Connor Cook looked confident and threw for almost 300 yards. Wide receivers caught 20 passes. Most importantly, Michigan State opened Big Ten play with a 26-14 win against Iowa.
"I feel like everyone was just more focused because this was our first Big Ten game – things are on the line," Cook said. "If we lose this game, that really hurts us. We want to go to the Rose Bowl. We want to play in the Big Ten Championship Game. …
"These games are a statement for what we want to do with our season. I feel like it was a statement. We knew that the season was on the line and we gotta play perfect every single game."
Cook, for his part, made a statement that he can play quarterback at a high level for the Spartans. The sophomore threw for a career-high 277 yards on 25 of 44 passing and two touchdowns.
The first might have been the best indication of MSU moving forward offensively as it was the first play of more than 40 yards for the Spartans this season.
With a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, sophomore wide receiver MacGarrett Kings took a pass from Cook in for a score from 46 yards and put MSU up 10-0. Kings said he didn't know that MSU didn't have a 40-plus yard play until someone told him.
"That was crazy," he said. "I didn't know I had the first one, but Bennie (Fowler) got one. Bennie's play was a huge."
Fowler scored the second touchdown for the Spartans and it came on the first drive after halftime after Iowa stormed back in the second quarter to take a 14-10 lead.
"That was key," Cook said. "It was our first time coming out in the second half. I think that was a statement that we are here and ready to play and we're not giving. I think that was a very key part in the game."
Fowler had a career-high nine catches for 92 yards and a touchdown, while Kings had five catches for 94 yards and a touchdown to lead the receivers.
MSU got on the board at the 11:44 mark of the second quarter when freshman kicker Michael Geiger knocked in a 36-yard field goal.
After Kings' touchdown put MSU up 10-0, Iowa came back with two touchdown drives in the second quarter.
Sophomore quarterback Jack Rudock threw both – and was a perfect 11 of 11 passing in the quarter – as Iowa took the lead. Rudock connected with running back Damon Bullock for a 47-yard score before later connecting with C.J. Fiedorowicz on a 10-yard touchdown to put the Hawkeyes up with 1:10 to go in the half.
That was the last scoring for Iowa, however, as the MSU defense shut out the Hawkeyes in the second half and Geiger tacked on three more fields goals of 35, 49 and 40 yards.
While the offense was making its presence felt, the MSU defense went about business as usual.
"The defense helped out," coach Mark Dantonio said. "They usually do."
The Hawkeyes entered Saturday averaging more than 244 yards rushing per game, but MSU held them to just 23 yards.
Senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard said he wasn't surprised that MSU held Iowa to few rushing yards, even with the Hawkeyes physical style.
"It's a credit to the front seven and the safeties, he said. "They did a great job. it just came down to me and Trae (Waynes) and Isaiah (Lewis) and Kurtis (Drummond) and R.J. (Williamson) and stopping the passes."
Dennard stopped two Iowa drives with interceptions – the first two of his season – as the MSU defense held Iowa to 264 total yards, 140 of which came on the pair of second-quarter touchdown drives.
Sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun said the performance from the offense and defense shows the potential of the Spartans to be great.
"I believe our offense made a statement saying they can be great," he said. "They can do what they want. They just have to keep to the offensive scheme and do what the offensive coaches are telling them and things will get done. We can make play as a defense, we've always been trying to let them know that we are here and we aren't going anywhere. We've been a strong defense for years and we are going to keep it up."
Dantonio called the win "a program win" and said while MSU hasn't played it's best football yet, it was a positive step.
"I've always said when our offense gets more confident, things are going to blossom and we saw some confidence (Saturday) and that's going to happen," he said. "When we get our offense playing at the same level as our defense is playing, great things are going to happen."