The win moves the Spartans (4-1) into first place in the Big Ten and stamps them as contenders for the conference championship. Going into the game, Iowa and Michigan were the consensus favorites. MSU has what looks to be a showdown date with the suddenly vulnerable looking Wolverines on November 1st in East Lansing.
But the Spartans will savor this one for a couple of days. "I am proud of our team. I am proud of our coaches because they put together a darn good plan and we went out there and we executed it really well," said Spartans head coach John L. Smith.
"We made some adjustments on some things that they hadn't seen. We started the game with force and then we showed some courage and went on to win. I want to congratulate the coaches and to congratulate our kids because they did a good job today."
The Spartans jumped out to a seven zero lead as Jeff Smoker re-wrote the Michigan State record book. Smoker engineered an opening 10-play 80-yard drive, hitting Ziehl Kavanaught with his first touchdown pass of his career, a 17-yard touchdown pass.
The TD pass was Smoker's 47th of his career, breaking the mark set by MSU color commentator Bill Burke. Smoker also broke the school record for career completions, and his 28 completions in Saturdy's contest give him 478 for his career. Smoker broke the previous school record of 467, held by Tampa Bay quarterback Jim Miller (1990-93).
With Iowa driving, quarterback Nathan Chandler hit Ramon Ochoa but strong safety Eric Smith, last week's Big Ten defensive player of the week, forced a fumble that was recovered by corner Jason Harmon.
MSU converted the miscue when Smoker connected with Eric Knott from seven yards for the early winning score. Iowa finally got on the board in the second quarter when Nathan Chandler hit Mike Follett from six yards out to get within 14-7, but Dave Rayner's 23-yard field goal upped the Spartans lead to 17-7 at the half.
All Iowa could muster against the tough Spartans defense (third in the NCAA against the run) was a field goal.
Smith said getting up early was the key to the win. "That was huge. You let the offense work for you and you take what you can get. We got the first one and then we ended up getting a turnover and good things happened. If you win the turnover battle, good things usually do happen."
Good things came in the form of MSU's defense. The Spartans forced three more Iowa turn overs, two fumbles and an interception to throttle the Hawkeyes comeback attempt. MSU added another Dave Rayner field goal to get the final 20-10 score.
"Our mindset when we went into the lockerroom at halftime was that was 0-0," said linebacker Seth Mitchell. "In the beginning of the season we tended to let teams come back, so that was the emphasis today, act like it is 0-0 and go out there and play hard. If they didn't score, then they weren't going to win."
"If you win the turnover battle and win more big plays you are going to win the game. We made the big plays and we stopped the big plays."
"The three turnovers certainly didn't help," said Iowa head coach Kurt Ferentz. "We got beat at our own game today, because Michigan State did a great job protecting the football. Michigan State played well; they knocked the ball out and got it loose. Certainly, being the kind of football team we are, the turnovers are major. It wasn't good."
Ferentz, very gracious in defeat, said Iowa was caught off guard by the Spartans quick passing game plan. "Michigan State obviously did a great job. They changed things up, they came out in a little different offense and threw some screens at us. They took us out of our rhythm. That first drive was a thing of beauty, certainly. It was excellent planning, and excellent game plan on their part."
Smoker spoke little about his game breaking performance and more about the play of his team. "This is a tremendous start right here. We had a pretty good preseason and you always want to start off with a win when you go into your conference. It gives you a tremendous boost and to get a win against a team like Iowa is just a great start."
Smoker, who was overlooked by many NFL draft gurus is turning heads and is sure to be one of the top five quarterbacks drafted in this April's NFL draft as he will likely finish at the top of all of Michigan State passing marks.
MSU (4-1) will now host a young scrappy Indiana (1-4) team on Homecoming Day at East Lansing. Indiana lost to Michigan 31-17 on Saturday. The Hoosiers have had 30 plus points scored against them in all four losses.