IOWA CITY — Michigan State's defense was as good as advertised Saturday, overcoming a five-minute, two-touchdown lapse in the second quarter to help lift the Spartans to a 26-14 victory over Iowa.
The Spartans, first nationally in total defense (188.8 yards per game), limited Iowa to 264 yards, including 64 on the final drive. Iowa managed just 23 yards rushing as Michigan State improved to 4-1 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten.
Connor Cook passed for 277 yards and two touchdowns, and Michael Geiger made four field goals for the Spartans, who had to work for what they got against the Iowa defense.
But Iowa (4-2, 1-1) found no room to run against the Spartans. Quarterback Jake Rudock was the leading rusher — with 11 yards. Bruiser Mark Weisman, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and 123 yards per game, got 9 yards on seven carries. Tailback Damon Bullock carried four times for 6 yards — he had been averaging 4.1 yards per carry and 50 per game.
Cornerback Darqueze Dennard had two interceptions for the Spartans.
Still, Iowa led 14-10 at halftime.
Iowa didn't have a first down for nearly 25 minutes to start the game. But shortly after picking up its first of the game, Rudock found Bullock, matched up man-to-man against linebacker Denicos Allen, on a short pass. Bullock made the catch, shook Allen and sailed untouched to the end zone for a 47-yard touchdown with 4:19 left in the first half.
Then Iowa forced a punt and Rudock, who completed his final 11 first-half passes, hit Tevaun Smith down the sideline on a double move for 36 yards. Rudock completed three more passes and, after a 1-yard run by Weisman, Rudock hit C.J. Fiedorowicz for a 10-yard touchdown, as the Hawkeyes' 6-foot-7, 265-pound tight end more or less posted up in the end zone like a basketball power forward would on the block against 6-3, 245-pound linebacker Max Bullough, who was called for holding on the play.
Iowa's first five possessions were fruitless in more ways the one. Fourteen plays. Four three-and-outs and another series that ended on a second-down interception.
But Iowa's defense was just as good as Michigan State's. Or maybe Michigan State's offense was just as challenged.
The Spartans eschewed a 40-yard first-quarter field goal and went for it on fourth-and-1. Anthony Hitchens and Drew Ott stuffed running back Jeremy Langford for a 1-yard loss.
Then Geiger was wide right on a 36-yard field goal try on the Spartans' next possession.
Finally Geiger hit from 27 for the game's first points with 11:44 left in the first half.
Michigan State made it 10-0 as Langford picked up blitzing safety Tanner Miller, and Cook found Macgarrett Kings matched up with corner Sean Draper on a post, with Kings scoring on a 46-yard catch and run with 6:18 left in the half.
After falling behind, the Spartans drove 75 yards for a touchdown on the opening possession of the second half, with Cook connecting with Bennie Fowler for the 37-yard go-ahead score.
Geiger's 35-yard field goal with 2:38 left in the third quarter gave Michigan State a 20-14 lead, and his 49-yarder with 13:28 left in the game — on a drive kept alive on a 25-yard run by punter Mike Sadler on a fake — made it 23-14.
Linebacker James Morris gave Iowa a shot with an interception with 12:03 left at the Spartans' 33. But Iowa couldn't move, and Mike Meyer's 50-yard field goal attempt was wide left.
Geiger added a 40-yard field goal with 5:25 to go to make it 26-14.