EAST LANSING, Mich. — This wasn’t Hawkeye football.
At least not how it’s meant to look.
A strong running game? Nope.
Ball security? Not this week.
Winning the field-position battle? Not even close.
The traditional Kirk Ferentz tenets of success all went missing Saturday inside Spartan Stadium, and the result was a disappointing 17-10 loss to Michigan State before 73,331 fans.
Much of the curiosity this week was whether the Hawkeyes would suffer a Penn State hangover — after the defense gutted through 99 exhausting snaps and a gut-punch finish on the game’s final play at Kinnick Stadium.
The hangover hit hard, especially early. Michigan State zipped down the field for a touchdown on its game-opening drive and punched in another seven points on a short 31-yard drive set up by a poor punt.
It was 14-0 before the first quarter ended.
The Hawkeyes' defense got things together after that — much like last week, with a bend-don’t break approach — but the offense couldn’t get it going.
The running game was dreadful. Of Akrum Wadley’s first 10 carries, only two went longer than a yard. And this was against a Spartans defense that gave up 182 yards on the ground a week ago to Notre Dame.
The Hawkeyes rushed 25 times for 19 yards. When Iowa can’t run the ball, everything else suffers.
Iowa penalties were rampant in the first half — a roughing-the-passer on Parker Hesse; a facemask on Bo Bower; an end-zone pass interference on Michael Ojemudia.
The punting was as bad as it’s been all season.
And even when things looked to be going Iowa’s way, they didn’t. After a brilliant fake field-goal pass from punter Colten Rastetter to true freshman A.J. Epenesa, Nate Stanley had a third-and-goal pass slip out of his hands for a fluky interception.
It was that kind of afternoon.
Iowa was minus-2 in turnovers against a team that was minus-6 for the season.
The Hawkeyes (3-2 overall) are now 0-2 in Big Ten Conference play for the first time in nine years.
September hadn’t even ended, and Iowa’s chances at chasing down Wisconsin for a West Division championship already feel extremely slim.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.