Turnovers Hand Game to Spartans

Without talented players like Brad Banks, Dallas Clark, C.J. Jones, Bruce Nelson, Eric Steinbach, Andy Lightfoot and David Porter, you probably had some questions about Iowa's offense this fall. After losing Jermelle Lewis, Maurice Brown, Ed Hinkel, Albert Young, David Walker and Champ Davis to injuries, there are perhaps even more question marks. But, three things have become fairly clear ...

1) Iowa's defense and special teams will have to win games for the Hawks this season.

2) Iowa's offense may not be asked to "win" games ... but it must play almost mistake-free football to give the Hawks a good chance to win.

3) Iowa's defense is terrific, but it shouldn't be expected to win a Big Ten game on the road when the Hawks turn the ball over four times.

At least, those are some of my observations.

I know there are a lot of Hawkeye fans out there who are complaining about several different things — some more valid than others — following the 20-10 loss at East Lansing, including ...

  • Nathan Chandler holds the ball too long.
  • The offensive line performed badly.
  • Brian Ferentz had a miserable day.
  • Why play SIX true freshmen in limited roles?
  • Why was Bob Sanders even on the field in the last couple of minutes?
  • How does Fred Russell run for 31 yards to the MSU 45-yard line with 10 minutes remaining in the first half ... and then only touch the ball one more time before the intermission?

    And on and on.

    Apparently, it doesn't matter all that much that Iowa has won 18 of its last 22 games, including 10 of its last 11 Big Ten contests. All that really counts is what you have done for me lately. That's how the minds of most sports fans work. And I understand that.

    It's also human nature to want to point fingers — usually in a lot of directions — when things don't work out as we hoped. I certainly understand that, too.

    But, in the case of the loss at East Lansing on Saturday, I think the "blame" could be placed squarely on one facet of the game: turnovers. It's as simple as that, my friends. While we all could sit around and nitpick about each player's individual performance and the mistakes that were made against the Spartans, there is really one major reason for the disappointing outcome. Turnovers.

    How much did turnovers affect the game? Consider ...

  • Ramon Ochoa fumbles with 9:58 to go in the first quarter. Michigan State gets the ball at the Iowa 41-yard line. Seven plays later, the Spartans score a TD. Result of turnover: Seven Points.
  • Nathan Chandler fumbles with 1:56 to go in the first half. Michigan State gets the ball at the Iowa 26-yard line. Seven plays later, the Spartans kick a 23-yard field goal. Result of turnover: Three Points.
  • Ramon Ochoa fumbles with 13:39 to go in the game. Michigan State gets the ball at the Iowa 18-yard line. Eight plays later, the Spartans kick a 20-yard field goal. Result of turnover: Three Points.
  • Nathan Chandler throws an interception with 0:54 remaining. Result: Game Over.

    Four turnovers. Thirteen points for Michigan State. Three drives that started in Iowa's territory. On the other hand, the Hawks' BEST field position to start a drive all day was at their own 39-yard line.

    The Spartans did NOT convert on a third down the entire second half. They were 0-for-8. But, they scored three points. How? A "drive" that started at Iowa's 18-yard line, following Ochoa's second fumble.

    After Michigan State's first drive of the game appeared to catch the Hawkeyes completely off-guard, the Iowa defense played well. Not that there weren't mistakes made (Derreck Robinson's face-mask penalty comes to mind), but you can't do much better than holding the home team to six points during the final three quarters.

    Unfortunately, the Spartans weren't as "giving" as the Hawks were. MSU ran 76 plays and never turned it over. Iowa ran 62 plays and coughed it up four times.

    Iowa had more total yards and more yards-per-play. But the Spartans didn't have very far to go. And that was the ballgame.

    Michigan State beat Iowa in a way that the Hawkeyes have been defeating teams for the last three seasons under Coach Kirk Ferentz. They played solid defense, maintained good field position and didn't turn the ball over. It's a simple formula…and a very successful one.

    Hawkeye fans should know. We've been watching games just like that for the last 22 outings. It's just that the shoe is finally on the other foot and now that we're tasting our own medicine, we realize that it has all the flavor of a dirty sweatsock.

    (What's the record for crappy metaphors in one sentence?)

    I don't think this is something we should get used to seeing from these Hawkeyes, however. I have all the confidence in the world that Coach Ferentz and his staff will place a renewed emphasis on taking care of the football ... and they will undoubtedly address some of the other issues, as well.

    So, don't cry for Chandler to be benched. Don't beg for changes on the offensive line. And don't discuss getting rid of Ken O'Keefe.

    This is no time to panic. It's no time for a freshman quarterback to learn the ropes. It's no time for an inexperienced offensive line.

    Not when Michigan and Ohio State are on deck. Back to back.

    The Hawkeyes will need to show a lot of composure this week and avoid pointing fingers. These guys will need to stick together and focus solely on the task at hand ... beating the Wolverines.

    If there was ever a football coach who could exude composure and focus, it's Kirk Ferentz.

    That's why you've got to remain confident in this football team. And that's why I believe Iowa will bounce back with a victory over Michigan next Saturday.

    "How in the world will the Hawks beat Michigan?" you ask.

    Great defense. Great special teams. Good field position. Don't turn the ball over.

    Nobody knows that recipe for success better than the Hawkeyes. Especially after the game at East Lansing.

    (Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)

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