Dec. 5, 2015
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By JAMES ALLAN
INDIANAPOLIS — A nine-plus minute fourth quarter touchdown drive propelled No. 5 Michigan State to a 16-13 victory over the fourth-ranked University of Iowa football team in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The loss snaps Iowa’s school-record 12 game winning streak, dropping the Hawkeyes to 12-1 overall. Michigan State improves to 12-1 and likely earns a spot in the College Football Playoffs.
“I don’t know if we could have played any harder tonight,” said UI head coach Kirk Ferentz. “Credit Michigan State, they are an excellent football team. They just had a little more juice at the end.
“These guys have had one heck of a season, and they have played hard all season long, including tonight. To me they are champions; we had two championship teams on the field tonight.”
Trailing 13-9, the Spartans took over at their own 18 with 9:31 left in the game. Michigan State pounded the ball against a worn down Hawkeye defense that was on the field for more than 22 minutes in the second half. The go-ahead drive resulted in 22 plays, which included five third-down and one fourth-down conversion.
On fourth-and-2 from the 5, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook took the ball in a shotgun formation and rammed his way for a 2-yard gain to the 3 via an option keeper. Iowa stopped L.J. Scott on carries on first and second down before Scott found the end zone from 1-yard out, breaking through four Hawkeye tackles before extending the ball over the goal line with 27 seconds left to play.
Michigan State out-gained the Hawkeyes 365-268, in the game and had a 20-13 advantage in first downs. The Spartans wore down Iowa in the second half, accumulating 128 of their 174 rushing yards. Michigan State ran 28 more plays and had the ball for 13 more minutes in the game.
Iowa ran just 16 plays in the second half; the Spartans ran 52 plays.
The Spartan defense bottled up Iowa’s rushing attack, holding the Hawkeyes to 52 yards on 24 attempts. Junior C.J. Beathardpassed for 216 yards, completing 18-of-26 attempts, including a touchdown. Senior Tevaun Smith had five receptions for 110 yards and a score.
“Michigan State is a good defensive football team,” said Ferentz. “They showed that at Ohio State. Our guys battled and competed and we had a couple of near misses in the run game. They make it tough on you. You have to find a way to eke out some points.”
Cook, the game’s MVP, finished 16-of-32 for 191 yards, while Scott rushed 22 times for 73 yards. Aaron Burbridge had five catches for 61 yards — all in the second half.
Iowa’s defense, which held the Spartans to a season-low 16 points, was led by senior Jordan Lomax. He had 10 tackles, including seven solo stops. Sophomore Josey Jewell had eight tackles and an interception and Iowa had four sacks in the contest.
Michigan State erased a 6-3 halftime deficit with two third quarter field goals from Michael Geiger, one from 29 yards to tie the game and a second from 47 yards to give the Spartans a 9-6 lead with 57 seconds left in quarter three.
After being held without a first down and to three total yards in the third quarter, the Hawkeyes regained the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.
On second-and-20 from its own 15, Iowa caught the Spartans in play-action. Michigan State’s safety bit on the fake and Smith beat Darian Hicks for an 85-yard touchdown pass — Iowa’s longest play from scrimmage this season — to give the Hawkeyes a 13-9 lead.
Iowa and Michigan State traded field goals in the first quarter in what ended up being wins for the respective defenses.
The Spartans forced the game’s first turnover on Iowa’s opening possession when Riley Bullough knocked the ball free from Henry Krieger Coble, giving Michigan State possession at the Iowa 27. The Spartans moved down to the 5 before settling on Geiger’s 23-yard field goal. It was the first time the Hawkeyes trailed since Nov. 7 at Indiana.
The Hawkeyes evened the turnover tally on Michigan State’s next possession, which led to the game-tying field goal. Jewell intercepted Cook following pressure from Parker Hesse, forcing a throw-away. Cook’s pass deflected off an offensive lineman, where Jewell snatched the pick to give Iowa the ball at the 24.
Iowa moved 14 yards to the 8 before Beathard’s third-down attempt to Smith was broken up by Spartan cornerback Arjen Colquhoun in the end zone. Koehn’s 24-yard field goal tied the game with 5:08 left in the opening quarter.
The Hawkeyes took the lead, moving 42 yards over nine plays. Iowa lost Jordan Canzeri on the second play of the drive with an ankle injury before moving into Spartan territory on an 8-yard completion to Jacob Hiller and a 15-yard personal foul penalty placed the ball to the MSU 26.
The Hawkeyes advanced to the 20, setting up a fourth-and-4. Iowa lined up to go for it before a false start brought on the field goal unit, where Koehn connected on a 43-yards attempt to make the score 6-3 with 13:28 left.
Both offenses missed opportunities in the second quarter. Michigan State missed two field goals — a pair of 52-yarders, one with 8:54 left and one on the final play of the first half.
Iowa had the best drive of the first half, moving 60 yards over 11 plays to the 5. On third-and-5, Beathard targeted George Kittle in the end zone. The ball was jarred loose by Bullough and it momentarily settled on his back before Demetrious Cox intercepted the ball in the end zone for a touchback.
“That how close it is,” said Ferentz. “Things like that are the difference in a game. It was a bang-bang play. In a game like this, it comes down to plays like that.”
The Hawkeyes (12-1) will learn their bowl destination Sunday at 2 p.m. (CT) when the New Year’s Six bowl assignments are released on ESPN.
“We still have one more game to play and one more trophy to get,” said Ferentz.