- Adam Rittenberg, College Football
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IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Nostradamus didn't show up in the bowels of Kinnick Stadium late Saturday afternoon.
Even the great forecaster couldn't take credit for calling this one.
Michigan State and Iowa had produced three of the Big Ten's most exciting matchups the past three years. Iowa won a double-overtime contest in 2007. The Spartans preserved a 16-13 win the next year when Adam Decker stuffed Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene on fourth-and-1. Last year, Iowa won 15-13 on a touchdown pass with no time left on the clock to preserve its undefeated record.
A day before Halloween, these two teams seemed destined to deliver another thriller.
Iowa had other ideas.
The 18th-ranked Hawkeyes dominated No. 5 Michigan State, ending the Spartans' quest for perfection in convincing fashion with a 37-6 victory at Kinnick Stadium, the graveyard for Big Ten unbeatens. The 31-point final margin represented the fifth-largest margin of defeat by an AP Top 25 team since 2000.
"I didn't see this coming," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. "Our guys prepared mentally, emotionally."
Not far away in Iowa's interview room, coach Kirk Ferentz echoed his colleague.
"You never see that coming," Ferentz said, "not against a very good team like this. I never see those coming against anybody."
Ferentz often talks about how Iowa will never be confused with a true college football heavyweight. The Hawkeyes don't have a large margin for error. They don't just show up and dominate.
But Iowa had the potential to deliver a complete performance. Iowa entered the year with lofty expectations, but it hadn't met them.
After two losses that showed just how small the Hawkeyes' margin for error can be, the players responded, jumping ahead to a 37-0 lead and never looking back.
"That's the team you want to be," receiver Marvin McNutt said. "We have talent and the times we execute, we know we can do the right thing."
McNutt felt Iowa didn't execute well in practice leading up to last week's game against Wisconsin. It translated to the field, as the Hawkeyes suffered a 31-30 loss that left plenty of what-ifs.
If Iowa lost its third game Saturday, you could start talking about a season of what-ifs. But the Hawkeyes answered every question.
Ferentz didn't know how his team would respond from the Wisconsin loss.
"Absolutely not," he said. "You hope we practice well. You always hope that. My sense was our guys were preparing the way they were supposed to, watching tape and doing that kind of thing. ... But I also know [the loss] was back in everybody's minds. It was a tough week."
Michigan State, meanwhile, saw no clues of the impending disaster.
Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said the team had "one of the best weeks of practice ... all year." Head coach Mark Dantonio didn't feel the reinstatement of cornerback Chris L. Rucker caused any distraction. The Spartans had built their 8-0 record on resilient play, taking punches and countering and never giving up.
"Did we come unprepared? I don't think so," Dantonio said. "Did things snowball on us? I guess they did."
It's easy to pinpoint the moment the snowball picked up speed.
Not surprisingly, Iowa delivered the first punch and took a 10-0 lead. But Michigan State was moving the ball and reached midfield before a Kirk Cousins pass to B.J. Cunningham sailed right into the arms of Iowa safety Tyler Sash.
Sash had seen Michigan State run the same play last year and anticipated it, making the easy pick. He didn't anticipate what came next. After racing 6 yards upfield, Sash lateraled the ball over Cunningham's head to teammate Micah Hyde, who ran the remaining 66 yards to the end zone.
"It's like the point guard that pulls up from 40 feet deep and shoots a 3-pointer," Sash said. "If he makes it, it's alright. But if he misses it, what are you doing?"
Sash, by the way, was a standout basketball player in high school who received Division I interest. He first got on Ferentz's radar screen while playing AAU basketball in fifth grade against Ferentz's son, James.
The playmaking safety showed off his hoops skills with the lateral to Hyde.
"I'll do it again if the same thing happens," Sash said with a smile.
"I liked the outcome," Ferentz said. "He's an older guy, I trust our guys. I don't think we practice that."
Sash's magic propelled the Hawkeyes, but their performance wasn't sleight of hand.
A defense that allowed 59 points the past two weeks kept Michigan State off the scoreboard for three quarters. Three Hawkeyes' defensive backs picked off Cousins, who entered Saturday with just four interceptions in 212 pass attempts this season.
Iowa's offense also surged, as quarterback Ricky Stanzi delivered another near-spotless performance (11-for-15 passing, 190 yards, 3 TDs) and got help from running back Adam Robinson (69 rush yards, TD, 32-yard receiving TD), tight end Brad Herman (3 receptions, 80 yards) and others. The Hawkeyes effectively mixed plays and personnel, and just about everything clicked.
"It's a great football team," Narduzzi said. "We knew emotionally, they'd be fired up, [defensive coordinator] Norm Parker was back in the house. ... We expected them to be a well-coached team and come play their tails off because they're fighting for a piece of the Big Ten championship."
Michigan State is right there, too, but Iowa's win ensures the Hawkeyes remain in the title fight heading into November.
"We weren't hitting on all cylinders in previous weeks," Sash said. "I think we did today."
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Nostradamus didn't show up in the bowels of Kinnick Stadium late Saturday afternoon.Even the great forecaster couldn't take credit for calling this one.