Howe: Bad Sign

Iowa used to be the bully of the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes won the battle of emotions. That hasn't been the case this year and certainly wasn't in Saturday's 37-21 loss against Michigan State on Saturday in Kinnick.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - Mark Dantonio said this week that he modeled his rebuilding project after what Kirk Ferentz did at Iowa. The Michigan State coach has done such a good job with it, that his program has passed the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten hierarchy.

Yes, the Spartans lost the last two years to Iowa and in three of the last four meetings in the series, including a 37-6 beatdown here at Kinnick Stadium a year ago. They came out with a purpose on Saturday, building a 31-7 halftime lead en route to a 37-21 win.

"I think you have to come out mentally ready and you have to bring your emotions with you," Dantonio said. "We talked about either being the storm or weathering the storm. We didn't know which was going to happen. We were going to have to prepare for each, and that's what we did."

Michigan State's storm met very little resistance from the Hawkeyes. The Spartans jumped out to a 14-0 lead before some fans had sat in their seats. It was clear which team was prepared for the fight for first place in the Big Ten's Legends Division and which one took the field passively.

"I guess you'd have to say we weren't ready," Ferentz said. "We didn't look ready. We left the door open way to many times in all three phases."

Iowa used to be the team that bullied the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes played its best football in November. They're now 1-5 in the month the last two seasons with the last two games of this campaign on the road, where they're winless in 2011.

Simple logic tells you that when a team like Michigan State rises up the standings, another league member must drop down. Iowa should be worried.

Give the Hawkeyes credit. They fought back on Saturday when a lot of outfits would have folded up their tents. Still, how they got into that position is all too familiar the last two seasons and five of the last seven.

The Spartan seniors the last two years have left as the winningest classes in school history. At 5-1, MSU put themselves in the driver's seat for the Legends crown with remaining games against Indiana and at Northwestern. The Hawkeyes were eliminated from title contention.

Iowa will be without a Big Ten title for the seventh year in a row.

After it looked like Ferentz and his staff had turned things around in '08-09 from disappointments during the '05-07 stretch, the last two seasons are concerning for the Hawkeyes. While Michigan State is 19-4 overall and 12-2 in Big Ten games since the start of the '10 campaign, the Hawkeyes are 14-9 and 7-7.

Last week's 24-16 win against then-No. 13 Michigan at home gave Iowa fans hope after an embarrassing loss at Minnesota at the end of October. The rise up against the Wolverines was an abberation.

Dantonio talked about coming into Iowa City last season as the hunted. The Spartans arrived here unbeaten and were taken behind the woodshed.

They were the hunted again Saturday. They looked they the hunter.

Iowa played at home, where it had been 6-0 this year. It honored seniors in its final pregame at Kinnick. Then, it looked like a ship without a rutter, which has been more the norm this year than the exception.

Iowa ended last season without much fight. In two of the last three games, it's been the same old song, y'all.

That's a bad trend and reminiscent of the '06-7 downturn. Iowa can't afford to be outworked and outhustled.Yet, that's what's happening.

"They played with more emotion," Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey said of Michigan State. "They wanted it more. We just have to turn that around the next two weeks."

It's not that easy.

Ferentz is fond of saying that you get what you deserve, most days, on the gridiron. That's fitting this fall.

The Hawkeyes entered Saturday's contest as the least penalized team in the Big Ten. They were flagged seven times for 75 yards, all of which proved to be costly.

Michigan State also won the turnover battle, 3-0. The Hawkeyes had nine giveaways prior to the contest, which ranked seventh nationally.

At Minnesota, kicker Mike Meyer uncharacteristically missed two field goals. Saturday, normally sound Eric Guthrie struggled and helped the Spartans with early field position.

When Iowa enjoyed the 20-6 run from '08-09, they seemed to benefit from some breaks while creating some of their own. The last two years, things have evened out.

Heck, maybe this is Iowa football. This isn't the first time that case would be made. Enjoy the good years because there are going to be unsatisfying ones.

But it's the effort and lack of preparedness that can't be explained by that view. That's controlled by a coaches-players' connection.

That has to chang or this is going to continue to go the wrong way for Iowa.

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