Saturday, October 24, 2009

Iowa/Michigan State

It may not have been everybody's cup of tea, but I just saw the best football game I've seen all season. This Big Ten battle had just about everything I could ask for in a college football game: tough running, clutch quarterback play, phenomenal defensive play on both sides of the ball, big hitting (two players left the field on a stretcher, which is definitely not a good thing, although thankfully both players appear to be okay at this early juncture, but it is indicative of how intense the game was), rabid fans, national championship and conference championship implications and several lead changes down the stretch.

To say that a game in which nothing but field goals were scored for the first 58 minutes ranks as a contender for the best game of the year, would certainly leave most people dumbfounded, but while there were plenty of fireworks in the final two minutes, the first 58 were nothing to laugh off. The Spartan offense struggled at times against a ferocious Iowa defense, but things began to come together late, when with the Spartans down 9-6, Michigan State quarterback hit tight end Brian Lithicum for about nine yards on a 3rd and 18 with the clock running down. However, as Iowa defenders converged on Lithicum, he lateraled the ball to wide receiver Blair White who continued on for 27 more yards. Two plays later Cousins found White in the end zone for a 30 yards touchdown to give Sparty a 13-9 lead, putting Iowa's undefeated season in grave danger.

But Iowa rallied, with quarterback Ricky Stanzi getting big completions to wide receivers Marvin McNutt, Trey Stross and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos to set the Hawkeyes up with a 1st and goal with 15 seconds remaining. Somehow, Iowa was able to get off three plays (all unsuccessful passes into the end zone) and yet still have 2 seconds on the clock for a fourth down play, when Stanzi again found McNutt, this time on an inside slant for the game-winning touchdown.

While this goes down as an excruciating loss for Mark Dantonio and the Spartans, this was certainly an exhilarating victory for Kirk Ferentz's now 8-0 Iowa Hawkeyes, and a completely compelling game for this particular non-partisan viewer.

Iowa now has a remaining schedule in which they have three home games that they should win (Indiana, Northwestern and Minnesota) with a tough road trip to Columbus to face the Buckeyes in the middle. While Iowa still remains a long shot to play in the BCS Championship game, their fireworks tonight kept that dream alive.

Either way, I am not ashamed to admit that I am unabashedly in love with the Iowa defense. Adrian Clayborn is an absolute beast at defensive end, a speedy pass rusher with enough strength to stand up an offensive tackle and play the run as well. Quick, undersized defensive tackle Karl Klug is next to him, often preventing opposing offenses from giving a lot of help to the lineman charged with slowing Clayborn. Throw in Christian Ballard at the other tackle and another athletic freak in sophomore Broderick Binns at the other end (Binns has a special knack for getting his hands up and knocking down passes at the line) and this Hawkeye defensive line (which rarely substitutes) is a handful for opposing offenses, quite capable of getting a pass rush without the need for sending extra blitzers, while effectively playing the run. The dominance of the defensive front, frees up playmakers in the back of the Iowa defense like middle linebacker Pat Angerer, cornerback Amari Spievey and strong safety Tyler Sash to make plays all over the field.

Given Terrelle Pryor and Ohio State's one-game resurgence today, the Iowa/Ohio State matchup in Columbus figures to be a battle for the Big Ten championship.

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