Field position battle costs Iowa in loss to Spartans


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Shaun Prater is often taught, like every Iowa defensive player, to "put out the fire."

When things aren't going well for the team's other units, Prater said, the Hawkeye coaches' philosophy is to turn to the defense to step up.

But when Iowa's offense and special teams gave Michigan State a short field several times in the first half, the Hawkeye defense couldn't put that fire out.

And Iowa was burned in a 37-21 loss.

The Hawkeyes' first drive of the game ended in a punt. Senior Eric Guthrie only managed 26 yards on the kick, allowing the Spartans to start from their own 36. Michigan State scored a touchdown; it wasn't the last time the Spartans capitalized on good field position.


Two plays after that touchdown, Hawkeye quarterback James Vandenberg lobbed a pass to receiver Keenan Davis down the left sideline. Spartan cornerback Johnny Adams wrestled the ball away from Davis and took off down the sideline. Adams gained 30 yards on the interception return, and Michigan State had the ball back on Iowa's 19-yard line.

Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins threw a touchdown pass three plays later.

"I thought Keenan caught it for a second, and then [Adams] is running back toward me," Vandenberg said. "It's a play I can't make … and that led to a touchdown. I have to put that ball outside. That's on me."

The Hawkeyes seemed to shake the slow start and quick 14-0 deficit. They scored a touchdown and forced two punts.

But then that same field position problem came back and knocked Iowa right out of the game.

Michigan State downed a punt on Iowa's 2-yard line with three minutes remaining in the first half and Iowa trailing, 17-7. The Hawkeyes punted after two short runs and an incomplete pass.

"Critical situation, we got the ball inside the 5," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "You have to get a first down. We didn't do it. They get the ball in great field position and took advantage of that."

Keshawn Martin returned the punt 20 yards for the Spartans, who started from Iowa's 35-yard line. Running back Le'Veon Bell scored a touchdown three plays into the drive.

The Hawkeyes weren't finished shooting themselves in the foot.

Fewer than two minutes remained in the half when Jordan Bernstine fielded the ensuing kickoff. Bernstine reached the 27-yard line, where he was hit by two Spartan players. As the senior safety fought for extra yardage, the ball popped out and bounced between his legs. Jeremy Langford recovered for Michigan State, which began yet another drive in great field position — this time from Iowa's 27. Cousins immediately threw a 22-yard touchdown pass.

That gave Michigan State a 31-7 halftime lead from which Iowa couldn't recover.

"It was quick," Prater said. "Next thing you know, we're down by a couple scores."

Prater called the short-field situations "really tough." Safety Tanner Miller said they were "difficult." But both players insisted they failed in their responsibility to put the fire out.

Senior defensive end Broderick Binns repeated that motto.

"As a defensive player, that's my job," Binns said. "If the offense scores no points and has 17 turnovers, you shut your mouth and try to get them the ball back."

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