Saturday, October 5, 2013

Game Day Saturday: Happy Homecoming at many venues around the B1G, including Kinnick Stadium

It is Homecoming in the Big Ten at four of the five venues, including Iowa City, Iowa.

  • Michigan State @ Iowa (1-0) - B1G's best defense vs. an Iowa program that may be playing as well as any B1G team in all three phases, lead by an improved Hawkeye defensive in Year 2 under DC Phil Parker
  • Illinois @ Nebraska - Illini 4 year starting QB Nathan Scheelhaase lead Illinois into Lincoln, as Cornhuskers redshirt freshman QB Tommy Armstrong gets his 2nd career start on Homecoming
  • Minnesota (0-1) @ Michigan - Battle of the Little Brown Jug on Homecoming for Wolverines, as Golden Gophers come to Ann Arbor
  • #4 Ohio State (1-0) @ Northwestern - The Buckeyes bring a 28-1 record into series, as two remaining undefeated B1G teams square off in Evanston for the Wildcats Homecoming in prime-time on ABC at 7 p.m.  Coach Pat Fitzgerald is 1-8 off bye weeks, including bowls per Phil Steele
  • The other conference game takes place in Bloomington, as each team opens B1G play!
  • Penn State @ Indiana - as Hoosiers choose to wait until November for Homecoming... Nittany Lions own 16-0 series lead over Indiana, though game two years ago in Bloomington finished close in a 16-10 Nittany Lion win
  • MSU insert
    11 a.m. on ESPN2
  • Wisconsin (1-1) and Purdue (0-1) enjoy bye weeks in Week 6 of the season
Game Day Iowa City

B1G Football has arrived in Iowa City, with the Iowa Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-0 Legends) hosting Michigan State (3-1) for Homecoming for a 11:00 a.m. kickoff at Kinnick Stadium on ESPN2.  Week 6 brings a full slate in College Football.

The Spartans are looking for back-to-back wins in Iowa City for the first time since 1987 and 1989.
While Iowa has won three of the past four games in series, though Michigan State beat Hawkeyes 37-21 in 2011.

MSU head coach Mark Dantonio is 2-4 during his tenure against Iowa, including a 1-2 record in Iowa City. Under Dantonio, four of the six meetings against Iowa have been decided by seven points or less, including two in overtime (2007, 2012). Michigan State is 3-3 in Big Ten openers under Dantonio.

The Hawkeyes are 6-0-1 against the Spartans on Homecoming, including four straight wins since a 6-6 tie in 1972. Iowa is 11-3 in Homecoming contests under Kirk Ferentz.

QB Jake Rudock and the Hawkeyes host Michigan State on Saturday at 11 a.m. (CT).
First-year starting
QB Jake Rudock
leads Iowa offense
Iowa averages over 200 yards rushing (244.4) and passing (203.0) -- it's that kind of balance that offensive coordinator Greg Davis will be looking for when the Hawkeyes face the Spartans inside Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.

"We've been able to run the ball and mix it up, due in large part to our offensive line," said Davis after Thursday's practice. "We have good leadership on our line with our two tackles #70 Brett Van Sloten and #68 Brandon Scherff. Anytime your two tackles are playing well, that's a great start, because a lot of times the inside people can get help."

C.J. Fiedorowicz has been named to the 2013 College Football Performance Awards Tight End Trophy Watch List.
Could senior TE C.J.
Fiedorowicz be a
weapon to watch
coming off play action
vs. Spartans?
Davis went on to say that winning the line of scrimmage will play a big part in Saturday's outcome. It will be a challenge, since the Spartans defense is considered the B1G's best and may be as strong as any in the nation against either the run or pass.

"If you can run the ball then your play action and first-down drop backs are all easier to protect," Davis said. "If you get into a game where you are playing from behind or you have to throw the ball, you put a lot of pressure not only on the line, but also the receivers, quarterbacks and protection calls."

Davis points to Michigan State's experience that makes them such a tough defensive unit.The Hawkeye offense will face a Spartan defense that hasn't allowed more than 17 points in a game and is tops in the country in total defense (188.8), pass efficiency defense (72.6) and pass defense (153.8), and second in rush defense (58.2).

"They a really good defensive football team," said Davis. "They have seven veterans, and the guys who are new are also extremely talented. They've been doing the same thing for a number of years and do it well. They play really tight man-to-man on the outside, which allows them to overload the box."

