I thought the Spartans might lose to Iowa in a close-fought, competitive game. But I never dreamed MSU would melt down so totally on so many fronts and play like absolute crap. But that's what happened. Saturday's 37-6 Iowa victory was a Murphy's Law kind of day for the Spartans, and the refs didn't do MSU any good with some B.S. calls. (I am NOT blaming the officials for MSU's loss -- just saying they made it even more one-sided than it needed to be.)
For those who watched the game (I finally turned it off in the fourth quarter) one of the more questionable calls was a phantom holding call on offensive tackle D.J. Young that negated a big gainer on a pass to running back Le'Veon Bell. But make no mistake, it was junior quarterback Kirk Cousins' three costly interceptions that caused the most damage for the Spartans.
One of them was an ill-advised pass thrown into double coverage; another was one thrown when Cousins was backpeddling. That's bad even if there were no wind, as the momentum is going against the direction in which the ball is thrown. But add the wind and a capable secondary like that of the Iowa Hawkeyes, and it's a prescription for disaster. Cousins has thrown some brutal interceptions in past games, including the 2009 loss at Notre Dame, which the Spartans had a good chance to win save for Capt. Kirk's bad judgment in the crucial closing moments.
The Spartan defense didn't play terribly Saturday, but did give up some big pass plays, while also allowing some crucial third-down conversions. The Spartans as a team were called for 7 penalties; bad, but not as bad as in the past.
I had an uneasy feeling the Spartans were due for a game like this, since so many breaks had gone their way earlier in the season, and their only game outside the state of Michigan prior to Saturday's tilt was at Northwestern in nearby Chicago. The Wildcats are a slightly better than average team with a high school-like stadium that probably had as many Spartan fans in attendance as Northwestern fans. MSU got behind Northwestern 17-0 and came back to win. But I said going into the Iowa game that if we found ourselves down 14-0 to the Hawkeyes, we were toast. It was far worse. Michigan State almost went into the locker room at halftime down 23-0, but gave up a long pass play and touchdown late in the second quarter, heading into the infamous pink locker room trailing 30-0.
A couple of quick comments: 1) MSU coach Mark Dantonio should have pulled out all stops, going for it on every fourth down, kicking onside kicks, and trying trick plays. 2) Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz showed a lack of class by leaving his starters in late into the game, and still trying end-arounds and having star receiver Marvin McNutt attempt a pass on a trick play. Nothing like running up the score, eh Kirk? 3) Ironies: MSU QB and Iowa head coach both have the first name of Kirk. Kirk Ferentz was born in Royal Oak, Mich. Kirk Cousins grew up a Hawkeyes fan. His mother is a University of Iowa alumna, and he had other relatives who attended Iowa. His grandfather played football for the Hawkeyes.
The Spartans have remaining home games against two weak teams: Minnesota and Purdue, and a road game against Penn State, which although it is weaker than in recent years, can still be formidable at home. Michigan State hasn't won at State College, Pa., since the 1960s, and generally has melted down there. But come Nov. 27, I do not expect a repeat of yesterday's horror show; I think we will either defeat the Nittany Lions or lose a competitive game there.
After yesterday's demoralizing beatdown, there's nothing left to do but get up off the ground, dust yourself off, and move on, looking forward and being grateful for what is still a successful season. Michigan State may still end up in the Rose Bowl, and most likely will play in one of the higher profile Jan. 1 bowl games. A final record of 11-1 or 10-2 is better than what I predicted: 8-4. And after seemingly endless seasons of 6-6, 5-7, 7-5, 3-9, etc., either one of those records will be tremendous.
THE GOOD NEWS — I said back in the exhibition season that I was amazed at how much heat the Detroit Lions' defensive line was putting on opposing quarterbacks. Today the Lions had seven sacks against the Washington Redskins in a 37-25 victory over the hated Redskins. (Hated because, between 1965 and 1999, the Redskins beat Detroit in 17 straight games!)
Quarterback Matthew Stafford was back in action after a six-week layoff due to a serious injury to his shoulder, and threw four touchdown passes (three of them to superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson).
Please don't call out the men in the white coats if I suggest the Lions might get hot and make a late-season playoff run. It's been done before, a team making the NFL playoffs with an 8-8 record. At 2-5, the Lions would need to go 6-3 the rest of the season. Hey, a long-suffering Lions fan can always dream, no?