The game started out with life, began to drag on in the middle quarters, and ended with exhilaration as Iowa defeated Michigan State 26-16. The air was sucked out of the stadium as Cade McNamara laid on the turf with an apparent leg injury. The Hawkeye offense struggled throughout the middle of the game. And then the Hawkeyes stole the victory in dramatic, late-game fashion on the legs of a Cooper DeJean punt return touchdown and a defense that created critical stops.
Fourth Quarter Sequence
Michigan State punter Ryan Eckley had been fantastic all night with four punts for an average of 57.5 yards. That was until he took the field with eight minutes left in the game. Eckley’s punt sailed 15 yards before going out of bounds, and Iowa took over at the Michigan State 38-yard line.
The starting field position was Iowa’s best of the day. Iowa’s drive gained 20 yards in seven plays but was hindered by a wide receiver drop. After a nine-yard run on third and 10, Iowa had fourth and very short at the Michigan State 18-yard line. Kirk Ferentz elected to kick the field goal to tie. The decision felt questionable. Iowa had not been in the red zone since late in the second quarter, and the pace of their offense made it difficult to believe they’d get there again.
Drew Stevens tied the game at 16 points with just over five minutes in the game. As it played out, Iowa, in fact, did not need to get to that side of the field again.
DeJean Punt Return
Instead, DeJean took it into his own hands. On the ensuing drive, Iowa got the defensive stop they needed. It was aided by a very loud Kinnick Stadium and a couple of crowd-induced false starts. It forced Michigan State’s sixth punt of the day. DeJean fielded that punt at the Iowa 30-yard line with a lot of green grass in front of him. He broke a tackle before outrunning three defenders down the sideline. He took it into the end zone for six, the first punt return touchdown of his career. Just like that, Iowa had a seven-point lead with just under four minutes in regulation. On the ensuing Michigan State drive, the Hawkeye defense forced a fumble and regained possession. The crowd was ignited. It felt like the Iowa team we’re used to seeing, led by special teams and defense.
Cade McNamara Injury
The other big story of the day is McNamara’s injury. On Iowa’s second drive of the game, he cut upfield on second and long at Iowa’s own goal line. He planted his left leg and immediately buckled to the turf. He stayed down for several minutes before being helped to the sideline, putting no weight on his left leg. Shortly thereafter, McNamara was carted into the locker room for further evaluation. It was not a good sight, and from the way the quarterback was being assisted, it appeared serious. The entire situation is tremendously unfortunate for the senior. After transferring from Michigan and overcoming a serious right knee injury, it appears McNamara will be going through something similar with the left knee.
The McNamara injury adds to the list of key losses to the offenses this season. Iowa is now without their starting quarterback, starting running back, starting tight end, and backup running back.
Offense Struggles Continue
The ending of the game was electric, but that can’t overshadow what was still a very below-average showing on offense. Iowa’s offense had the ball for 15 drives, and only seven of them lasted more than three plays. Iowa went three and out six times in this game against Michigan State. In the third quarter, the Hawkeyes had five possessions. Two of them were back-to-back turnovers, and two went three and out. The other was a four-play, negative-five-yard drive that resulted in the only points of the quarter, a field goal. The struggles are still adamant, and it’s not the fault of backup Deacon Hill at quarterback.
The narrative heading into this weekend’s game was that the wide receivers had not been involved in the passing game. They had 14 receptions on the year prior to the Michigan State game. In the game, they were targeted 18 times and had six receptions. The wide receivers had five drops. Kaleb Brown dropped a critical third and long pass to halt an eight-play drive mid-way through the fourth quarter. Diante Vines had three drops. As a team, Iowa dropped six passes. The offense worked the ball to their wide receivers, but their struggles were evident.
Erick All Spark
In addition to his punt return, DeJean intercepted Michigan State quarterback Noah Kim in the back of the end zone. It halted an eight-play, 56-yard Spartan drive in the second quarter. Iowa took over at the 20-yard line in front of a quiet crowd, still hushed from the McNamara injury. Hill and the offense took the field and restoked Kinnick Stadium. He found Erick All for 32 yards on the first play. Two snaps later, All climbed the ladder to make a 17-yard catch on the sideline. Then, to cap the drive, All caught a screen pass and took it 13 yards to the end zone, breaking tackles and dragging defenders. He showed tremendous physicality with the ball in his hands all evening, and it was exemplified by that touchdown pass. All finished with four receptions, 57 yards, and a touchdown.
Late-Game Exhilaration Lifts Iowa over Michigan State
The dramatic finish in Iowa City was exactly what the program and the fans needed after last week, and after the McNamara injury. Things seemed lost in the middle quarters of this game, but it’s a four-quarter sport, and Iowa’s fourth quarter was the difference. The goal remains the same, but the path will be altered. Until we find out more about McNamara’s injury, this is Hill’s team. He finished 11 of 27 with 115 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. With this dramatic win, Iowa improves to 4-1 on the season and 1-1 in the Big Ten. Next week, the Hawkeyes host Purdue for an afternoon kickoff inside Kinnick Stadium.