Iowa QB #15 Jake Rudock enters Saturday's game 39 passing yards shy of 1,000, completing 79 of his 128 pass attempts (61.7 percent) through five games. So far this season, opposing quarterbacks are completing only 36 percent of their passes against the Michigan State defense.  Rudock has shown good decision-making, including throwing six touchdowns and running for five.

"Being successful on first and second downs is always important, but it will be especially important in this game," said Davis. "Their third down package is unique in what we see in the Big Ten. They do several different styles of blitzes -- so when you can stay out of long yardage and stay in that situation where you may run or throw, it gives you an advantage."

The Spartans and Hawkeyes have had several close battles over the years.
RB Matt Weisman
ran for 116 yards
@ MSU last year
Leading the Hawkeye ground attack is junior RB #45 Mark Weisman, who averages 123 yards on 119 attempts. The bruising running back's 119 carries lead the country and are more than 10 different teams.  Last year, in Iowa's 19-16 double overtime win at Michigan State, Weisman lead the Hawkeye offense with 116 yards rushing, scoring the game tying touchdown near the end of regulation.

Junior WR #11 Kevonte Martin-Manley leads the Hawkeye receivers averaging 5.2 receptions per game, which ranks fifth in the Big Ten.  Martin-Manley appears to be buying into the Ferentz business-like approach, as well as any recent Iowa player.

This is the 45th meeting between Iowa and Michigan State, with the Hawkeyes winning seven of the last eight meetings in Iowa City dating back to 1994. Iowa leads the all-time series at 23-19-2. 

Iowa and Michigan State have played one common opponent this season. The Spartans defeated Western Michigan in East Lansing, 26-13, in their season opener; Iowa defeated Western Michigan in Iowa City, 59-3, in Week 4. The Hawkeyes clicked in all three phases of the game, in that win over Western Michigan.  The Spartans defense has fueled Michigan State all season, with the exception of win over Youngstown State.

The area to watch on both teams is at Linebacker, since each unit are among the Big Ten and nation's best units.
  • Junior 34 SLB Taiwan Jones, Senior MIKE 40 Max Bullough and Senior SAM Denicos Allen are as solid of unit as they come. Allen has 2 sacks on the season and leads the Spartans in tackles, while Bullough is the leader of the unit in the middle.
  • Iowa starts three seniors at LB, with OLB 20 Chirstain Kirksey, MLB 44 James Morris and 31 Anthony Hitchens - the Hawkeyes top 3 tacklers.  Morris has a sack and two interceptions entering into Week 6. Kirksey has a nose for the football and if Phil Parker decides to blitz, watch Hitchens from the LB unit.

"It was a tough game (talking of last year's MSU game)," said Weisman. "The run wasn't working for a while, but then we broke a couple in the fourth quarter. It was a battle, and it's going to be another battle this game too."

After rushing for 6 yards on his first carry last October, nine of Weisman's next 10 carries resulted in a gain of three yards or less. He finished with 17 such rushes in the game. On his 12th carry, Weisman gained 8-yards and on his 16th carry, he scampered for a 31-yard gain. His 24th carry resulted in a 37-yard gain to set up a 5-yard touchdown run to tie the game on his final attempt.

"There are going to be negative plays, one, two-yard gains, but eventually we'll break one," said Weisman.

Junior left tackle Scherff says the offensive line needs to prove itself at the line of scrimmage with its physicality.

"We have to come out and try to be the most physical unit on the field and play a full 60 (minutes)," said Scherff. "They're going to come in and give us their best shot, and we're going to give them ours."

"It's a big challenge. They're a big, physical unit, and we're looking forward to that. That's Big Ten football."

Iowa's defensive line has been a great work in progress, especially showing excellent development during the four game winning streak the Hawkeyes are now enjoying. Senior defensive end #79 Dominic Alvis leads the unit in tackles, including two sacks, as the leader of the unit.

The Michigan State defensive line is always stout.  Senior DT #91 Tyler Hoover leads Spartans unit with two sacks and in tackles in this unit.

Other than Iowa's ability to maybe establish the run, like last year's game late, the defensive units appear ahead of the offense's in this one. The wildcard is Iowa's improving offense in the second year under OC Davis.

Whatever the reason, MSU senior left guard #64 Blake Treadwell is sure the Spartans will get plenty of advice from the Hawkeye fans, who'll be sitting within arm's reach behind them in Saturday's Big Ten opener at Kinnick Stadium.

