Bumps and bruises: Saturday’s game proved to be a black-and-blue battle between two of the Big Ten’s more physical football teams.
A steady stream of Hawkeyes were helped off the field, although coach Kirk Ferentz said after the 26-14 loss that none of the injuries were overly significant.
Receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley and defensive end Dominic Alvis sat out the entire second half after suffering upper leg injuries during the first two quarters, while running back Mark Weisman, offensive tackle Brandon Scherff and linebacker James Morris returned to action after suffering minor setbacks.
Linebacker Christian Kirksey limped off late in the game as well, but was running on the sidelines shortly before the game ended although he did not return to action.
Weisman was held to a season-low nine yards on seven carries and Martin-Manley did not catch a pass for the first time in 24 games.
“I think both of them are fine,’’ Ferentz said. “They could not play effectively, but neither has anything that should be an issue long term.’’
Coming of age: Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook didn’t expect to attempt 44 passes against Iowa, but the sophomore felt comfortable in doing so as part of a 277-yard passing performance in the first Big Ten start of his career.
“I felt like I did a much better job of trusting my offensive line, trusting myself and my reads, than I did in my first road start (two weeks earlier) at Notre Dame,’’ Cook said. “I feel like I took a step forward.’’
Cook connected nine times with Bennie Fowler, whose 92 receiving yards included a 37-yard pass play which resulted in the only touchdown either team scored in the second half.
“For making his first conference start, he stepped up and made some plays and you have to tip your hat to him,’’ Iowa safety Tanner Miller said. “You could sense that he gained confidence as the game went on.’’
Feast, and famine: Iowa cornerback B.J. Lowery is looking for middle ground.
Lowery got burnt more than once Saturday as the Spartans — held to 135 rushing yards by Iowa — found success through the air.
“You have to stay with it,’’ Lowery said. “The consistency, it will come over time. We all gave up some plays we’d like to have back, but we keep working and keep practicing and that is the main thing. We have to keep at it.’’
Surprise party: Michigan State did surprise Ferentz in one respect, and it had nothing to do with the fake punt the Spartans executed.
The Iowa coach was somewhat surprised with how often MSU threw the ball.
“I say that with all due respect, but their quarterback is not as experienced, not that our guy is, either, but (Cook) played a really good game,’’ Ferentz said. “You have to give them credit. He did a really nice job, made good decisions, protected the ball pretty well.’’
Deep threat: Damon Bullock’s 47-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter was the longest reception of the junior’s career, coming as part of a 26-of-46 passing performance by Jake Rudock which covered 241 yards.
“It was good to be able to make a play,’’ Bullock said. “There weren’t a lot of holes open today. They played real solid defense and it felt good to get open and have a chance to do something with it.’’
Bullock finished with five catches for 71 yards — an effort topped only by the career-best six catches by Tevaun Smith — and his touchdown catch was the longest play allowed by Michigan State this season.
Picking his spots: Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard recorded his first two interceptions of the season against Iowa and also led the Spartans with eight tackles.
The picks thrown by Jake Rudock, answered only by Jame Morris’ third interception of the year for Iowa, left the Hawkeyes on the short end of the turnover count for the second time this season.
Iowa has lost both of those games.
Flags flying: Michigan State was penalized eight times for 70 yards, while Iowa played a comparatively clean game. The Hawkeyes were whistled for three penalties, including a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the bench when part of an assistant’s headset flew onto the field after breaking.
“Half of it ended up out there,’’ Ferentz said. “He did not throw it. Kind of fitting with the game.’’
Plenty of punts: Iowa and Michigan State combined to punt the ball away 13 times Saturday, just about average when the teams have met in recent seasons.
The Hawkeyes and Spartans had averaged 12.7 punts in the previous six games between the teams since Mark Dantonio arrived in East Lansing. Both Iowa’s Connor Kornbrath and Michigan State’s Mike Sadler averaged more than 44 yards per punt Saturday.
Managing a return: Houston Astros manager Bo Porter, a former Iowa football and baseball player, was the honorary captain for Saturday’s homecoming game, joining Henry and Patricia Tippie among pregame honorees on the field.
Taking a look: Representatives from two bowls, the Houston-based Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas and the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, were in attendance Saturday.
— Steve Batterson