GAME NOTES: The lone undefeated team in the Big Ten Conference goes in search of its ninth win of the season this Saturday, as the fifth-ranked Michigan State Spartans pull into Iowa City to take on the 18th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes.
Michigan State is 8-0 for the fifth time in school history, but just the first time since 1966. Coach Mark Dantonio's club looked as if its unblemished record would be no more last week, but 21 fourth-quarter points allowed the Spartans to slip past the Northwestern Wildcats, 35-27.
If MSU wins this game, it's conceivable it could run the table as only bouts with Minnesota, Purdue and Penn State remain -- the first two of which take place at home. The Spartans haven't won the Big Ten title since sharing it back in 1990.
Iowa had a three-game win streak snapped last weekend, falling at home to the Wisconsin Badgers in a 31-30 final. As a result, the Hawkeyes dropped to 5-2 on the year and 2-1 in conference.
Coach Kirk Ferentz hopes his team has what it takes to be in the thick of the Big Ten title chase a month from now, and it will be tested not only by the Spartans here, but also by Ohio State at home on November 20th. There are three other games (Indiana, Northwestern, Minnesota) on the docket for the Hawkeyes, but they all appear winnable.
Iowa holds a narrow lead in the all-time series with Michigan State, 21-18-2, and the Hawkeyes have won three of the last four meetings.
Kirk Cousins threw for 331 yards and three TDs, and the Spartans rallied in the final frame to remain perfect on the season as they won at Northwestern last Saturday, 35-27. Mark Dell was Cousins' favorite target in the game, catching nine balls for 109 yards and two scores, and B.J. Cunningham finished with eight grabs for 113 yards and a TD. RB Edwin Baker churned out 73 yards and a TD on just 10 carries for the Spartans, who piled up 457 total yards and generated 24 first downs.
Coach Dantonio had nothing but praise for Cousins and his ability to lead both on the field and off, "The way you go 8-0 is with players who can lead and when you build a program where there is a ripple effect from top down and where people believe in what is going on. Kirk Cousins is an unbelievable leader. Players follow him. Players make plays."
Tyler Hoover led the MSU defense with nine tackles against the Wildcats, two of which were sacks -- the Spartans credited with a whopping eight sacks on the day. In all, Northwestern was allowed 385 total yards, 170 of which came on the ground and 215 through the air.
For the season, the Spartans rank fourth in the Big Ten in scoring defense (17.9 ppg), second in pass efficiency defense (108.3) and third in turnover margin (+1.12). Greg Jones, one of the 15 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, is the team's leading tackler with 69, and he also has a pair of INTs and three forced fumbles to his credit. Overall, MSU defenders have come up with 13 picks and 18 sacks among their 41 TFLs this year.
Ricky Stanzi threw for 258 yards and three TDs, but it wasn't enough as the Hawkeyes fell at home by a single point to Wisconsin last week. Receivers Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos combined for 12 catches, 163 yards and two scores, while RB Adam Robinson powered his way to 114 yards and a TD on 23 carries.
Stanzi, who was recently named a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award, has completed 124-of-182 passes for 1,732 yards and 16 TDs against only two INTs this season. He leads the Big Ten and is second in the nation in pass efficiency (174.9). Johnson-Koulianos, who has 30 receptions for 497 yards and eight TDs this year, is now tied for first place on Iowa's career receptions list, while Robinson has rushed for 100 yards in five of the team's seven games this fall.
The Iowa offense is generating 413 yards and 33.7 points per contest, with the pass (253.9 ypg) being the its most dangerous weapon. The run produces 159.1 ypg and has accounted for 12 TDs.
Tyler Sash logged a game-high 13 tackles, while Tyler Nielsen finished with 10 and Jeremiha Hunter added nine in last week's loss to the Badgers. Overall, the Hawkeyes allowed 347 total yards, 142 of which came via the ground attack, which also accounted for three TDs. Wisconsin converted three fourth-down attempts in the game, one on a fake punt late, to put itself in position for the win.
To this point in the 2010 campaign, the Hawkeyes rank second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (15.7 ppg), rushing defense (92.1 ypg), total defense (297.1 ypg) and turnover margin (+1.29), while coming in first in red-zone defense (.636). A lack of pressure on the QB has resulted in just 12 sacks, but Mike Daniels has three of them and he has combined with Adrian Clayborn to notch 14 of the team's 36 TFLs. Hunter sits atop the team's tackles list with 51, while Sash checks in with 45.
Coach Ferentz, while obviously disappointed with the outcome of last week's game, is optimistic about his team's chances moving forward.
"There's a lot of football left. We have a good team and we have to play better. We'll determine what's going to happen this season (in the coming days). Sure, it's going to hurt and it should, but we have games to play."
Although they've been perfect thus far, at least with respect to their record, the Spartans aren't without their flaws. Can they win this game? Sure. But something says they are on borrowed time and this Iowa club is as good, if not better than any MSU has faced to this point.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Iowa 27, Michigan State 24