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Fake Punt, Real Muscle Help Michigan State Beat Iowa, 26-14

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IOWA CITY, Iowa Some coaches have the stomach for risk. Others don't.

Count Michigan State's Mark Dantonio as a coach who is comfortable with it. The big chance he took in the Spartans' 26-14 victory over Iowa before 69,025 fans Saturday at Kinnick Stadium was a fake punt. MSU punter Mike Sadler rushed 25 yards to the right while Iowa's punt return team turned its back on the play.

Dantonio sent Sadler, who graduated with a 3.9 GPA in applied engineering sciences in May 2013 and who's now pursuing his PhD in economics, around the right end on a fourth-and-7 from MSU's 37-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter. Dantonio took a risk and it turned into Michael Geiger's 49-yard field goal and a nine-point lead the Spartans (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) rode to victory.

"'Hey Diddle Diddle' worked," Dantonio said with a giant grin. "'Hey Diddle Diddle, send Sadler up the middle.'"

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz found some humor, too. We'll go ahead and classify it as "gallows."

"We may never try to return one again," Ferentz said. "That was our thinking, try to get the return."

"Hey Diddle Diddle" wasn't what killed the Hawkeyes (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten). That would be the offense being stripped of its identity. The Spartans held Iowa to 23 yards rushing. So, yes, Sadler outrushed the Hawkeyes, who were held to their lowest rushing total since 20 against Penn State last year.

Iowa's running game started to short circuit in the first quarter when junior running back Mark Weisman left the game with a sprained left ankle. He returned, but he wasn't anywhere close to the back who had 100-plus yards in four out of five games going into Saturday.

"I think it was testament to their linebackers and defensive line doing a really good job," said Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock, whose pair of second-quarter TD passes pushed the Hawkeyes to a 14-10 halftime lead. "We understood they were doing a good job and that we were going to have to throw the ball a little more than we have in the past."

Iowa rushed 27 times and averaged 1.4 yards a carry. Rudock completed 26 of 46 for 241 yards, two TDs and two interceptions. He also was Iowa's leading rusher with three carries for 11 yards.

"We didn't think we'd come in and get 280 [rushing yards] on these guys, that wasn't our thought coming in," Ferentz said. "We were hoping we could run it effectively, but they way they're built, they make it difficult to do that."

Weisman ended up with just seven carries for 9 yards. Wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley, Iowa's leading receiver, left the game in the first half with a lower-body injury. He didn't catch a pass.

Several Hawkeyes, including left tackle Brandon Scherff (ankle), linebacker Christian Kirksey (ankle) and defensive end Dominic Alvis (lower body), left the game. Ferentz said he expected everyone to be available when Iowa, which is off next week, travels to Ohio State on Oct. 19.

"It was a physical game," said Weisman, who went into this game averaging 123.0 yards a game. "They obviously played a little more physically than we did and that showed on the scoreboard."

Another Iowa killer was Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook. Two weeks ago at Notre Dame, the sophomore was pulled in the final two minutes of a 17-13 loss. Saturday, Cook cemented himself as MSU's starter for the foreseeable future, completing 25 of 44 for 277 yards, a pick and two TDs.

The Spartans were off last week. Cook clearly went to work.

"That bye week seemed to help their offense, they really improved," free safety Tanner Miller said. "We knew he was a good quarterback and the more experience he got, the better he was going to be."

After the Hawkeyes scored TDs about three minutes apart in the second quarter, the Spartans answered quickly in the third quarter with Cook finding wide receiver Bennie Fowler, who caught nine passes for 92 yards, for a 37-yard TD. From there, it was a grind game for the Spartans, who held Iowa to 104 yards of offense in the second half.

All the steely numbers a football team can put up, the Spartans put up average field position was their 35 compared to Iowa's 25, time of possession went MSU's way, 37:13 to 22:47, and the Spartans forced Iowa to punt on its first four possessions of the second half.

Iowa has now lost four consecutive Big Ten games at Kinnick Stadium.

"We got nothing established in the second half," Ferentz said. "The entire game we didn't do anything to indicate we were taking control."

Hey Diddle Diddle, Iowa goes to Ohio State in two weeks.
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