Iowa-Michigan State series gets physical


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There was a last-second touchdown. There was a blowout that ruined what had been a perfect season. There have been numerous concussions.

Iowa won on a catch by Marvin McNutt as time expired to remain undefeated two years ago. The Hawkeyes thrashed Michigan State last season in Kinnick Stadium, ending the Spartans' bid for a perfect record. Former Iowa receiver Colin Sandeman suffered a concussion in 2009 and had to exit the game; former running back Adam Robinson sustained the same injury last season.

Sure sounds like a rivalry.

"They will always give you a hard-fought game until the end. Michigan State is a great team, and every year we seem to have battles with them," McNutt said. "It's a moment when you know the opponent will always fight."

Players may not explicitly admit Iowa's series with Michigan State has become a rivalry, but that kind of atmosphere will be evident on Saturday. Both teams control their fates in the Big Ten Legends Division.

Cornerback Shaun Prater said he realizes the Spartans will likely arrive seeking revenge and their first win in Iowa City since 1989. An 8-0 and fifth-ranked Michigan State team lost to Iowa last season, 37-6.

Spartan senior wide receiver B.J. Cunningham said as much earlier this week.

"We're ready right now," Cunningham told msuspartans.com. "We've got to go down to Iowa and take care of business. They took care of us last year."

Prater, who will be matched up against Cunningham, said he knows the history each squad carries against each other.

"We ruined their perfect season [in 2010]," Prater said. "I'm pretty sure they're looking forward to playing us, so we're just going have to step it up and match it."

Michigan State leads the Big Ten in total defense and is second overall in the nation. The Spartans have both kept points off the scoreboard and have forced turnovers; head coach Mark Dantonio's squad ranks second in the conference with 13 interceptions. The Spartans have recorded a pick in eight of their first nine games.

Junior quarterback James Vandenberg may have a bit of an upper hand from the opening kickoff, however.

He represents the first traditional, pocket-passing signal-caller the Spartans have faced since a Sept. 17 loss to Notre Dame. Michigan State has opposed mostly dual-threat quarterbacks this year.

"You have to play as sharp as possible. They're not going to give up the big play, so it's going to take a consistent approach on offense in order to execute and do well," Vandenberg said. "We're undefeated at Kinnick right now, and we want to keep it that way."

No matter how well the Hawkeyes match up with the Spartans, the physicality between the two teams has apparently impacted the series.

Junior cornerback Micah Hyde described the series as "nitty-gritty."

"Here at Iowa, we like to think we're the toughest team in the Big Ten. That's how we try to go out and play every weekend," Hyde said. "We want to be the toughest team, the hardest-hitting team, stuff like that. I know Michigan State; they try to be that team, too. It's just that type of series."

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