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'Totally unacceptable': Michigan State crashes back to reality in 49-7 thumping by Iowa

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Iowa City, Iowa — The frustration in Mel Tucker’s voice was unmistakable.

“Totally unacceptable,” the Michigan State coach said, his voice becoming hoarse after a brutally long day at Kinnick Stadium.

A week after Tucker led Michigan State to an upset victory over Michigan, the Spartans were blown out by Iowa on Saturday, a thorough dismantling that ended with the Hawkeyes’ 49-7 victory. It was the worst defeat for a Michigan State team since a 48-3 loss at Ohio State in 2017 and was never close.

BOX SCORE: Iowa 49, Michigan State 7

From the opening kick to the final gun, Iowa dominated Michigan State.

“In terms of performance, our standard is higher, much higher than what we've shown,” Tucker said. “It is what it is. It was not a good day. It was not a good performance, and not just by one phase, but in all three phases.”

Iowa running back Ivory Kelly-Martin, right, runs from Michigan State cornerback Kalon Gervin (18) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

What it was turned out to be Iowa smacking Michigan State across the face with a wallop of reality. Iowa (1-2) did it all on Saturday. From huge runs to special teams scores and turnovers for touchdowns, the Hawkeyes were in control the entire afternoon.

Meanwhile, the Spartans (1-2) were on their heels

At one point in the third quarter on Saturday, Rocky Lombardi reached down behind his center, grabbed a white towel off the ground and chucked it behind him. Michigan State’s quarterback might as well have been waving a white flag.

“It was definitely tough,” Lombardi said, whose return to his home state went about as poorly as it could. Lombardi was 17-for-37 for 227 yards, but his three interceptions were critical with one being returned for a touchdown.

“This is not what I wanted to do coming home,” Lombardi said. “I tried to stay as level-headed as I could and I think I got better throughout the game. But obviously, turnovers, they kill games.”

It wasn’t the only thing that killed Michigan State on this day.

The only score for the Spartans came when Tyler Hunt scored on a 1-yard run in the third quarter. That’s right, Tyler Hunt, the former backup punter who now plays tight end.

By then, though, nothing was changing the outcome. Iowa was simply too much for Michigan State to handle. Tyler Goodson ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns while Mekhi Sargent ran for two more scores. Brandon Smith also caught a touchdown pass while the Hawkeyes added an interception for a touchdown and a punt return for a score.

“I thought we got off to a strong start and then we just kept playing well and complementary football,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It certainly feels good to get the win today. We needed a win. We needed to play well. Our guys really responded and did a great job on that.”

The Hawkeyes, who entered the game winless, were in control from the moment the game began, marching down the field on the opening drive, taking a 7-0 lead after capping off an eight-play drive with a 3-yard touchdown run from Goodson, a drive that signaled the Hawkeyes were ready to be the more physical team.

Michigan State had no answer on its first drive, a theme that would be followed throughout the first half. The drive ended with an interception as Lombardi tried to throw the ball away. The Hawkeyes scored on the next possession to take a 14-0 lead and after the teams traded punts, Iowa increased its advantage to 21-0 when Goodson scored on a 9-yard run early in the second quarter.

That’s when things truly got out of hand.

Lombardi made an awful decision on his second interception as Barrington Wade snatched a floater out of the air and set Iowa up at the MSU 24. The Hawkeyes missed a field goal, but that hardly slowed them down.

Michigan State’s only penetration into Iowa territory came later after Lombardi hit Jalen Nailor for a 56-yard pass, but the drive stalled and Matt Coghlin’s 48-yard field-goal attempt was wide left.

While the Iowa offense started to stall, the rest of the team took off. Charles Jones returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown to give the Hawkeyes a 28-0 lead, three plays before Riley Moss picked off Lombardi and returned it 54 yards for another touchdown and a 35-0 Iowa lead.

“I think I just tried to do a little bit too much,” Lombardi said. “I saw that we kind of needed to make some plays and I probably overstepped my boundaries a little bit.”

Michigan State’s lone sign of life came on the first drive of the second half on a drive set up by Lombardi’s 57-yard connection with Nailor. It was capped off when Hunt scored on a 1-yard run, two plays after he had his first career reception.

The score pulled Michigan State within 35-7, but Goodson ripped off a 71-yard run on Iowa’s next play from scrimmage to set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Sargent to give Iowa a 42-7 lead with 8:47 left in the third quarter. The touchdown was Iowa’s first third-quarter touchdown in its last seven Big Ten games.

Sargent added a 6-yard touchdown run with 11:57 left in the game to cap the scoring.

Michigan State now faces the prospect of rebounding once again with unbeaten Indiana (3-0) coming to Spartan Stadium next weekend.

“Own it,” Tucker said. “Own what happened, trust the process and do not lie to yourself. We got beat today in all three phases. Now, what's next? … We’ve got a lot of work to do. A lot of work. We need to build. We need to find what we can build on and start there. We got to get some things cleaned up, and that's why we're here. That's our job.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau