IOWA CITY, Iowa — After two losses by a combined five points, the Hawkeyes knew they were close to a breakthrough, and on Saturday Iowa finally put together a complete game, throttling Michigan State 49-7.
“It felt pretty good, honestly, after a tough past two weeks,” Iowa offensive lineman Alaric Jackson said. “We played our butts off on all levels.”
The Hawkeyes got things going on their opening drive as running back Tyler Goodson scored from the 3, making the first opening-drive touchdown for Iowa this season.
“This team was very eager to come out and dominate the game,” Goodson said. “The first drive gave us the confidence to push through the whole game.”
Iowa (1-2, 1-2 Big Ten) scored two more touchdowns (another from Goodson and a pass from quarterback Spencer Petras to wideout Brandon Smith), and in the blink of an eye, Iowa commanded a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter.
That’s when special teams and defense kicked in.
On a Spartan (1-2, 1-2) punt, Hawkeyes returner Charlie Jones saw daylight. The Buffalo transfer streaked behind blockers for a 54-yard house call.
“That was a return middle, (but) I took that first step and saw the left side was open,” Jones said. “There was great blocking, so I just went left with it.”
A half-minute later, cornerback Riley Moss intercepted a pass by Michigan State’s Rocky Lombardi and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown. Moss’ return was Iowa’s first pick-six of the year, marking the 13th consecutive season Iowa’s defense returned an interception for a touchdown.
Iowa’s 49 points were the most it scored against Michigan State in 46 meetings. Saturday marked the largest margin of victory for the Hawkeyes since their 41-0 win in 1980.
Michigan State: What could go wrong did go wrong for the Spartans on Saturday. Dropped passes, poor blocking, turnovers, and special teams gaffes piled up quickly. The Spartans converted seven of their 20 third-down attempts and turned the ball over three times.
Iowa: Iowa’s 49 points seemed like an emphatic release after two inconsistent games to start the year. The win gives the Hawkeyes much-needed momentum after staring at their first 0-2 record since 2000. The Hawkeyes utilized a balanced offensive (41 runs, 29 passes) to keep the Spartan defense honest.
STRENGTH IN SPECIAL TEAMS
Iowa’s special teams help to not only flip the field multiple times, but it put points on the board as well. Jones racked up 105 punt return yards, just 16 yards shy of Iowa’s team total in 13 games last year.
Meanwhile, freshman Iowa punter Tory Taylor averaged 45.9 yards a boot. He had two punts of 50 yards or more, including a 61-yard bomb to pin Michigan State at its own 10, setting up Jones’ punt return touchdown four plays later.
“Those two guys are newcomers and really impacted the game today in a positive way,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
ROCKY OUTING FOR LOMBARDI
Iowa’s defense looked sharp in its first two games, but against Michigan State, the Hawkeyes feasted.
A barrage of pressure kept Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi off-rhythm.
“This is not what I wanted to do coming home,” Iowa-native Lombardi said. “End of the day we have to learn from it. I tried to stay as level-headed as I can, and I think I got better through the game. Obviously, turnovers, they kill games.”
The Hawkeyes forced three turnovers — all interceptions coming off Lombardi’s arm. He completed 17 of his 37 passes for 227 yards with no touchdowns.
“Collectively, we have to play better,” Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker said. “Totally unacceptable performance. Our standard is much higher than what we’ve shown. We’re going to go back and take a hard look at every single play, every single player.”
MISSING STARTERS NOT MISSED
The Hawkeyes were without star wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette (suspension) and offensive lineman Coy Cronk and Kyler Schott (medical).
Even with the absences, Iowa churned out a season-high 405 yards of total offense. The five offensive touchdowns on Saturday were more than the Hawkeyes scored in their first two games combined.
“We talk about a next-man-up mentality, and that was critical today,” Petras said.
FERENTZ PASSES PATERNO
Saturday marked Ferentz’s 163rd win with Iowa, surpassing former Penn State coach Joe Paterno for fourth all-time in conference history.
“That probably means I’ve been here for a while,” Ferentz laughed. “That stuff’s all great, but I promise you it wasn’t prominent on my mind.”
Michigan State: The Spartans host No. 13 Indiana next Saturday.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes travel to Minneapolis to face Minnesota next Friday.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP—Top25