to get home and affect the quarterback and we were unable to do that on the last play,” Dantonio said. “We didn’t hit the quarterback enough. When you’re sending more than they’ve got to block, you should hit the quarterback. We didn’t hit him and, consequently, you’re hung out to dry a little bit on certain routes and we’ve got to play the slant better, obviously, but it happened.”
Ware was the penalty?
Dantonio reiterated his frustration with a personal foul called against senior cornerback Jeremy Ware.
With the score tied at six in the fourth quarter, Iowa receiver Colin Sandeman turned as he caught a pass and immediately was hit by Ware. There was no initial call by the officials, but as Sandeman lay on the ground, a personal foul was called on Ware long after the play was dead.
“From where I teach and what I do, this is a tough game, this is a violent game,” Dantonio said. “We don’t want to hurt people, but it’s hard to tell defensive player (to) stand there and let the offensive player run you over. I don’t think that what we want to teach him to do is go cut the guy’s legs out at that point.”
Dantonio also said Ware did not to intend to injure Sandeman.
“It’s not like he has a bull’s-eye and a laser gun and he goes and hits the guy,” Dantonio said. “He’s going to roll up there and hit and these are split-second decisions that a young man has to make to protect himself and to be aggressive and play the football game.”
Despite being hounded on the first two plays trailing 9-6, sophomore Kirk Cousins led the Spartans to a touchdown. He has successfully run the two-minute drill several times this season and it nearly won the game Saturday.
“We got beat, taking two sacks right off the bat, (but it was) great execution on the hook-and-ladder, getting it down the field,” Dantonio said. “It was a great play on the last play, stepping up and delivering it to (senior receiver Blair White) for a touchdown. Clutch performance, clutch play.”