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IOWA CITY — A closer look at Saturday's Big Ten Conference football game between Iowa (0-2) and Michigan State (1-1) at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Kickoff is 11 a.m. (ESPN)
Fifty-one pass attempts. Fifty-one.
That was a pretty shocking number for Iowa in last week's 21-20 loss to Northwestern. Quarterback Spencer Petras threw three second-half interceptions in his second college start, once again showing a strong arm that can make all the throws but also inaccuracy.
Iowa, of course, will be without top receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who was arrested early Sunday morning for drunken driving and has been suspended for this game, at least. Smith-Marsette was shut out in the receptions department two weeks ago against Purdue but led Iowa in catches against Northwestern, though the Wildcats did make him largely a non-factor in the second half.
Hawkeyes Coach Kirk Ferentz said Smith-Marsette's snaps will be absorbed by Tyrone Tracy Jr. and Charlie Jones. Nico Ragaini will remain in the slot, and Sam LaPorta a top target at tight end.
After rushing for 195 yards against Purdue, Iowa had just 77 against Northwestern, essentially abandoning the run for most of the second half, despite the closeness of the game. A pass-rush ratio of 51-23 is very, very un-Iowa like, and Ferentz said postgame that is not how his team wants to play and will not play.
Thus, look for a lot of Tyler Goodson, Mekhi Sargent and Ivory Kelly-Martin in this game.
The offensive line continues to be in flux, with tackle Alaric Jackson and center Tyler Linderbaum the two guys who have played every snap so far. Indiana grad transfer Coy Cronk missed chunks of the Northwestern game via coach's decision, with Ferentz saying the tackle continues to try to get his game back after missing most of last season with a major ankle injury.
The guards also have rotated, with Kyler Schott and Cole Banwart seeing the majority of the snaps.
The Hawkeyes were better against the run last week against Northwestern than they were Week 1 against Purdue. That's with the exception of a pair of long, time-consuming TD drives in the second quarter that allowed Northwestern to turn a 17-0 deficit after a quarter into just a 20-14 halftime disadvantage.
Defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon is having a breakout season. He leads the Big Ten Conference in tackles for loss and is 10th in sacks. He simply has been a constant destructive force from the get go.
Seth Benson got his first college start last week at middle linebacker and led Iowa in tackles. Dane Belton was shifted to the Leo/Cash position, with Kaevon Merriweather taking over Belton's starting spot at strong safety. Barrington Wade, who got the start in the opener at Leo/Cash was kind of the odd man out against Northwestern, not seeing nearly as many snaps.
Iowa has always prided itself defensively under defensive coordinator Phil Parker on not allowing the big play, and that will be tested considering Michigan State's big-play capabilities. The Hawkeyes, for the most part, have struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks thus far, which needs to improve.
Michigan State offense
An improved unit from last season. At least through two games.
Redshirt junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi, the former Cedar Rapids Washington and West Des Moines Valley prep, has surpassed 300 yards passing in both games: a loss to Rutgers and upset win over No. 13 Michigan last week. Lombardi has thrown three touchdown passes in each game.
He won a competition for the starting job this season after playing in a reserve role last season. He made three starts because of injury two years ago as a redshirt freshman.
Michigan State has used the big play so far, with four Lombardi pass completions of over 40 yards. True freshman Ricky White had eight catches for 196 yards last week, including a 30-yard TD catch that opened the scoring.
Redshirt sophomore receiver Jayden Reed leads MSU with 12 catches and two touchdowns in two games. Jailen Nailor, another redshirt sophomore, has eight receptions, including a TD.
Michigan State's run game has not been strong early, with Spartans backs averaging just 2.3 yards per carry. Michigan State played a clean game offensively against Michigan after committing seven turnovers (two interceptions and five lost fumbles) against Rutgers.
Michigan State defense
The Spartans have allowed 41 and 24 points, respectively, in their first two games, so they can be scored upon.
MSU lost three good defensive linemen from last year's team to graduation, with Jacob Panasiuk the only returner. He's a multi-year starter at tackle.
Linebackers Antjuan Simmons and Noah Harvey lead Michigan State in tackles through two games. Simmons, a senior, led the Spartans last season in tackles.
Shakur Brown and Xavier Henderson have experience in the back of Michigan State's defense. Brown has his team's lone interception so far this season.
The last time Iowa started a season 0-2 was 2000, Ferentz's second as head coach. That's also the last time Iowa began 0-3. The Hawkeyes started 0-5 then, as a matter of fact.
Despite Michigan State's impressive upset win last week at the Big House, Iowa is favored here and should finally get into the win column.
Prediction — Iowa 27, Michigan State 20
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