IOWA CITY, Iowa – For the second straight game, Michigan State finished with more first downs, more yards of total offense and an advantage in time of possession.
And for the second straight game, the Spartans committed more turnovers, penalties and timely mistakes than the opposition.
The disadvantages were the difference again as Michigan State (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) couldn’t hold on to a fourth-quarter lead and lost 26-16 at Iowa (4-1, 1-1) on Saturday night.
“Once we clean that stuff up, you’ll see a much better team,” Michigan State interim head coach Harlon Barnett said. “We won’t be beating ourselves. People are actually going to have to beat us. We helped Iowa beat us tonight.”
Facing a team that finished with only 76 total yards in a 31-0 loss at Penn State last week and lost starting quarterback Cade McNamara on the second series of Saturday’s game, the Spartans couldn’t get out of their way again. Unlike last week when Michigan State was unable to rebound from a 21-0 deficit in a loss to Maryland, the Spartans seemed to have control of the game at times but made too many miscues to overcome.
Michigan State committed four turnovers, didn’t have an offensive touchdown and gave up a 70-yard punt return for the go-ahead score with less than four minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Iowa was far from impressive and even booed by its home fans at Kinnick Stadium but turned in a cleaner performance than the Spartans, which wasn’t saying much.
“It just comes down to a couple plays a game, five plays a game,” Michigan State left guard J.D. Duplain said, “and you never know which plays those are and that’s why you have to play as hard as you can every single snap.”
The loss dropped Barnett to 0-3 since he took over for Mel Tucker, who was officially fired for cause on Wednesday – 18 days after he was suspended amid allegations of sexual harassment. The Spartans took a shorthanded team on the road and suffered additional key injuries in the game but still had a chance to pull off a win until the final minutes.
“Our guys are playing with great, great effort – that’s the first thing I want to say,” Barnett said. “With all the distractions and things that have been going on, you cannot fault their effort. We just have to – I’ve been saying this for the last several weeks – have to play with more discipline. … That’s what we must clean up if we want to come out on the other end of what we’ve been coming out on here lately.”
On Iowa’s second possession of the game, McNamara suffered a left leg injury and the former Michigan transfer didn’t return. Although the Hawkeyes were forced to turn to backup Deacon Hill, who completed only 40.7 percent of his passes (11-for-27) for 115 yards, one touchdown and an interception and suffered from drops, the Spartans had their own issues at the position.
A week after turning in his worst performance of the season before being pulled, Noah Kim couldn’t deliver in his first road start. The redshirt junior was 25-for-44 passing for 193 yards, zero touchdowns and three interceptions. After Jonathan Kim made a 58-yard field goal as time expired in the first half, Michigan State went scoreless on all nine possessions of the second half – including two interceptions, a fumble and a turnover on downs.
“We’ll watch the film very closely,” Barnett said of the outlook for Kim and the quarterback position with a bye week ahead. “We’ve got two weeks – that’s a good thing. (Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach) Jay (Johnson) and I and the offensive staff will all talk it through and see if there’s something that needs to be done or not and evaluate it being very, very realistic in evaluation and being very fair at the same time.”
Michigan State bested Iowa in first downs (20 to 15), yards of total offense (349 to 222) and time of possession (33:48 to 26:12) but also committed 10 penalties for 94 yards to just three for 25 for the home team. The Spartans had 156 rushing yards to only 61 for the Hawkeyes, who were just 2-for-13 on third down. However, the statistical gains were not enough to get Barnett his first win leading the program in his 15th season on staff.
The Spartans had only 127 yards in the second half and their longest possession over the final two quarters was just six plays with their only points coming off a 42-yard fumble return touchdown by linebacker Cal Haladay. Michigan State has now committed nine turnovers in its last two games combined and 12 for the season.
“We were leading in a game and it felt good,” Barnett said. “We were playing well and just couldn’t finish it at the end and we have to be able to do that to win football games here in the Big Ten.”
A year ago, Michigan State opened the season 2-0 and then followed with four straight losses by double digits en route to a 5-7 finish. The Spartans still have a trio of top-10 teams left on an incredibly difficult schedule and players face decisions about their future. When Tucker was fired, that created a 30-day opening of the transfer portal and starting long snapper Hank Pepper and defensive back Justin White are no longer with the team. The road ahead remains very challenging with a bye week followed by a trip to Rutgers before hosting No. 2 Michigan.
“Our guys are still fighting for each other with everything going on,” Haladay said. “We’re a team, we believe in each other and we want the best for each other.”