BY JJ PESAVENTO
When the Iowa Hawkeyes and Michigan State Spartans locked horns on Saturday in Iowa City, it was a battle of two teams with only one win in the Big Ten conference.
The Spartans were not the same team they were a year ago by any means. They came in at 5-3 and looked to become bowl eligible with a win over Iowa.
For the Hawkeyes, the game would have major bowl implications. Entering the contest at 3-5, a loss would almost guarantee Iowa would not compete in postseason action for the first time since the 2000 season.
But even with their bowl hopes on the line and a vocal sellout crowd behind them, the Hawkeyes experienced the same problems on offense that have been haunting them the entire season to fall behind.
Even worse was the fact that the strength of the team, the defense, could not find a way to stop the Spartans from moving the ball in the early going.
While the score was only 7-0 at the end of the opening quarter, MSU totally dominated the action. The Spartans amassed 176 yards of total offense as compared to minus one yard of total offense for the Hawkeyes.
To say things looked bleak would be an understatement.
Finally, after going three and out on their first three possessions, the Hawkeyes found a spark in running back Damian Sims. A 30-yard run by the senior put Iowa in MSU territory for the first time in the game. A personal foul penalty at the end of the play added 15 yards to the run. The Hawkeyes moved the ball to the MSU 11-yard line before they reverted to their old form. After back-to-back penalties turned a third-and-one into a third-and -6, Iowa couldn't convert and had to settle for a 43-yard Dan Murray field goal.
But the Spartans rolled down the field on the Iowa defense and answered with a Jehuu Caulcrick one-yard touchdown run to up the score to 17-3.
Considering how lopsided the first half statistics were, it could have been much worse for Iowa.
MSU had held the ball for over 20 minutes in the first half and came away empty handed on their initial drive thanks to kicker Brett Swanson pushing a 39-yard attempt wide left.
And maybe the best term one could use for the Iowa offense considering Halloween is upon us would be ugly.
Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen completed only one pass for nine yards the entire first half.
The Hawkeyes could only muster 71 yards of total offense in the half and converted only once on third down.
As lopsided as the stats were, it looked as though the Hawkeyes could again be on the wrong end of a blowout.
But something happened at halftime.
At the end of the first half, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz appeared incensed with officials over what he viewed as a blown call. Ferentz is normally calm and collected and in control. Maybe the emotion he displayed entered into his halftime talk with his players, maybe it didn't.
Whatever the case, it was a totally different Iowa team that came out of the locker room for the remainder of the game.
The Hawkeyes seemed to be on a mission in the second half. They were relentless on both sides of the ball.
After a personal foul penalty following a MSU punt gave the Hawkeyes their best field position of the day at the MSU 30-yard line, senior Albert Young put Iowa back into the game.
Young ripped off a 26-yard run on the second play of the drive to close the score to 17-10 and it seemed to bring the entire team back to life.
After the Iowa defense slammed the door on the MSU offense that appeared unstoppable in the first half, Young went back to work.
Young accounted for 62 yards on six carries during a 75-yard drive that he put the finishing touches on with a three-yard scoring run to tie the game 17-17.
The Iowa offense that was nowhere to be found for the most part in the first half had come to life. The offensive line was winning the battle up front. Wide receivers were literally fighting with defensive backs downfield on their blocks.
Even punter Ryan Donahue got into the action. The freshman launched an 81-yard punt to start the final quarter.
And somehow, after being dominated for an entire half, Iowa fought back and took the lead with 10 minutes left in the contest after a second Dan Murray field goal from 42 yards out.
But the Spartans came back with a last minute drive to tie the game on a 29-yard Swenson field goal and sent it into overtime.
The teams traded touchdowns in the first overtime then Iowa took the lead in the second overtime on a short run by Jevon Pugh after Young, who rushed for 179 yards with a pair of touchdowns on the day, had to leave the game due to injury.
The defense rose the occasion this time for Iowa. A sack by Adrian Clayborn put the Spartans in a hole they could not dig themselves out of. Iowa stopped the Spartans on a fourth-and-16 and came away with the win.
Kirk Ferentz, his staff and the Iowa players have taken a ton of criticism for the lackluster play of the Hawkeyes this season.
The youth, inexperience and lack of execution on offense have hurt them much of the season and the first half against Michigan State was no different.
But in the second half, the Hawkeyes showed what they were made of. They showed their heart, they fought back and refused to lose even when forced into overtime.
They overcame...and they won.