Iowa 49, Michigan State 7: Here's what we learned

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa took two weeks' worth of frustration out on Michigan State on Saturday, dominating in all three phases of the game to come away with a 49-7 win at Kinnick Stadium.

The Hawkeyes (1-2) hadn't started a season 0-2 since 2000. The Spartans (1-2) were coming off a stunning upset of rival Michigan.

Four minutes into the game Saturday, it was obvious none of that mattered. The Hawkeyes drove 75 yards and reached the end zone on a Tyler Goodson 3-yard run. By the end of the first quarter, the lead was 14-0. At halftime, it was 35-0.

Iowa intercepted Michigan State quarterback and former West Des Moines Valley star Rocky Lombardi three times, with Riley Moss returning one of the picks 54 yards for a touchdown. That made it 13 years in a row that the Hawkeyes have had at least one pick-six.

Iowa exceeded 200 yards rushing, led by Goodson's 113. Mekhi Sargent added a pair of rushing touchdowns. The Hawkeyes committed no turnovers.

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Charlie Jones returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown.

After a pair of narrow losses, this was just the performance that the Hawkeyes needed.

Here's what we learned:

Iowa punt returner Charlie Jones carries the ball during an offensive play in the first quarter against Michigan State at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020.

Spencer Petras gets his first win

Iowa's sophomore quarterback ended up with a pedestrian 15-of-27 stat line, with 167 yards and one touchdown. But Petras completed 11 of his first 14 passes as the Hawkeyes built a 21-0 lead. The offense wasn't as dynamic after that, but it didn't need to be.

The big plays from there on out came on touchdowns from the special teams and defense, plus a 71-yard run by Tyler Goodson. Petras did not throw an interception after having three last Saturday. He was sacked only once, for a 1-yard loss.

The Hawkeyes were content to play it safe, and avoid any silly mistake that might let the Spartans back into the game. There weren't a lot of open receivers when Petras dropped back to pass in the second half, and he was smart enough not to force things.

Brandon Smith is a red-zone menace

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras’ first two career touchdown passes went to Smith, on similar plays. Smith is a 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior who was a high jump champion in high school in Mississippi. There will be few cornerbacks who can handle him in one-on-one situations. So it doesn’t require a great deal of precision by a quarterback when Smith is along the right sideline in the end zone, with a helpless defender trying to faceguard him with his back to the quarterback.

Petras connected with Smith for the first touchdown against Northwestern last Saturday, on a 7-yard pass. On the Michigan State 14-yard line in the first quarter, Petras dropped back again and looked Smith’s way, made eye contact, and simply tossed the ball a little short to allow Smith to stop, let the defender slide by, move inside of him and win the jump-ball battle. There was nothing difficult about it. It was simply allowing the superior athlete to make a play on the football.

Smith is an elite red-zone target. In the first half, he caught all three passes that went in his direction, for 35 yards.

Charlie Jones is the right punt returner

The junior transfer from Buffalo helped Iowa gain valuable field position, and then some. Jones’ first punt return Saturday was good for 31 yards, setting up his offense at the Michigan State 47-yard line. That led to Iowa’s third touchdown of the game. Jones picked up 13 yards on his next return.

On his third return, he gathered a line-drive punt at his 46-yard line, made a beautiful cut to his left to take advantage of a Riley Moss block and sped down the Hawkeye sideline, staggering into the end zone after eluding two more Spartan tackle attempts. It was Iowa’s first punt return for a touchdown since Kyle Groeneweg’s in 2018. That was three punt returns for 98 yards for Jones in the first half.

For good measure, Jones, a wide receiver, took a handoff and gained 27 yards on Iowa’s initial touchdown drive, the first offensive touch of his Hawkeye career. It was Iowa's longest run play of the season up to that point. There was a great deal of buzz about Jones this summer, and he showed why Saturday.

Iowa visits Minnesota at 6 p.m. Friday, with the Floyd of Rosedale trophy on the line.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.