I admit, I was a little worried before yesterday’s Michigan St.-Iowa game, played in Kinnick Stadium, in Iowa City, Iowa. Sparty had come off of a bye week and the week before, lost a heartbreaker on the road to Notre Dame, 17-13. While the defense had been stout as per usual, the offensive unit had become a serious liability and some questionable offensive play calling certainly didn’t help matters.
Iowa, on the other hand, entered the tilt on a 4-game winning streak and won their last two by a combined score of 82-10. Granted, those victories came over Western Michigan (59-3) and Minnesota (23-7), but the Hawkeyes looked rather impressive, nonetheless. It seemed totally conceivable that Iowa, with a very strong defense of their own, could beat visiting Sparty, especially if Iowa could manage to come close to scoring the 33 points they averaged through their first five games.
Luckily, Sparty’s defense answered the bell again, the special teams unit more than did their job, and surprisingly, QB Connor Cook looked like an actual, proficient QB.
Starting with the defense, there’s really not much to say other than that Iowa wasn’t completely dominated, but they didn’t really leave a dent in Sparty’s defensive unit, either. Iowa QB Jake Ruddock was somewhat effective (26-46, 241 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT) although he was picked off by MSU CB Darqueze Denard (8 TKL, 2 INT) twice. Iowa’s strength is in their running game and MSU is best at stopping the run. Guess who won this battle? Iowa RB Mark Weisman (7 CAR, 9 YDS) came into the game averaging 123 YPG on 5.17 YPC. Backup RB Damon Bullock had also been impressive with limited opportunities before yesterday’s game, averaging 50 YPG on 4.1 YPC. Bullock finished with 6 yards on 4 carries. Not only did Rudock lead the Hawkeyes in rushing (3 CAR, 11 YDS), he also had their longest rush of the day, for 7 yards. If your answer to my question was “Sparty,” then you were obviously correct. Besides the running woes, Iowa went three-and-out on four of its first five possessions (an INT cut one drive short) and didn’t pick up a first down until more than halfway through the second quarter.
Offensively, Cook led the way, as he threw for a career-high 277 yards while completing 25 of 44 passes for 2 TDs against one pick. He connected with wide receivers Macgarett Kings, Jr. (5 REC, 94 YDS, TD) and Bennie Fowler (9 REC, 92 YDS, TD) for TD passes of 46 and 37 yards, respectively, and completed passes to nine Spartans in all. Cook wasn’t perfect, but he wasn’t in a bout with inaccuracy all game, which is a positive for the sophomore QB. The running game did its job, carrying the rock 37 times for 135 yards, as Sparty controlled the ball for over 37 minutes. Junior RB Jeremy Langford was MSU’s leading rusher, toting the ball 14 times for 43 yards.
Along with the collective effort by the offense and defense, the guys on special teams made plays, too. Freshman K Michael Geiger made 4 field goals, including a long of 49. Freshman RB R.J. Shelton only had one kick return, but it was good for 29 yards. Kings, Jr. returned 3 punts for 53 yards, including a long of 30 yards that set up an eventual MSU field goal to extend their lead by 6, 20-14. And of course, there was a fake punt. On the first play of the fourth quarter, with Sparty facing 4th and 7, onto the field came the punting unit. MSU was at their 37 and it appeared that head coach Mark Dantonio was going to play for a deep punt and let his defense stop Iowa once again. The ball was snapped and punter Mike Sadler…ran for 25 yards around right end and picked up the first down. Four plays and a 49-yard field goal later, Sparty would go up, 23-14, icing the game early in the fourth quarter. The call was definitely gutsy, but it worked. Iowa’s punt return unit didn’t remotely suspect a fake, even though it was reported that they had prepared for one before the game.
I expected Sparty to be 5-0 at this point, but there’s not much wrong with a 4-1 mark as well as getting off to a good start in conference play. Kinnick Stadium isn’t an easy place to be if you’re a fan of the opposition, let alone a player on the opposing team, but Sparty still got the job done against a sneaky Iowa team that has broken my heart in years’ past.
Next up for MSU is Indiana, which soundly beat Penn St. yesterday, 44-24. Some may view that result as reason for Sparty to be concerned, but Indiana also got crushed by Mizzou by 3 scores and lost at home to Navy. Sophomore Hoosiers QB Nate Sudfeld (104-162, 1467 YDS, 13 TD, 6 INT) paces their offense and safety Greg Heban (32 TKL, good for second on team, 2 INT) will look to cause problems from the secondary. Indiana isn’t the football pushover of yesteryear, but I see a much more comfortable victory for Sparty than yesterday’s win. Go Green. Go White.
Everyone and their grandmother had to have somehow been made aware that Chicago Bulls PG Derrick Rose would make his return to the court yesterday evening. It had been some 500+ days since he tore his left ACL near the end of a first-round playoff game against the Philadephia 76ers in 2011. We saw the commercials about his dedication to his rehabilitation and to an extent, were somewhat fooled into thinking that he would make his return during the 2012-13 season, or at the latest, in the postseason. He never suited up and got railed on by some members of the media as well as fans of opposing teams and dishearteningly, far too many Bulls fans. Jokes and memes referred to Rose as “soft” and seemingly half the planet forgot that before his gruesome knee injury, he was arguably the best floor general in the entire NBA.
I have never been excited for preseason anything, but there’s a first time for everything, or so I’ve heard. From early morning, I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm and once the game started, I was eager to see Derrick Rose do…something. There were the vintage bursts of speed and changes of direction, and he showed his strength by grabbing an offensive rebound of his own miss and putting it back in while being crowded by Pacers center, Roy Hibbert. There was even a fast break dunk.
Overall, Derrick Rose didn’t look great, but that was to be expected. At times, he seemed a step behind or ahead of his teammates, and playing with Jimmy Butler in the backcourt for 82 will take some time getting used to for both players. No Joakim Noah (groin tightness) wasn’t exactly beneficial to Rose’s efforts, either.
Rose’s final line: 20 MIN, 5-12 FG, 3-5 FT, 13 PTS, 2 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, 4 TO
That’s not at all bad for the just-turned-25 year-old point guard. Of course, I’d like better than a .75/1 AST/TO ratio, but this was the preseason opener. As roles are earned and minutes are established, we’ll have a better idea of what Rose, and his teammates, can do in his first season back. The Bulls next play the Memphis Grizzlies tomorrow in what should be another solid test for Rose. It’s actually a good thing that Rose be presented with what I believe are the two best defensive teams in the league in his first two exhibition games, and I anticipate him playing even better against Memphis. One down for Derrick Rose, and hopefully there will be many, many, many to go.