Hawks Stumble

Michigan State found a way to expose Iowa's weaknesses on Saturday. Now it's up to the Hawkeyes to pick up its learning curve.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - Iowa cruised into Saturday's homecoming game riding the wave of four wins in a row. It was improving every week, instilling confidence in a fan base wounded by a four-win season in 2012.

These were the Hawkeyes the faithful had come to love through the years. Kirk Ferentz and his staff were developing and building their troops as the schedule advanced.

Those were the good times remembered. When it doesn't happen, you get what we saw on Saturday.

Michigan State exposed some weaknesses the Hawkeyes failed to clean up from their past, recent and long term. It included the coaching staff. A lot was made of them falling for another fake punt, as well it should.

Iowa is Charlie Brown to its opponents' Lucy. Fake punts, onside kicks, it's like the Hawkeyes don't see it coming when they should know it's coming.

"It's a good job on their part," he said. "We had a return set up. They hit us where we were weak."

It's hard to tell if the coach was talking about the particular play or that area of his team. Since Wisconsin got the ball rolling with a fake punt in 2010, the Hawkeyes have been unable to stop it.

Michigan State ended up cashing in on a field goal following their trickery on Saturday. It made it a two-score game, a huge deal with the way the Spartans defense was dealing.

The fake punt certainly factored into this Iowa defeat but it had company. One of the chief culprits continued to be its breakdowns in the secondary coupled with a lack of a pass rush.

MSU quarterback Connor Cook entered Saturday's contest with little experience and even less success under his belt. He continually found holes in the Iowa defense and finished with 277 yards and two scores.

Cook especially showed savvy in the opening drive of the second half. The sophomore led his team 75 yards for a touchdown as a response to the Hawkeyes' 14 unanswered points to end the second quarter. All but seven yards on the march came via the air.

In its next three offensive possessions, Iowa ran 11 total plays. The momentum gained before halftime was gone.

At the same time, the home team's defense recovered after the initial drive of half two. The Spartans were forced to punt back to Iowa to start the fourth quarter.

During the break between in periods, MSU Coach Mark Dantonio and his staff cooked up the fake punt. It ended up being the nail in the Hawkeyes' coffin, for all intents and purposes, the way their offense was struggling.

Dantonio called the play "Hey, Diddle Diddle." Ask why, he smiled and said "Hey, Diddle Diddle, run (Mike) Sanders up the middle."

Ouch. That's insult to injury.

Dantonio said that the play call was not based on the Hawkeyes' history of falling for Lucy pulling away the football. It had to have factored into the decision.

Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock faced his first real heat of the season. When plays broke down in the first five games, the sophomore found running lanes. They were not there on Saturday.

Rudock threw two interceptions and now has six in six games. His accuracy failed him with defenders in his face. He took a step back on Saturday like many of his teammates.

The Hawkeyes now get a bye to prepare for a trip to Big Ten giant Ohio State, who owns the nation's longest winning streak (18 games). After missing an opportunity to improve this week, they're faced with a much greater task heading into the teeth of their schedule. Northwestern and Wisconsin follow the Buckeyes on the slate.

Had Iowa taken the necessary step forward required in a developmental program, it could have kept its winning streak rolling. Instead, it dropped its fourth straight conference game at home.

The Hawkeyes still have a chance to enjoy a successful season. They sit at 4-2 halfway through it as they did a year ago when they dropped their final six games.

Its up to the players and coaches to avoid repeating 2012. They surely don't want to feel that way again nor do their fans.

Carl Davis talked Saturday about this being a bump in the road. The team was united and worked tirelessly in the offseason to dodge another collapse.

If those steps turn out not to be enough to right the ship, it could reveal a problem nobody in Hawkeye Nation wants exposed - a program without enough talent and coaching continuity to reverse course on a downward spiral.

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