The Legends Division race just got a lot more interesting.
Iowa, a team many wrote off after an inexcusable home loss to Central Michigan on Sept. 22, rallied for its third straight win, outlasting Michigan State 19-16 in two overtimes in a game offensive football forgot. After stumbling offensively for most of the game, Iowa scored the tying touchdown with 55 seconds left in regulation and secured the win when cornerback Greg Castillo picked off a deflected pass by Andrew Maxwell in the second overtime.
The Hawkeyes did it with defense at Spartan Stadium, and they did it in overtime without star running back Mark Weisman, who suffered an injury after scoring the tying touchdown. A defensive line that entered the season with major question marks once again stepped up, as Joe Gaglione played well and Louis Trinca-Pasat had the deflection that led to Castillo's pick. Kicker Mike Meyer once again was fabulous for Iowa, going 4-for-4 on field goals to make it 13 in a row.
Both offenses were hard to watch most of the game, repeatedly running pass plays short of the marker on third downs and showing little continuity. In a play that epitomized the game, Michigan State entered field goal range late in the first half and couldn't get the right personnel on the field ... to spike the football. The teams combined for just two touchdowns, 26 first downs and 12 third-down conversions on 37 attempts.
Michigan State's Maxwell, who appeared to make strides last week at Indiana, completed just 12 of 31 pass attempts. Iowa's James Vandenberg wasn't much better, averaging a meager 3.7 yards per completion. But Iowa's defense bought the offense enough time, holding Michigan State to a short field goal midway through the fourth quarter. Weisman, who had been held in check, finally came alive late and finished with 116 rush yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. Michigan State star Le'Veon Bell had 140 rush yards and a touchdown but couldn't get in the end zone in overtime.
The loss cemented Michigan State as the Big Ten's biggest disappointment of the first half and one of the biggest in the country. Picked by many, including both Big Ten bloggers, to win the league in August, the Spartans now have lost three games at Spartan Stadium, where they won every game they played in both 2010 and 2011. Michigan State lacks the quarterback and the killer instinct it had the past two seasons and now faces a brutal stretch -- Michigan (road), Wisconsin (road) and Nebraska (home). The Spartans could be out of the race by the end of October.
Kirk Ferentz's squad, meanwhile, is the only Legends Division team with two division victories as it returns home to face Penn State in prime time. Iowa still must visit Northwestern and Michigan but can make a strong push if it takes care of business as home.
Ferentz, by the way, recorded his 100th win at Iowa. It's one he'll surely savor.