EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State was flirting with disaster, but then its defense stepped up.
The Spartans made a key fourth-down stop in the fourth quarter to preserve a 16-13 win over Iowa. It was the fifth straight win for Michigan State, which hasn't lost since its season opener at California.
Bruising tailback Shonn Greene gained 157 yards on 30 carries for the Hawkeyes. But with 2:16 left to play, linebacker Adam Decker stopped him on fourth-and-1 from the Spartans' 21-yard line to seal the win for Michigan State (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten).
Iowa (3-3, 0-2) passed up what could have been about a 38-yard, game-tying field-goal attempt to go for it on fourth down.
Michigan State was expecting a quarterback sneak. But the Spartans recovered as Greene appeared to be trying to run off left tackle. The defensive line cleared out Iowa blockers and left Greene face to face with Decker behind the line of scrimmage.
"It opened up pretty well for us," Decker said. "You have to credit the defensive line. Someone up front did a great job of holding off the linemen and not letting them get to me and the other linebackers."
That set off both the homecoming crowd of 77,526 and the Spartans, who knew at that point they'd be off to their best start since 2003.
"That was the play of the game," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "Somehow we got it done. It was chaos after that ... very exciting."
Not so much on the Iowa sidelines. The hard-luck Hawkeyes have lost three straight and had chances to win all three of them.
This one was frustrating because the Hawkeyes had battled nearly all the way back from three first-half turnovers that had put them in a hole. And Greene was plowing through the Spartans defense much of the day, including on Iowa's last drive.
"Any team would have gone for it," Greene said. "We just didn't get it done."
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said he thought about the field goal attempt but decided the Hawkeyes' best chance to win was with the ground game.
"They stacked the box pretty well and had one more guy than we did," Ferentz said. "That's a tough deal. Their guy came through and made a pretty good play."
Michigan State running back Javon Ringer was held in check. He entered the game as the nation's No. 2 rusher and tops in the Big Ten at 179.4 yards a game. But Iowa held him to 91 yards on 25 carries.
Greene entered the game ranked sixth in the nation averaging 133 rushing yards, second in the conference behind Ringer.
Brett Swenson's third field goal of the day, a 25-yarder with 9:32 left in the third quarter, gave Michigan State a 16-3 lead.
Iowa then started its rally.
Trent Mossbrucker's 33-yard field goal cut the Spartans' lead to 16-6 with 3:18 left in the third. Ricky Stanzi connected with Andy Brodell on a 31-yard TD pass to cut the Hawkeyes' deficit to 16-13 with 8:47 left in the game.
Iowa entered the game allowing just 10.2 points per game, fewest in the Big Ten. But Michigan State got just enough from Ringer, and the threat of the run helped set up the passing game.
Spartans quarterback Brian Hoyer completed 13 of 24 passes for 184 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. In the first quarter, Hoyer's play action fake did enough to freeze Iowa's linebackers and allow tight end Charlie Gantt to slip behind coverage for a 4-yard touchdown pass, giving Michigan State a 7-0 lead.
Iowa committed three turnovers in the first half. Two came deep inside Spartan territory and took away scoring chances for the Hawkeyes. The other led to a Michigan State field goal.
Stanzi was hurt by the untimely turnovers but completed 15 of 22 passes with a TD and the interception.