INDIANAPOLIS – What took the Iowa football three months to build came crashing down on Saturday in slightly more than nine minutes.
That is approximately how long it took Michigan State to change the course of Iowa’s historic season.
The Spartans won their second Big Ten Championship game in the last five years by marching 82 yards on 22 plays for the game-winning touchdown, which came on a 1-yard run by L.J. Scott with 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Michigan State only attempted one pass during its final scoring drive, which chewed 9 minutes and 9 seconds off the clock.
The Spartans ran 52 plays in the second half, while limiting Iowa to just 16 plays on offense.
“You don’t think about the amount of plays, but eventually it does start to add up,” said Iowa junior cornerback Greg Mabin. “Guys might start to get a little tired. But you can’t let that effect you. Ultimately, you’ve got to have no excuses. You can’t let being tried be an excuse.
“Credit to them. They executed on a lot of third downs and they were able to run the ball successfully and grind out the clock and finish with that final touchdown.”
Iowa fell to 12-1 with the loss and also was eliminated from playoff consideration. The players now have to get over the devastation of losing for the first time this season because there is still one more game left on the schedule.
Iowa’s consolation prize for losing on Saturday will either be a spot in the Rose Bowl for the first since 1991 or in the Fiesta Bowl for the first time ever.
“This one is going to hurt for a lot longer for a lot of the guys on the team,” Mabin said. “We’ve invested so much.
“But as soon as we find out who we play and where we play and when we play, all that stuff, we’re going to start going after it because we’re trying to go 13-1.”
Iowa will learn its bowl destination on Sunday afternoon, while Michigan State (12-1) is expected to secure a spot in the four-team playoff.
“Our football teams knows how to win,” said Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio. “We can play it out. We don’t count ourselves out.”
The Spartans also know how to play defense as evidenced by Iowa being held to a season-low 52 rushing yards. Iowa also was held to its second lowest point total this season after scoring 10 points against Wisconsin.
“Credit to Michigan State, they played a great football game,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “But our football team I thought played with great effort, unbelievable guts and courage out there.
“I’m really proud of them. We’re disappointed with the outcome, but we still have another football game ahead of us. We’ll simmer on this one a little bit and turn our sights to the next ball game shortly.”
The Iowa defense held Michigan State to a season-low for points, but it still wasn’t enough to stay undefeated. Michigan State’s previous low for points came in a 17-16 victory over Ohio State on Nov. 21 in Columbus, Ohio.
“That’s one of our goals, actually, as a defense to keep them at 16 (points) or under,” Mabin said. “But, hey, that’s the way the game goes.”
Iowa senior center Austin Blythe fought back tears as he spoke with reporters after the game.
“It’s going to be different, it’s going to hurt,” Blythe said. “But we have to come back together and regroup and go win a bowl game.”
Blythe felt helpless watching from the sideline as Michigan State marched down the field for the game-winning touchdown.
“It’s frustrating, but at the same time, we have a good defense and we had faith in our defense,” Blythe said. “They made a heck of a play on that last play, but their running back just made a better play. He just made a good effort play.”
Trailing 6-3 in the third quarter, Michigan State drove from its own 42-yard line to the Iowa 11, but had to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Michael Geiger after the drive stalled.
Geiger then made a 47-yard field goal to give Michigan State a 9-6 lead with 57 seconds left in the third quarter.
Michigan State’s defense began to assert itself in the third quarter, holding Iowa to just three yards.
The Iowa offense finally provided a spark when quarterback C.J. Beathard completed an 85-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Tevaun Smith on the first play of the fourth quarter. Beathard hit Smith in stride with a perfectly thrown pass after Smith had slipped past his defender on a deep post route.
“I think the coaches kind of knew that, yeah, Tevaun can beat this guy, so they took a shot and they knew we needed momentum,” Smith said. “So that definitely helped us.”
Beathard and Smith almost connected on another deep pass later in the fourth quarter, but Smith said he lost track of the ball. That was the closest Iowa came to scoring for the rest of the game as the Spartans played keep-away on offense in the fourth quarter.
“We have to let this one go by, but also let it sting a little bit and understand what to learn from the game and then go from there,” said Iowa sophomore linebacker Josey Jewell.
The Iowa defense faced a tough challenge early in the first quarter after tight end Henry Krieger Coble lost a fumble on the third play of the game.
The Spartans recovered the fumble at the Iowa 22, but had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Geiger with 11:11 left in the first quarter after the Iowa defense had stiffened.
The Hawkeyes drove to midfield on their next offensive possession, but Ferentz chose to punt on 4th-and-1 at the Iowa 48 instead trying to get the first down.
Iowa punter Dillon Kidd pinned the Spartans at their own 15-yard line with a 37-yard punt. Cook completed a 17-yard pass to Felton Davis on first down, but Cook’s next pass was intercepted by Jewell with 6:57 left in the first quarter.
The Hawkeyes ran seven plays, but only gained 14 yards before Marshall Koehn made a 24-yard field goal with 5:08 left in the first quarter, tying the score at 3-3.
Iowa forced Michigan State to punt on its next possession and the first quarter ended with the Hawkeyes driving in Michigan State territory.
However, the first quarter also ended with Iowa senior running back Jordan Canzeri heading to the locker room with an apparent right leg injury. He was injured after gaining nine yards on the second play of the drive and didn’t return.
The Hawkeyes drove to Michigan State 20 and were attempting to go for it on 4th-and-4 until Krieger Coble was penalized for a false start.
Iowa then settled for a 43-yard field goal by Koehn that gave the Hawkeyes a 6-3 lead with 13:28 left in the second quarter.
Michigan State had a chance to even the score when Geiger missed a 52-yard field goal with 8:54 left in the second quarter.
Iowa took over on offense at its own 35-yard line and marched to the Spartan 5 before self-destructing. Beathard tried to thread a pass to Kittle in the end zone, but the ball popped loose after Kittle was hit. The ball then bounced off the back of a Michigan State defender and into the hands of Spartan defensive back Demetrious Cox for an interception.
The Spartans had a second chance to even the score at 6-6, but Geiger missed another 52-yard field goal on the final play of the first half. His kick bounced off the crossbar as time expired, giving Iowa a 6-3 lead at halftime.
Iowa led 13-9 for almost the entire fourth quarter until Scott bulled into the end zone.
Iowa ran three plays on its final possession before time expired. Beathard was sacked on first down. He spiked the ball on second down and then completed a 10-yard pass to Smith, who tried unsuccessfully to lateral the ball as time ran out.
“They finished and we ran out of time and came up short,” said Iowa senior defensive end Nate Meier. “We played our hearts out. Some plays they executed better than us and they finished.”