"There's been no hot dog throwing (at us), but they'll let you know if you're not playing, I'll tell you that," Treadwell said. "They'll say, `Your jersey looks a little clean No. 64.' They'll talk some trash."

Treadwell sat out the 2011 game in Iowa City because of injury and played on the defense line there the previous year.

"They said some stuff that made the hair raise on the back of your neck," Treadwell said. "If I do anything, I just smile and laugh, but I don't talk back. I love fans who are passionate, especially away fans when they try to get after me and trash talk. I embrace it. I'm excited to play there."

Some of MSU's most gut-wrenching games of all-time have come against Iowa. Four of the last six games have been decided by an average of just under four points.

The Spartans have used three quarterbacks in 2013, but appear to be settling on sophomore #18 Connor Cook, who is 43-81 for 411 yards and five touchdowns.  None of the three quarterbacks have thrown an interception this season.  Last year, senior #10 Andrew Maxwell struggled against the Hawkeyes.  Cook has ran for 74 yards in 19 carries this season.

Jeremy Langford leads the team in rushing (67.0 ypg.) and rushing touchdowns (4).
MSU #33 Jeremy
Langford leads
Spartans with
4.6 yards per carry
with 268 yards, 4 TDs
The Spartans lost leading rusher Le'Veon Bell (1,793 yards) to the NFL, from last year's team.

Iowa hasn't given up a touchdown run on defense in five games in 2013. Michigan is the other FBS program that hasn't given up a touchdown on the ground all season.

The Spartans have three running backs that they can throw at Iowa, along with Cook at quarterback.  Iowa has seen several teams this year that have a dual threat quarterback and running attack, so the Hawkeyes should be ready for Michigan State.  

Starting junior RB #33 Jermey Langford is a threat as a runner and receiver.  He is backed up by junior #20 Nick Hill and redshirt freshman  Riley Bulough, Max's brother.

"When you play Iowa, both teams know that it's going to be a bloodbath, it's going to be a battle. They're saying the same things over in their football office - `You've got to be the tougher team; you've got to make them quit first,' Michigan State linebacker coach Mike Tressel elaborated.

"We're saying the same things. Our guys know what to expect. They know you can't take one play off. If there's one play you want to take the easy route and not be physical, it will cost you," Tressell added.

The Michigan State receiving corp is lead by sophomore WRs #3 MacGarrett Kings (2 touchdowns) and #16 Aaron Burbridge with 12 receptions. Senior WR #13 Bennie Fowler has eight catches, one touchdown, as the veteran of the receiving corp. The tight ends are used mainly as blockers.

Q. Michigan State got flagged for five pass interferences, in that Notre Dame game. Is that something that you can go after? 

COACH FERENTZ: I don't know if we can go after them, it's a bi-product of their play and whenever you do that you're going to have penalties. The down side is they got flagged but if you look at how many yards they give up a week in a pass, it's kinda like anything, if you're a hard man cover team, not that they are, but when they lock down on you, they're in your face, it's not a lot of breathing room there. So it's a risk/reward thing, but you look at their pass statistics, they're probably comfortable with the style of play they have. It's an active pass rush, and if a guy is good at getting a jump on it, most coaches will give guys a hall pass if they can get a couple of sacks during a game.

Iowa has six players on its roster from the state of Michigan, including starting WR Martin-Manley (Pontiac), starting DT junior #71 Carl Davis (Sterling Heights), redshirt freshman #25 Ruben Lile (Detroit), redshirt freshman LB #51 Laron Taylor (Detroit), junior TE #87 Jake Duzey (Troy) and the Hawkeyes lone true freshman starter CB #14 Desmond King (Detroit). Duzey may get some plays set up for him against his home state.

Like Iowa State, Michigan State has a strong punter in junior #3 Mike Sadler. The placekicking duties are now handled by true freshman #4 Michael Geiger. Sophomore Andre Sims averages 8.6 yards per punt return, while Nick Hill has a 19 yard kick return average on five returns.  This is an area where Iowa needs to separate from Michigan State... it would be in special teams. The Hawkeyes are very capable in this phase of the game.

Iowa DC Parker was an all-Big Ten DB at Michigan State and was a Spartans graduate assistant in 1987, when MSU beat Iowa. There are no Iowans on the Michigan State roster. 

Our Pick: Iowa Hawkeyes 26, Michigan State Spartans 13, as Iowa program continues success with Spartans. The weather is very similar this year, like last year's game in East Lansing.

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