The Iowa Hawkeyes (4-1) host Michigan State for homecoming on Saturday, attempting to run their winning streak to five after a loss to Northern Illinois to open the season. The Spartans (3-1) are coming off a close loss to Notre Dame at home. Iowa stunned MSU last year, 19-16, in double overtime. Here are five things to watch at Kinnick Stadium:
Burnt toast – Iowa’s secondary has been its most inconsistent unit, giving up several long touchdowns. They’ve also had a hand in eight interceptions in five games, including two for touchdowns. Iowa could get cornerback Jordan Lomax back from injury. Lomax’s return would allow the Hawks to rotate freshman Desmond King and senior B. J. Lowery. Fortunately for the Hawks, the Spartans’ passing offense is a boring as a Ted Cruz filibuster. If the secondary can keep MSU receivers in front of them, it should find success on Saturday.
Daring Davis – Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis has shrunken his playbook for each successive game. The no-huddle, zone read offense that racked up plays and yards early in the year has given way to a heavy dose of running back Mark Weisman and Co. That works against weaker Big 10 or non-conference foes, but Michigan State ranks No. 1 in total defense in the country. Too conservative a game plan by Davis could play into the Spartans’ hands. Davis needs to fight the tendency to clam up on offense by taking calculated risks to keep Michigan State off-balance.
Young guns – Iowa’s speed racers have spent most of the season in the garage. Wide receivers Tevaun Smith and Damond Powell are beginning to emerge, with Powell breaking a 74-yard touchdown reception last week vs. Minnesota. Freshman running back LeShun Daniels can break tackles and run away from most linebackers. Michigan State has a trio of linebackers who are physical and can close quickly on the ball. If Iowa can’t get any of its speedsters past them and into the secondary then touchdowns will be few and far between.
Line of legacy – The Hawks have a looooooong line of highly-acclaimed defensive lineman and linebackers. Although this year’s team lacks the big names, the overall performance of the front 7 has been impressive. Linebacker James Morris was just named Big 10 Player of the Week on defense. The line, led by Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, was stifling against Minnesota, allowing less than 1 yard per carry. If this no-name bunch can play like the ’72 Dolphins, it can push the Hawks to 5-1 and keep them unbeaten in conference play.
Mike’s World – Iowa kicker Mike Meyer won last year’s contest with a field goal in double overtime. Meyer has been steady all season, but four of Iowa’s victories were by comfortable margins. Saturday’s game figures to tight and could come down to one kick. Lucky for Iowa, Meyer knows his way around a little at Kinnick Stadium.
Prediction: Iowa 16, Michigan State 13