Michigan State football (1-1) will be traveling out of the state for the first time in the Mel Tucker era as they face the Iowa Hawkeyes (0-2) this Saturday with a noon EST kickoff.
Preview: Michigan State prepares for 'physical' game at Iowa
“They've been the same for 15 years,” Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi said. “You're going to get tough defense, you're going to get a defense who knows where they're going to be, knows their assignment and they're not going to make mistakes. They're going to be solid all around. They have a lot of good players. I know their record doesn't show it, but they have a talented team, and they're always ready to go. They're always going to be tough to beat, especially at home.”
Keys for Michigan State
Key one: Create pressure on the quarterback.
Iowa’s starting quarterback Spencer Petras has struggled so far in his two starts, throwing only one touchdown and three interceptions. In their win over Michigan, the Spartans were able to create pressure and disrupt Joe Milton’s rhythm at times but Defensive Line Coach Ron Burton thinks they can improve.
“We think it can get a lot better,” Burton said. “... A good pass rushing team has the ability to pass rush with a four man rush and that's what we're constantly harping on is your ability to understand the protections that's going on in front of you and being able to keep the quarterback in the pocket and make him feel the pressure, regardless of getting a sack or not but making you release that ball when he doesn't want to.”
Petras will be making his third start for the Hawkeyes in this matchup. If the Spartans can create pressure and disrupt the young quarterback’s rhythm, they can force Petras to make mistakes and possibly some turnovers to create easy offensive moves.
Key two: Run game
Tucker has preached the importance of running the ball since he arrived in East Lansing.
“We've got to run the ball better,” Tucker said. We need to be able to run the ball on our terms because being balanced on offense and not being one dimensional is critically important. I believe that with a combination of improvement up front on some technique and fundamentals and some communication things, just hitting the hole with the velocity and explosiveness that we need to, I believe that we can do a better job running the football.”
To get the run game going, Michigan State’s offensive line will need to play strong like the way they did against their rival Michigan.
“They're a very strong, physically strong football team,” Tucker said. "They have a mentality of Iowa football, which is they're going to want to try to win the line of scrimmage. They have very good, skilled players on both sides of the ball and they play relentless on special teams. It is a tremendous challenge for us.”
In addition, center Matt Allen was “banged up” before the Michigan game according to Tucker, but Nick Samac was able to fill his role well, playing a key role in the touchdown that sealed the deal for the Spartans last Saturday.
Connor Heyward emerged as the starter in Week 1 scoring two receiving touchdowns, but the Spartans have not found tremendous success in the run game so far. True freshman Jordon Simmons has found the most success on the ground, racking up 98 yards rushing. Elijah Collins, who was the Big Ten’s leading returning rusher from a year ago has been notably missing in action.
In Iowa’s two games, they have allowed 104 yards to Purdue and 143 yards to Northwestern. The secondary for Iowa has been strong all year so far, meaning that if the Spartans want to produce on offense, they will need some production on the ground to take the pressure off of Lombardi to make plays.
Keys for Iowa
After a tumultuous offseason and two heartbreaking losses to start the season, Iowa is looking to try to get back on track against the Spartans.
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Key one: Run game
The team who can control the line of scrimmage will control this game.
Part of Iowa’s two losses was their offense that has been struggling with former quarterback Nate Stanley gone to the NFL. Coach Kirk Ferentz turned to Petras to fill Stanley’s shoes. In two games, Petras has thrown for 481 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
Petras’ top weapon wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette has been suspended for an OWI offense the morning after their loss to Northwestern.
With a new quarterback trying to get comfortable and their top wide receiver out, Iowa will need to get their run game going. Against Purdue, the Hawkeyes rushed for nearly 200 yards with their one-two punch Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent. In their following game, Iowa was only able to muster 77 yards on the ground.
Iowa once again returns a stout offensive line, only allowing two sacks in their opening games. If the offensive line can create some running lanes for the Iowa running backs, that can ease the pressure for Petras in the passing game and open up play action opportunities.
Key two: Iowa’s secondary
On defense, the Hawkeyes are stout once again, especially in the secondary. The Iowa secondary has already brought in three interceptions on the season as well as holding Northwestern’s quarterback Peyton Ramsey to only 130 yards on 18 pass attempts.
Lombardi and the MSU offense torched Michigan’s secondary downfield last week. Iowa will need to eliminate the deep ball for the Spartans and force the Spartans to beat them in the short game and on the ground.
This season is going to be an unpredictable one due to the pandemic altering every walk of life. It creates an environment that nobody is accustomed to and allows for anything to happen.
While Iowa again returns a strong defense, so does Michigan State. This game is going to come down to who can create the most offense. With Smith-Marsette out for the next game, who does Iowa turn to in an already struggling passing game?
Lombardi has motivation in his home state to come out with a win. He’s going to get one, leading his Spartans to a 17-10 victory at Kinnick Stadium.