Iowa CITY, Iowa - "Obviously, every football game is big for us, but there are certain ones that you sort of point to. But we've always tried to take that next game and make it a big game. I think our players are excited about playing."
Who said it earlier this week, Kirk Ferentz or Mark Dantonio? Stumped?
This comment was uttered by Dantonio but could just have easily come from Ferentz.
"They're playing with confidence, they have great senior leadership and veteran leadership and their scheme I wouldn't call it overly complex, but they have enough complexity in there where you can't get comfortable and they always make it a challenge," Ferentz said. "It seems the subtleties of it, it's hard to get clean plays, it's going to be a challenge for us and that will be a big, big part of the game this Saturday."
The Iowa coach could have been describing his own team.
The Hawkeyes and MSU look a lot alike. Much of it can be attributed to their no-nonsense, physical styles established by their program leaders.
Ferentz and Dantonio probably aren't on each other's Christmas card list but a mutual respect exists. They recruit many of the same players because those guys work at both places.
"They've always been a very strong program, a program that's been built on toughness and built on a scheme, a concept, and they continue to work those concepts and they're very, very good at them," Dantonio said. "Over the course of six years, you look at them as you remember them or look back, a lot of the things remain the same. Some things changed, but the integrity of their program remains constant in terms of what they do. So they do what they do."
The same can be said of the Spartans in Dantonio's half dozen years in East Lansing. They also are built on strong defense and running the football.
"They have an identity offense and same thing on defense," Ferentz said. "I think they've won 30 games basically the last three years, not including this year. so I don't expect them to change their attack a whole lot."
Four of the six meetings between these two schools since Dantonio took over at MSU have been decided by seven points or less. Two of them have gone to overtime.
"Their running attack is starting to kick into gear, I imagine the way they want it," Ferentz said. "They looked good last time out and they're giving up a ridiculously small number of yards per game rushing wise right now; I think it's under 60. They have a tough football team. It's going to be a challenge for us."
Iowa is 4-1 and the Spartans are 3-1. Neither team is ranked.
Iowa holds a 23-19-2 advantage in a series that began in 1953.
This thing has been pretty volatile. Iowa opened as a two-point favorite Monday at the Mirage. It dropped one point by Wednesday afternoon. Several of the popular offshore betting sites saw more movement. One of them had the Hawkeyes as a two-point pick on Sunday with Michigan State moving to a 1.5-point choice on Wednesday. The over-under number started at 40 and sat at 38.5 by Wednesday.
-Spartans are 3-0-1 Against the Spread in their last 4 road games.
-Hawkeyes are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games following a straight-up win.
Iowa CB Desmond King v. MSU WR MacGarrett Kings Jr.: King could draw the initial assignment on Kings and that might be a nightmare for Hawkeye radio play-by-play announcer, Gary Dolphin. Kings has been MSU's most productive receiver. He's the kind of pass catcher that has given Iowa trouble in the past as he can find the soft spots in the zone and make people miss after the catch. When the Spartans go three wide, they could look for a mismatch with Kings in the slot against a safety or linebacker.
Iowa FB Adam Cox v. MSU MLB Max Bullough: Cox has helped pave the way for the country's 20th-ranked rushing attack. The Illinois native enjoyed one of his best all-around games last week in Minneapolis. The level of difficulty likely will increase this Saturday against Bullough, who has started 31 games in a row and was named first-team all-Big Ten by the coaches after last season.
MSU - Lawrence Thomas (undisclosed, questionable), Monty Madaris (undisclosed, questionable).
POINTS OF INTEREST
-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).
-Since 2008, MSU has recorded 27 Big Ten victories, the most of any team in the conference (Ohio State has won 33 games, but had to vacate seven victories following the 2010 season).
-Michigan State is 15-9 (.625) in Big Ten road games under Dantonio, including a 9-3 record (.750) since 2010.
-Through four games, Michigan State's defense ranks No. 1 in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense (188.8 yards per game), pass defense (130.5 ypg.) and pass efficiency defense (72.63 rating). The Spartans also rank among the national leaders in rushing defense (second at 58.2 ypg.), opponent third-down conversions (third at 21 percent; 13-for-62) and scoring defense (10th at 13.2 ppg.).
-The Spartans have forced their opponents to go three-and-out on 28 of 55 possessions (51 percent; 7.0 per game), which ranks fourth best in the nation, trailing only Baylor (.543), Virginia (.523) and Louisville (.520).
-Sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun has scored three defensive touchdowns (16-yard fumble recovery vs. Western Michigan; 4-yard fumble recovery and 56-yard interception return vs. South Florida), the most of any player in the FBS this season.
-The Spartans limited Notre Dame to 82 yards rushing on 32 carries (2.6 yards per rushing attempt). In 83 games as under head coach Mark Dantonio, the Spartans have held their opponents below 100 yards rushing on 39 occasions (47 percent).
-Michigan State director of personnel/player development Dino Folino and Iowa assistant defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson spent the 1998 season together at Vanderbilt. Folino coached the secondary and served as defensive coordinator under Woody Widenhofer , while Johnson worked as a graduate assistant.
-Michigan State is 4-4-1 in Big Ten openers vs. Iowa, including a 3-2 mark in games played in Iowa City. The Spartans open Big Ten play against the Hawkeyes for the first time since the 2003 season
-The Spartans have won 32 of their last 44 games (.727), dating back to the beginning of the 2010 season. The 32 wins are tied for the second most in the Big Ten and tied for 14th most among NCAA FBS teams during that same time period.
- Iowa is celebrating homecoming this week. Iowa's homecoming record is 55-41-5, including a 6-0-1 record vs. Michigan State. Iowa has won its last four homecoming games, including a 31-13 win over Minnesota a year ago.
-Iowa's defense has held its first five opponents under their rushing average. In its Big Ten opener, Iowa held Minnesota 252 yards below its average rushing yards per game. Michigan State averages 187 rushing yards per game, while the Iowa defense is allowing just 79.2 rushing yards per game.
-The Iowa offense is converting 52.5-percent of its 3rd downs, the 13th-best conversion rate in the nation and No. 2 in the Big Ten. Michigan State's defense is allowing a 3rd down conversion rate of 21 percent, the third-best percentage in the country.
-Iowa has five players on its roster from the state of Michigan, including WR Kevonte Martin-Manley (Pontiac), DL Carl Davis (Sterling Heights), DB Ruben Lile (Detroit), LB Laron Taylor (Detroit) and TE Jake Duzey (Troy). There are no Iowans on the Michigan State roster.
-Iowa is one of two schools in the nation to have not allowed a rushing touchdown this season. Michigan, who has played one fewer game than Iowa, is the other school. Hawkeye opponents have rushed 145 straight times without a score.
-Iowa has not allowed a first-half touchdown in four straight games. Michigan State has scored nine first-half touchdowns this year. The Hawkeyes have outscored their opponents 99-20 in the first half through five games.
-Iowa has held its last four opponents scoreless in the first quarter.
-The Hawkeyes lead the Big Ten and rank fourth in the nation in time of possession, averaging 35:50 per game.
-Through five games Iowa ranks No. 1 in the nation in redzone touchdowns allowed. The Hawkeyes have allowed just one touchdown on their opponents' six trips to the redzone. Iowa has allowed the one touchdown, three field goals, and recorded two interceptions.
If you've gotten this far, you might want to tap out for this part. The prognostications here are about as accurate as a 10-day weather forecast, which is to say, not very.
I'm 2-3 picking Iowa games this year. The two were Missouri State and Western Michigan, not exactly the work of Kreskin.
Last week, I worried about the Hawkeyes on the road at an improved Minnesota team. I chose the Gophers based largely on the home field advantage, which proved to be of little use to them in a 23-7 loss that wasn't even as close as the final score would indicate.
I grossly underestimated the strength of Iowa's defense. The Gophers needed to dig a hole through which to run because there were none above ground. I overrated their offense.
I'm going to try to avoid that mistake in this one. I think the Hawkeye defense is much closer to that of Michigan State than the Spartans offense is to the Iowa attack.
While the Hawkeyes are averaging just four more points per game (32.8 to 28.8), Iowa's quarterback and running back play has been superior to that of the Spartans, who has endured unsettled situations at both positions.
While the Iowa offense is unlikely to run (or pass) wild this week, it comes into this game more established than its counterpart on that side of the ball. It will do enough to pull out a hard-fought victory here.
SCORE: IOWA 16, Michigan State 10